Restoring Esol cash is a boon

11th January 2008 at 00:00

We may debate the number of settlers the country can cope with, but we will always depend to some degree on migrant labour for our future prosperity and success.

A fresh look at English for speakers of other languages is long overdue and the fact that ministers have accepted the need for change (page 1 story) is a huge tribute to those who have campaigned so hard.

The University and College Union kept up the pressure on ministers long after many felt it was too late to continue the fight to revisit funding priorities.

Spending restrictions have meant many migrants going without the English lessons they need to fully integrate with society.

Much has been expected of John Denham, the Secretary of State for Skills, who is reputed to be a man of principle.

His decision to call for a review of Esol funding and his clear intention to give higher priority to those who intend to settle long-term in this country is welcome.

The quality of the contribution migrant communities make will depend to a great extent on what colleges can do for them.

Money saved on Esol provision will be more than eclipsed by the loss of productivity which results from a workforce stripped of the most important of all vocational skills - that of communication.

But this does not mean employers will necessarily be ready to pay.

In many parts of our countryside, gangmasters hire out low-paid immigrant labourers to landowners in the kind of enterprise many think had vanished with the abolition of the slave trade - and they do so legally. It is doubtful that "entrepreneurs" such as these will see the sense of investing in their employees' English skills. Minimum wage employees with good communication skills are much less likely to stick around.

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