Ministers told cuts may close training councils

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SOME OF Britain's 82 Training and Enterprise Councils could go to the wall if the Government persists with its planned cuts in public expenditure, according to the leader of the TECs.

In a marked change of tactics, Edward Roberts, the normally reticent chairman of the 'Group of Ten' TEC chairmen, yesterday warned ministers that their training strategy was in jeopardy.

Hitherto Mr Roberts and G10 - made up of leading businessmen - have confined their criticism of ministerial policy to internal memos, preferring to present a united front in public.

The TECs receive about pounds 2bn of taxpayers' money annually to deliver training programmes for the unemployed and to encourage provision by the private sector.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Roberts says: 'There is a serious risk that if there is to be another year of Government cuts, not only will quality of training have to be sacrificed, but that a number of the smaller TECs that have worked so hard to such good effect in putting in place effective locally based partnerships to rebuild their local economies, will cease to be effective or even viable.'

At the annual meeting of TECs in Birmingham last month when Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment, hinted that cuts were likely, Mr Roberts would only say that it was necessary for the Government to keep the lid on the public sector borrowing requirement. Since then, however, his colleagues have made plain their opposition to reductions in their budgets. After feedback from TEC chairmen, Mr Roberts said that even maintenance of funding at current levels would not enable TECs to meet the growing demand for training programmes from young people and the unemployed.

The G10 chairman said that TEC boards were not prepared to see their budgets reduced without full consideration of the 'wider alternatives'.

The Earl of Stockton, chairman of Central London TEC and a G10 member, said that if there was to be a reduction in budgets, TECs should be given more flexibility on how the money was spent.

The Government is ring-fencing expenditure on youth training for unemployed school leavers, but arguing for big cuts in other programmes such as training for jobless adults. Some TECs are saying they can cope with cuts provided there are no 'rigid formulae' imposed centrally.

There is also concern that pounds 40m is being switched away from TEC budgets to finance 'first-stop shops' set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to provide business advice.

Mr Roberts, who runs a company supplying springs to the motor industry, said: 'In the current employment situation it is vital that education and training are focused on the economic needs of the country and that sufficient funding be available to meet the increased demands for meaningful education and training.'