Peer calls for Dept of Work

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The Independent Online
The Government today comes under pressure from one of its own party spokesmen to establish a powerful Department of Work and spend more on vocational training.

Lord McCarthy, a Labour spokesman on employment in the House of Lords, argues that a new ministry - essentially a revamped version of the old Employment Department - is vital to reduce unemployment, tackle skills shortages, improve industrial performance and enhance employees' rights.

Thus far the Government has set its face against a return to a department specialising in the world of work, partly for fear of re-establishing a focus for union pressure. Ministers are also keen to avoid any additional spending commitments.

In a booklet published by the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research, Lord McCarthy, former adviser to past Labour secretaries of state for employment, argues that public funding of vocational training should be maintained and raised in recognition of the need for Britain to approach the skill levels of competitors.

The Government, however, should be more selective about which employers are granted inducements to enhance skills. The principle of "vocationalism", where practical skills are valued as highly as academic achievement, should be encouraged in higher quality colleges and training institutions.

The booklet, New Labour at Work, contends that labour market reform lies at the heart of the Government's plans and that a senior minister should be appointed to drive the policies through.

Lord McCarthy adds: "In political terms and presentational terms it may prove very difficult to explain why so important and inter-related set of policies, so crucial to the Government's long-term success, have not been made the full-time and undivided responsibility of a senior member of the Cabinet team."