Training councils attacked as waste of money

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN pounds 2bn of taxpayers' money is being wasted each year on Training and Enterprise Councils that are ineffective, unaccountable and dominated by white middle-class males.

These are the principal findings of a three-year investigation into the 80 employer-led TECs in England and Wales and the 10 Local Enterprise Councils in Scotland, set up by the Government to spark a 'skills revolution'.

The TECs have become a privatised delivery service for state training schemes for the unemployed of deteriorating quality, according to the charitably-funded Centre for Local Economic Strategies.

The centre's 100-page report, to be published on Monday, forms one of the most critical documents on the TEC system since the Government established it three years ago.

It says that TECs are failing in their mission to encourage increased training of people in employment, partly because of the recession and partly because the TEC boards have no teeth. The overwhelming majority of TEC funds are earmarked for the provision of Youth Training for unemployed school-leavers and Employment Training for jobless adults: 'This hardly amounts to a skills revolution.'

Only 10 per cent of TEC directors are women and only 3.5 per cent are from ethnic minorities. Ministers insist that TECs - private companies with an 'arm's length relationship with central government' - have an in-built majority of business people. This means local authorities, unions and voluntary bodies are marginalised, the report's authors, Mike Emmerich of CLES and Jamie Peck of the University of Manchester, say. 'TECs are unelected local bodies which cannot claim to have a mandate from the local community. This under-representation of local interests forms a poor basis for the development of a partnership approach to training. It creates an environment of commercial confidentiality and feelings of exclusion and marginalisation, an approach entirely out of step with our European partners.'

There was a 'credibility gap' between the aims of TECs and what they delivered. In their role as 'catalysts for change' in the private sector they could only rely on exhortation: 'They have no levers to pull.'

The report concludes: 'More than any other, it is the issue of the stimulation of private investment in training on which the TEC initiative must be judged. Historical experience in Britain, and the experience of our major international competitors, suggests that a vocational training system based purely on voluntarism is unlikely to succeed.'

The authors call for the establishment of a national strategy on employment and training, with central and sectoral targets backed up by regional training agencies. Industrial training organisations, now overwhelmingly voluntary, should be strengthened and, where industry agrees, their statutory status should be restored.

The report also advocates the establishment of a training levy to finance employer provision.

Reforming the TECs: Towards a New Training Strategy; Centre for Local Economic Strategies, Alberton House, St Mary's Parsonage, Manchester M3 2WJ.