It is easy to get lost in a thicket of government learning schemes. But a little context sheds light on New Labour’s habits of reinvention. By Stephen Overell
Adult learning has long been a subject that makes people’s eyes glaze over. Put this fact together with the Government’s propensity for announcing policy initiatives several times over and it makes keeping up with what is happening in the skills field a subject of headache-inducing pedantry. So for the benefit of personnel professionals who can’t devote their lives to the DfEE, what follows is intended as context to the dozens of adult learning announcements.
Let us go back to Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Party conference on 26 September last year. As you would expect, it contained a flurry of policy statements in a bid to excite the faithful about where the Government was up to on its assorted programmes. Among them were the following: there are to be 6,000 new centres around Britain to give people access to the Internet; everyone would get an 80 per cent discount on computer courses; the unemployed would get them free and there are also to be 1,000 more technology centres for small businesses and the self-employed.
To begin unpicking all this, you need to go back even further - to 11 September, 2000. This was the day that Tony Blair first announced that everyone should have access within two years to one of 6,000 online centres, called UK Online, placed in shopping centres and community halls around Britain, as part of an initiative aimed at disadvantaged communities. To fund it, £252m would be available from the Capital Modernisation Fund, together with £77.5m to help with running costs from the New Opportunities Fund, aka the National Lottery.
So he repeated his announcement at a party conference. Fair enough. But those figures - £252m and £77.5m - might jog some memories. They are exactly the same figures that were used to launch another government initiative dating back to the Budget of March 1999, the ICT Learning Centres programme.
The chances are that you won’t have heard of this scheme. It was aimed at bridging the information-rich, information-poor divide, helping disadvantaged communities and others who lack access to the Internet gain support in basic ICT skills. Under the program