Sector skills councils still face closure despite majority passing relicensing review

The government’s entire network of sector skills councils (SSCs) still face the prospect of being closed down despite all but two of the 25 bodies passing a recent relicensing process, Personnel Today has learned.

Last week, the government announced the final four SSCs had undergone the £2m relicensing programme, a key recommendation of the Leitch Review, during which SSCs have had to reapply for their licenses to check they were fit for purpose and met employer needs.

Despite the vast majority successfully passing the review process, the Department for Business warned it still planned to “substantially reduce” the number of SSCs to make the network easier to digest for employers.

A spokeswoman told Personnel Today: “The reduction of the number of sector skills councils will be a separate process to the relicensing process, and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills will work with all relicensed councils on proposals to consolidate the 25 sector skills councils to a substantially reduced number.”

She ruled out that the government had targets in place for the number of SSCs, and refused to speculate how many bodies would be left operating after the review.

Last week, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) confirmed that two of the current 25 councils would not be relicensed. One, Government Skills, which provides training to the Civil Service, was told its remit was too small and must extend operations to include local government – which it refused to do (see box below).

And last year, Skillfast, which delivers training to the fashion and textiles sector failed to get relicensed, and is instead merging with creative media body Skillset from April.

A UKCES spokeswoman said the cost of relicensing was “good value for money”, as it amounted to less than 1% of the total funding received by SSCs over the past seven years. She added: “Sector skills councils are a key part of government skills policy throughout the UK, and it is therefore crucial that they are of the highest possible calibre and carry the confidence of both government and employers. We believe the relicensing process has played a vital part in that.”

Government Skill to lose UKCES funding

Government Skill has announced it will step down as a registered sector skills council at the end of June.

During its review, Government Skills was told it need to extend its remit, to cover workers including local government, or lose its sector skills council status.

A spokeswoman for UKCES said the council would now lose its funding from the commission – for 2009-10, the council received £1.8m from UKCES – and would have to rely on funding from government employers to keep operating.

During the UKCES relicensing process, seven councils, including the Financial Services Skills Council and Skills for Logistics, were forced to make changes to keep their SSC status.

The relicensing assessments were carried out by the National Audit Office, which spent a week with each council and conducted more than 80 interviews and reviewed hundreds of documents per council.

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