We're not the fat cats says TEC pioneer;FE Focus

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Ngaio Crequer reports on theforthright woman who has just retired as chair of Bradford Training and Enterprise Council.

She smokes cigars, has two dogs, three cats and one husband, is founder and owner of her own company, and has just retired as the longest-serving chair of a Training and Enterprise Council.

Judith Donovan, who has now stepped down from Bradford and District TEC, was one of the founder members of the group that met ministers eight-and-a-half years ago to discuss a new hybrid organisation. She became a CBE for her services as a TEC chair, and she has always held provocative views about the links between education and industry, and the future of TECs.

"Those early days were wonderful, so exciting. There were no rules and we were up and running faster than expected. There was great commitment -the TECs were seen as a fantastic way to harness businesses to get involved."

She still holds that vision, and she wants the review of TECs recently announced by the Government to try to recapture the creative spirit of those early days.

"TECs should have complete freedom to write their own business plans. The creativity is vanishing really quickly. It is a nightmare - people are getting bogged down with bureaucracy, and staff are demotivated. In the long-term you could have every TEC being a clone of every other one."

She feels TECs are playing an enormously important role and she points particularly to business in the community. "Most businesses have felt castrated because there has been no mechanism for them to take a wider community role. This is one of the most valuable things they have done."

She also hopes TECs have persuaded local education authorities to see that partnerships "are not the enemy. I hope they no longer see us as dreadful fat-cat evil bastards intent on raping the women and stealing the children. I want local politicians to know that you can do good without being elected."

Ms Donovan is the founder and chair of Judith Donovan Associated Ltd, a top 20 direct marketing agency which employs more than 70 staff. It services 30 blue-chip clients all over the UK in the fields of mail order, financial services, retail, charity, business services and manufacturing, and last year its founder was judged Yorkshire Woman of the Year by her peers.

She accepts that the small amount of fraud in TECs is "totally unacceptable, a scandal". She helped to expose one case. "There was a TEC which was up to something highly dodgy, so I encouraged them to be rather revealing . . . and made sure a senior civil servant was sitting at the other end of the table.

"But there will always be some fraud, it is human nature. We just have to ask how endemic is it? One or two started with some dodgy practice but that got snuffed out, one or two have been incompetent, but really the scale is tiny." And she returns to her theme of excessive bureaucracy: "An extra hour in filling in forms is an hour less to police and crack down on a contractor."

TECs must be free to focus on their own concerns, she believes. "The big cheeses will not sit on boards where they cannot make policy," she said.

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