Treasury 'betrays' Labour pledge

December 26, 1997

THE Treasury is behind a deal struck with employers that betrays the government's public commitment to improve education and training for 16- and 17-year-olds, it has been claimed.

Liberal Democrats say that the deal, to quell business and industry fears of higher training costs, undermines provisions in the government's Teaching and Higher Education bill. They also say it flies in the face of the Kennedy agenda for widening participation in post-16 education.

Part three of the bill, published last month, allows 16- and 17-year-olds time off work for study and training. Young employees, it says, should take a nationally recognised academic or vocational "external qualification" that is likely to enhance their job prospects.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat spokesman for further and higher education, said he took the bill to mean that young employees would get paid time off to take day-release courses at FE colleges. But the Confederation of British Industry expects the bill to be amended to allow workplace training.

Mr Willis said that the Treasury deal would exempt some employers from the obligation to release employees. Instead they could continue with the same minimal levels of in-house training they have provided for years. Young employees would not necessarily gain any recognised qualification and thus find the training of little help in the search for a job. "This is a total betrayal of the principle of lifelong learning and training," he said. "It is part of chancellor Gordon Brown's commitment to British industry that there will be absolutely no additional taxes."

Mr Willis has asked education secretary David Blunkett for clarification, in particular if certain employers will be exempt from allowing 16- and 17-year-old staff time off for study or training.

The CBI backs legislation to provide more structured education and training for 16- to 19-year-olds but wants this to be implemented "sensitively" - on the basis of what is right for both employee and employer.

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