Labour to abandon work training levy

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Indy Politics
Labour is set to abandon its commitment to an industrial training levy as the centrepiece of its policies to end skill shortages.

In an attempt to discover a more employer-friendly option, the party is considering a statutory obligation to provide training days - industry's equivalent of `Baker' days in schools.

As part of a consultation process, Harriet Harman, Labour's employment spokeswoman, will also assess reaction to a proposal to set up individual training accounts, to which both workers and management would contribute and which would be spent on accredited courses.

Ms Harman told a seminar at St Georges, Windsor, last night that the present system of `voluntarism' had failed, but a future Labour government would not necessarily revert to the old system of training taxation. She said it was essential that training needs were addressed through a partnership between management and their employees.

Her plan for `Baker' training days - if she becomes Secretary of State for Employment they would inevitably be called `Harman' days - could involve five days a year and contain a wide range of activities.

As part of the deal, employers would pay for their workers' time and ensure that all employees were provided with the opportunity to learn. Labour is determined to tie the entitlement to the individual rather than the company.

One version of a Learning Account would be where a company contributed £2 a week and an employee 50p to be spent on accredited training. That learning process could involve courses applicable to the employee's present job, or skills which could be portable.

If a future Labour government retained the levy system it might be necessary to review exemptions for smaller companies, Ms Harman said. Around half the workforce was now employed in small and medium-sized enterprises. She emphasised that the three main strands of her strategy were not mutually exclusive.

She said there was strong evidence that the skills shortage was growing. The 1994 Skill Needs in Britain survey showed that one person in five had no in-work training at all. At the same time, 11 per cent of establishments reported some "hard to fill" vacancies, compared to six per cent in 1993 and five per cent in 1992.

An Industrial Society survey showed that in December, 1994, employers were spending £384 a year on training each employee, compared with £492 18 months previously, Ms Harman said.