Isn't it about time Labour abolished the TECs?

March 26, 1999

Unaccountable, overburdened, outdated -TECs have had their day, writes Julian Gravatt

Training and enterprise councils are an idea whose time has gone, and they should be abolished. An innovation of the late 1980s to deal with problems of that decade, the councils live on in the 1990s, but only in an increasingly congested education and training arena. The Labour government has created systems to deal with new priorities, many of which cross TEC boundaries.

The Lifelong Learning Partnerships will coordinate local authorities and colleges and draw up plans to meet national targets - formerly a TEC preserve. The Further Education Funding Council has targets for recruiting more 16 and 17-year-olds to further education colleges that mirror TEC targets. The University for Industry has the task of mobilising people to learn and train, one of the six challenges given to TECs in 1998. And recently the government announced the formation of a Small Business Agency,with a remit for supporting small businesses that is shared by TECs. The Employment Service's New Deal overlaps with work-based training for adults.Regional development agencies share a responsibility for local economic development and regional skills strategies - six TEC functions; six competing organisations for each one.

TECs do a series of necessary jobs, but with the wrong tools. They organise large public-sector employment training programmes for school-leavers and unemployed adults, but do so within an unaccountable company structure. They deliver national programmes, but without any systematic national data collection and only limited success in preventing fraud.

TECs have accumulated functions since 1990 because of government's reluctance to use local authorities to implement new education and training initiatives. Too often, TECs pay for these initiatives by using surplus money from training programmes. The training programmes - Youth Training, Modern Apprenticeships and Work-Based Training for Adults - have evolved to meet the changing needs of trainees, employers and government. But there has been no clear strategy.

The same employee could take the same national vocational qualification via four funding routes - TEC, FEFC, European Social Fund or New Deal - all backed by the Department for Education and Employment. There are subtle differences that confuse recipients. It is a short step from confusion to non-participation.

One legacy of the private-company structure established for TECs is that their abolition will be complicated. The government will need to tread carefully to ensure that useful assets and valued staff are not lost to the training system.

TECs must die. Long live TEC objectives, at least some of them.

Julian Gravatt is registrar, Lewisham College.

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