Success in partnership

January 30, 1998

Welfare to what? Phil Baty on what the government's New Deal has to offer to colleges and students.

"We've had only a small handful of people from the New Deal so far, and I really don't know how much new business it will bring in," said Chris Hughes, principal of Gates-head College.

Gateshead, with South Tyneside and Newcastle colleges, is part of the Tyneside Further Education Colleges Consortium, which beat 40 other bidders to win the three-year contract to provide New Deal education and training in Tyneside, one of 14 pilot areas where the scheme has been under way since January 5.

Emerging victorious after beating cheaper bids from private providers, Mr Hughes is convinced that the college sector is best placed to take the work, but he has mixed feelings about how much it will be worth to any individual college.

"We don't get a contract for a certain volume, we have to deal with the numbers as they become available," he said. "The big issue is the actual level of work we'll get. It depends on the ultimate size of the client group and how many will be encouraged into education."

Unemployment in Tyneside is very high. "But no one will get big numbers of New Deal students coming to them quickly. We don't see this as a high-volume business," he said.

The key to Tyneside's successful tender, he said, was partnership: "We can pool our efforts, get economies of scale for the administration, and the Employment Service has the convenience of a minimum number of contractors."

In areas where the client group is spread thinly, bids from individual colleges may be more successful.

Mr Hughes will be providing the education at largely the same funding level as non-New Deal funding council levels. "It depends on what programmes the students roll on to." He has been encouraged by the attitude of the Employment Service. "They are not obsessed with unit cost and are looking for a quality model."

But Mr Hughes is still worried about the ES's propensity to send potential students down the short-term employment pathways at the expense of their education.

"We have a lot of unemployed people on the Job Seeker's Allowance studying under the 16-hour rule," he said. "If they are pushed under the New Deal into one of the non-education options, it would be ludicrous. If we lose JSA students and do not regain them under the New Deal it will be bad for colleges and bad for the student."

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