THE MERGER of Careers Scotland and learndirect Scotland into a single skills body has split public service unions and employers over its potential benefits.
The plan was announced by Fiona Hyslop, the Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary, this week as she launched Skills for Scotland, the Government's lifelong skills strategy. But there has been a mixed response to the proposed creation of a new quango, which should be completed by the end of the financial year.
Mrs Hyslop described it as an initial step towards "coherent and cohesive structures for skills devel- opment and delivery", adding: "This will not only bring a new focus for skills but also create real direct benefits to the individual customer and sustainable economic growth, as well as strengthening links with local government."
She said the overall strategy would be centred on the individual but responsive to the needs of the employer, while focusing on all stages from the early years to the work place.
Unison, the union representing Scotland's careers staff, responded angrily to Mrs Hyslop's announcement. Dave Watson, the Scottish organiser, said: "Grand visions are all well and good, but staff who deliver services want some practical demonstration that the Scottish Government is committed to local delivery. The creation of a new quango is the wrong approach."
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said his union remained to be convinced of the benefit of merging the two bodies to form a single larger non-departmental public body: "There would have to be clear benefits to the young people who are the end-users before any move to merge could be considered."
But CBI Scotland embraced the new strategy. Iain McMillan, director, said: "This long-awaited strategy has all the characteristics that we were hoping for coherence with the 3-18 school curriculum and the full involvement of employers and further and higher education."
John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: "The important question is how the gover- nance is set up," he said. "Educationists and education directors would want some involvement in the skills strategy and the new body."
Iain Gray, Labour's enterprise spokesman, said: "The SNP skills strategy is pitifully light on real measures to build Scottish skills. They have made no commitment to increase modern apprenticeships or invest in skills academies and have admitted that they are delaying their promise to deliver a 'new emphasis' on early years. My worry is that the valuable function of learndirect in adult learning and training could be lost in Careers Scotland's focus on careers guidance."
Jeremy Purvis, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "The suggestion that ministers favour moving towards an English-style national skills agency is deeply concerning. The English experience is not one that we want repeating in Scotland."
The skills strategy is Scotland's response to the UK Leitch report on skills, which warned that Britain had to "raise its game" if it was to achieve a world-class skills base by 2020.