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Tories aim to set colleges free to meet needs

Your coverage of the new report from Reform, an independent and non- party think tank, was headed "Tory idea to scrap funding bodies and give cash to students" (FE Focus, November 28). This is a misleading account of what I said at the launch of the report and of our policies.

The report includes a searing account of the muddle, complexity and inefficiency that have characterised this Government's approach to skills. It highlights weaknesses of the current system effectively.

But, while I share Reform's concerns, I made it clear at the event that I have doubts about the group's ideas. Their flagship idea is to give young learners a standard sum of money to spend how they wish.

But, given the disparity of costs between subjects, it is hard to see how this could work in practice. And, as I explained at the meeting, older learners would be disadvantaged.

We have proposed a more coherent package of reforms in our own skills Green Paper. Our key goal is to set FE colleges free so that they can respond to the needs of local people and local businesses. We would replace the Learning and Skills Council with a new light-touch further education funding council.

We will also establish a Pounds 100 million fund for people not in education, employment or training and a Pounds 100 million adult and community learning fund, which FE colleges would be able to bid for. And we would fund a large boost to apprenticeships for people of all ages, with the training delivered by FE colleges and others.

On higher education, we have called for the student finance review to be brought forward and to be as thorough as possible.

FE colleges are the unsung heroes of our education system. It is clear that we will not be able to face down the recession without them. We must boost the FE sector's capacity to help people with training needs.

David Willetts, Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

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