Sir Brian Wolfson, chairman of the National Training Task Force, called on the Cabinet to abandon its philosophy of 'voluntarism' and introduce a compulsory levy on company payrolls to ensure that money is spent on training. His arguments will infuriate ministers and hearten the Labour Party, which has also proposed a similar 'training tax'.
In a speech last week to the annual meeting of the Institute of Manpower Studies, Sir Brian, also chairman of Wembley plc, broke with his four-year reluctance to attack the Government publicly. Sir Brian was selected by the Cabinet to set up Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) in England and Wales and the Local Enterprise Companies in Scotland.
He told an audience of 80 leading figures from industry: 'Unless the Government gets its act together and truly decides whether it wants to support this initiative, and makes it work in every aspect, it will never deliver to the nation the promise that was so nearly ours.'
More than 1,400 'first-class' people - mostly from the business community - had given their time and energy to the movement.
But Sir Brian added: 'Then I look at the other side of the equation at our antipathy for the 'doing culture'. I look at the way politicians helped create an idea that gave birth to the TEC movement but ever since that movement began to gather initiative, began to gather momentum, began to go places, instead of rushing in to support it and make sure it worked they gradually began to cut back.'
The only hopeful signs Sir Brian could discern involved foreign- owned companies: Sony at Bridgend, Nissan in the North- east and IBM at Greenock, which were at least as productive as any plants they had in other countries.
Sir Bryan's comments come at a time when ministers are digesting a highly critical annual lecture at the Economic and Social Research Council by Sir Richard Layard, of the London School of Economics. He said Britain would continue to produce a vast army of 'lumpenproletarians' unless the state invested more in training.
Sir Brian added: 'In this country we have failed to capitalise on our potential, not by a small amount, but by a vast amount. Our expectations, both from employers and from employees, are far too low.
'The poverty of desire is still out there and rampant. To a large extent we simply ignore the added value of education in Britain.'
He said that recent studies in America had shown that for every extra year in education after the age of 17, lifetime earnings were increased by 16 per cent. He believed it was 'still not a very agreeable experience to be 16 to 19 in this country'.