Revised LSC has to win next round

27th October 2006 at 01:00
The Learning and Skills Council has pledged to reinvent itself as an organisation "fit for purpose": more able to meet the needs of all stakeholders - the individuals and employers who sign up for learning and the colleges and others who provide it.

Then, the council leaders know that if they fail to do so, ministers will force their hands. A huge further education Bill looms, with the weight of the Treasury and Leitch review of Britain's skills shortages behind it.

Legislation will be swift - the Queen's Speech will signal the autumn Bill, with a second reading in January and radical reforms in place by September (page 1).

The world of post-school education and training is very different to what it was when the LSC was created six years ago. The 47 autonomous local councils no longer suffice. And, beyond its walls, there are heavyweight fighters with their eyes on the pound;11.2 billion learning and skills prize.

There is a real ministerial ding-dong going on. In the blue corner are Ruth Kelly and David Miliband, with the local government Bill this week, backing city regions. In the red corner are those in the Treasury and elsewhere defending regional development agencies.

If these two power blocks forced the LSC out of the ring, it would be a travesty. The council has galvanised the best forces in post-14 education and training. The odd region or city can boast great learning and skill training, but the regions and cities as a whole cannot match the council.

Mark Haysom, the LSC chief executive, is successfully modernising the organisation along regional lines that mirror RDAs. He is about to minimise the role of the 47 local councils and boost the powers of 148 learning partnerships. It is here, at the community level that the real work is done and joined-up government (education, health, welfare and transport) is most effective - not in the regions.

The LSC needs to be flexible enough to respond to the outcomes of this big political debate. It needs clout nationally, regionally and at the most local level. So, there really is only one option on the table - to allow the council to carry on with its structural reforms at local and regional level and strengthen the 148 partnerships. Those who think an alternative to the LSC would put in reverse the cuts to the "other" adult education lost in recent months should think again. The evidence suggests things would get worse.

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