BERR and DIUS merger will further complicate skills system, experts warn

The merger of BERR and DIUS will further complicate a skills system which many employers already say is too confusing, employment experts have warned.

The new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was created last week after prime minister Gordon Brown pushed through his reshuffle, merging the former Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Jim Hillage, director of research at the Institute for Employment Studies think-tank, warned the changes would blur the skills system even more for employers.

He told Personnel Today: “It took DIUS ages to get up and running and organised and it’s a concern that this new ministry will take time to get going too, creating a further hiatus in policy decision when we need a clear focus and energy.

“Continual change is not good for clear and consistent policy making. It would have been best if this was done two years ago rather than creating DIUS.”

Lee Hopley, head of economic policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, echoed the concerns.

He said: “There has been an awful lot of flux in the skills agenda over the past five years and we need a period of certainty and we would hope the merger would not cause people to start trying to reinvent the wheel.”

John Philpott, public policy director at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, has already criticised the government’s timing of the re-organisation during the recession.

He said earlier this week: “Now is surely not the time to be embarking on yet another reorganisation of the civil service teams responsible for supporting businesses and individuals in boosting skills.”

Industry bodies have largely welcomed Peter Mandelson, now first secretary of state, to be in charge of the skills agenda, however.

Richard Wainer, head of education and skills policy at the business group CBI, said: “Merging DIUS and BERR should give added impetus to moves to ensure skills become much more relevant to what employers need.

“When you hear Peter Mandelson speak, it’s clear that he understands the skills agenda is central to the economic agenda and for helping the country remain competitive. He is clearly a strong and influential voice in the Cabinet, and that can only be beneficial for the skills system.”

Kate Lowton, a researcher at think tank IPPR, said: “If Mandelson gets behind the skills agenda, he has the power to get things done, which could be good for the skills sector.”

She said it was unlikely the merger would lead to less focus on skills because the government was clear that prioritising skills would help employers come out of the recession.

Hillage added that merging the two departments could make sense as it would give skills greater prominence within government.

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