Privatised training firm calls in receiver

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THE GOVERNMENT was accused yesterday of committing one of its most serious blunders over privatisation, when Britain's biggest vocational training company went into receivership.

The former Skills Training Agency, sold to three senior civil servants in a management buy-out, called in the receivers after a slump in government spending on courses for the unemployed and a downturn in private-sector contracts.

Since privatisation three years ago the number of skill centres has been cut from 60 to 35, with the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. The company presently employs 950, most of whom are training specialists.

Stuart Bishell, managing director of Astra Training Services, the company formed by the civil servants, said: 'We will now devote all our energies to meeting the need of customers and help the receivers to preserve a viable business.'

But the receivership will be used by the Opposition as an example of how the Government has abandoned responsibility for vocational training. In the Commons debate on Maastricht yesterday, John Smith, the Labour leader, said it was a prime example of government incompetence.

John Sheldon, leader of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, urged ministers to bring the centres back into public ownership.

He said there should be a public inquiry.