CBI urges radical training reforms

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The Independent Online
THE Government is to consider a CBI plan to strip the Department of Employment of its pounds 2bn responsibility for vocational training - a move which could lead to the ministry's abolition.

The employers' group is about to submit a paper calling for radical changes in the way training and education is delivered in an attempt to break down what it regards as artificial barriers between the two services. John Major indicated sympathy for this in his Carlton Club speech on Wednesday and Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment, is thought to have an open mind on the subject.

Ministers are to be presented with two options by the CBI. One is the merger of the employment department's Training Education and Enterpise Directorate with the Department of Education. The other is the creation of two ministries: one dedicated to children aged under 16 and the other catering for training and education of all those over that age.

Politicians seeking to promote training argue that one fundamental problem is the class stereotype which they believe dictates that middle-class children are educated and working-class children trained. Training has remained 'the poor relation' literally and figuratively, they argue.

Mr Major said on Wednesday that there should be a government focus on 16- to 19-year-olds, which would require 'close co-operation' between departments. He said he was determined this year to start opening up a wider choice of ways to study and train for a career. 'This has to begin with schools. We need vocational qualifications which carry esteem, are worthwhile in themselves and challenge the monopoly of the academic route to further and higher education,' he said.

Leading CBI figures believe there could be a smooth transfer of responsibilities from the Department of Employment to the Department of Education.

Some CBI leaders believe that a logical corollary of their plan for training would be the abolition of the Department of Employment.

Responsibility for paying unemployment benefit, for instance, could be ceded to the Department of Social Security and the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service could be taken over by the Department of Trade and Industry.