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Training bodies 'bite the bullet'

EMPLOYER training bodies are proposing their own radical overhaul to beat ministers at their own game.

Earlier this year the Government said it wanted to reduce the number of national training organisations (NTOs) from its present number of 73. NTOs oversee training for the nation's crucial manufacturing and service industries, identify skills gaps, and set occupational standards.

Ministers said they had to "raise their game" and increase their impact, if they were to play a significant part in the learning and skills revolution. If they responded, then "substantial" funds would be on their way.

NTOs bit the bullet yesterday. They told ministers they wanted a much smaller network of powerful UK-wide sector skills organisations, 20 to 30 bodies. They would be the automatic first point of reference for both providing strategic leadership and leading practical action in all employment sectors of the economy. The new bodies would command the necessary resources and top employer leadership to have a real impact on the skills industry needs, said the NTO national council.

The council's response to the Government's eview implicitly challenges the notion that the 40 per cent of business representation on the local and learning skills councils is sufficient to identify and solve the country's skills gaps.

"There have to be really good relationships with employers on the ground, in every sector, if the Government is to achieve its aims," said Tom Bewick, NTO policy director.

"The idea of the pound;6 billion LSC being demand-led is pie in the sky. There has to be a new settlement with government."

NTOs, which have public funds of pound;10 million a year, vary enormously in their size and range - from 20,000 employees to four million. Some 46 currently have fewer than 10 full-time staff.

The NTO national council accepts they have been unable to cope with the rapidly changing skills agenda - reduced unemployment and inflation, and a tight labour market leading to skills shortages, as well as more people staying on in education meaning fewer available for recruitment and training as apprentices.

Crucially, they say, a move towards a learning culture is not possible without much stronger employment support and leadership.

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