In at the start and still working for the future;TECs;Viewpoints;Opinion

26th June 1998 at 01:00
TECs have shaped current policy in lifetime development opportunities.

IN JUNE 1994, the TEC National Council published a short paper entitled Individual Commitment to Lifetime Learning. It represented in microcosm the wider contribution training and enterprise councils have made over the past eight years.

First, it was innovative and ahead of its time. I look back with satisfaction to that report's four key recommendations - calling for a campaign for learning; a network of learning 'one-stop shops', including guidance, for adults; a more responsive supply side; and individual learning accounts.

Second, it was effective. Through a programme of strong advocacy, these ideas became key planks of Labour Party policy. With the advent of Learning Direct and the University for Industry, these four elements are now the cornerstones of the Government's implementation strategy for lifelong learning.

Third, it was developed in partnership. Training and enterprise councils were asked to prepare the paper in 1993. The national council recognised that this was a very broad issue, which would have an impact on many aspects of policy and practice. So it invited key partners, including government departments and agencies, to work with it: its recommendations were supported by all of them.

When working at their best, these are the characteristics that have defined the contribution of TECs to the UK since their establishment innovations are numerous and include, for example:

* The revitalisation of links between education and industry through the education business partnerships, and their key roles in work experience, work-related curriculum projects, and teacher placements; * The original design of Modern Apprenticeships (in response to a challenge from Gillian Shephard when Secretary of State for Employment in 1992), now the most successful work-based training initiative of the past 30 years; * The shaping and successful delivery of Investors in People ; * The Business Link network, for which TECs were asked to take the lead role by Michael Heseltine in 1992; * The establishment of local economic development partnership from the early 1990s onwards, and at a time when many local authorities had reduced or abandoned economic development work; * The roll-out of a national programme of out-of-hours childcare arrangements, based on after school and holiday clubs since 1993, now backed by a pound;27 million TEC budget in 1998-9; * A range of innovative best practice programmes in business support leading to the DTI publication of a value for money assessment of TEC business support services as the most successful evaluation of any DTI funded provision in recent times.

The reason for the overall success of TECs has been the effective engagement of local business leaders in TEC work.

It is a simple fact that only businesses can create sustainable wealth and employment in a community or a nation. Tony Blair and new Labour are right to try to strengthen the engagement of business in shaping national policy while encouraging businesses to recognise that responsible behaviour will lead to far greater public support and sustainable development.

Anybody who has sat down with a board of volunteer TEC directors will recognise that they are highly committed and motivated and genuinely practice that philosophy.

The Government has recently announced a review of the future role of TECS, with the aim of producing new strategic guidance for TECs "for the remainder of this Parliament". This is absolutely right, and is something the TEC National Council has encouraged.

As non-statutory bodies, TECs' legitimacy comes from regular and clear public statements on the priorities the Government has for them. This will be the fourth such document since TECs beganand the first from the new Government. Regular review everytwo to three years is essential.

The arrival of regional development agencies, the strengthened emphasis on skills and lifelong learning, a focus on small and medium enterprises and the development of working people as well as young people, the completion of the Business Link network, the merger of more than a quarter of TECs with their Chambers of Commerce, all reflect the fact that change affects every organisation and TECs can be no exception.

But the real success of TECs is highly visible when anyone bothers to look below the superficiality of some of the occasional and hysterical headlines. The first eight years of innovation, effectiveness and partnership merit renewal of their remit, maintenance of the important integration of training and enterprise, and the continuing engagement of local businesses in the economic development of the communities in which they remain key partners.

* Chris Humphries is chief executive of the National Council of Training and Enterprise Councils

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