TECs win training cash fight

November 21, 1997

Will education control be local, regional or national? THES reporters monitor moving battlelines

The government's proposed new regional development agencies appear to have lost the fight to control the multi-million pound training budget, diminishing their potential independence and scope for working with universities and colleges.

Official policy decisions will come in the white paper on regional development, which is due to be published at the end of this month. But it appears that when the RDAs are set up in April 1999, the UK's 78 regional training and enterprise councils will maintain control of the government's training budget.

A government issues paper produced earlier this year invited consultation on the proposed role of RDAs in "ensuring that training and FE programmes adequately reflect the needs of the labour market".

It also proposed that the RDAs should have a close relationship with local higher education institutions. This overarching role will not now materialise, it is understood.

Although some sources suggest that the battle for the training money is not over, many seem resigned to that conclusion. TEC sources believe that they have secured 95 per cent of the training money, with only 5 per cent going to the RDAs.

The North of England Assembly - a local authority lobby - is pressing the government to transfer the training money to RDAs. Acting director, Alan Roberts, said: "The RDA should be the body responsible for all aspects of expenditure for economic renewal, including education and training. The basic principle behind the RDAs was that all economic development and related expenditure should be put to it at regional level."

Phil Swan, senior officer for the Local Government Association said: "RDAs need to have the ability and flexibility to adjust training provision patterns to the needs of the regions as a whole."

Chris Humphries, chief executive of the TEC National Council, said he did not know if the TECs would keep the money, He added that he had never said that it should not eventually be transferred to the RDAs.

"What we have said to the Government is that some regions are just not ready. We are arguing for a evolutionary approach."

This year TECs expect to receive Pounds 718million for traineeships and modern apprenticeships and Pounds 250 million for the government's training for work programme, with more for company-based Investors in People and education business partnerships.

The apparent TEC victory has come when the councils face fresh questions about their accountability and their ability to meet the labour market's training needs.

This week lifelong learning minister Kim Howells said that he would fold the Central England Training and Enterprise Council when its contract runs out in March next year. CENTEC was said to have wrongly paid up to Pounds 1 million of public money to a private training provider which is facing investigation for fraud.

In recent weeks Dr Howells has made a series of vociferous attacks on irregularities in TEC-based training provision, warning last month that there would be "zero tolerance" of payment errors.

Opinion, page 13

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