COLLEGES have given a warm welcome to the "long overdue" move by Scottish Enterprise to make local enterprise company boards more representative, with seats reserved for further and higher education.
The LECs already have a right to appoint members to FE boards of management and the absence of a reciprocal arrangement has long been a source of irritation.
But Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said:
"This mustn't be a tokenistic relationship. What we want to see is better dialogue between FE and the LECs and more college involvement in strategic planning given our shared interest in skills training and lifelong learning. But it's a welcome move in the right direction."
The changes are part of a Scottish Enterprise shake-up of its network to make it "more coherent, consistent, accountable, transparent and customer-focused". The wider representation on enterprise company boards will also include small businesses, chambers of commerce, the voluntary sector, local government and the trade unions.
Although the agency says it began thinking about the revamp last year, it comes at an uncertain time with review of the two enterprise bodies, Scottish and Highlands and Islands, by the Scottish Executive and the inquiry into local economic development and vocational training by the Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee.
The plans, which anticipate much of what could be expected to emerge from these reviews, envisage less autonomy for the individual LECs. Their chief executives and chairs will be put on three-year contracts with their re-appointments requiring Scottish Enterprise approval. Charges of excessive secrecy often levelled at the LECs are being answered by a new requirement to publish board minutes, but only in abridged form.
There are to be new clauses in LEC contracts to ensure the service delivered is consistent throughout its area and in line with the agency's priorities; only last week the National Audit Office criticised aspects of the LEC-funded Skillseekers training programme for 16 to 24- year-olds (see left).
But Sir Ian Wood, the Aberdeen businessman who chairs Scottish Enterprise, insists that the reforms "leave undiminished the vital ability of the LECs to craft local responses to local circumstances".