Shadow skills minister reveals plan to cut skills bureaucracy

The Tory skills chief has mapped out how he would slash bureaucracy in the skills system to help employers gain easier access to state funding to train their staff.

In an exclusive interview with Personnel Today, shadow skills minister David Willetts pledged to cut the number of skills quangos to as low as three per sector should the Conservative Party come to power next year.

In some cases there are 17 bodies providing accreditation, inspection and funding, he said, with the cost of education and skills bodies soaring to at least £18.9bn a year, according to figures from the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Willetts said: “The basic model [should be] a funding body, an audit function and an inspection job, probably done by Ofsted. That means you would end up with less quangos.”

The money saved would be pumped into frontline training to stop the UK falling behind its competitors, and would be used to create a “straightforward” funding system for employers.

He also promised to put more emphasis on learning key skills in the workplace to help boost the economy out of the recession, by injecting an extra £100m in courses to help staff – including new parents returning to work – to retrain.

“We will make a major investment into much-needed courses to help people update or gain new skills,” he said.

Willetts attacked the Leitch Review of Skills and the government’s subsequent focus on qualifications rather than hands-on training, which he said had done an “enormous amount of damage” to upskilling the UK workforce.

The 2006 Leitch Review introduced targets to train UK workers to varying levels of qualifications, including that 90% of the adult workforce should complete Level 2 (equivalent to five GCSEs) by 2020.

Leitch was over-rated by the government,” Willetts said. “Training providers and further education colleges are focused on providing qualifications to receive funding from the Learning and Skills Council, so the emphasis is on pieces of paper rather than the necessary skills.”

The Conservatives would invest in 100,000 new apprenticeships each year, and fully fund some 77,000 schemes, which at present are only part-funded.

A Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills spokeswoman said the government had made headway in simplifying the skills network for employers.

She pointed to a speech by skills minister John Denham last week, who said: “The real priority today must be the skills that we need to get Britain out of [this] recession.”

Willetts’ UK skills plans

  • Slash the number of skills quangos to three per sector
  • Provide more funding to train parents returning to work
  • Create 100,000 new apprenticeships annually
  • Fully fund 77,000 apprenticeships that are only part-funded.

MP expenses scandal

David Willetts was caught up in the MPs’ expenses scandal after it was revealed he hired help to replace 25 light bulbs at his second home in London, costing £135.12. He also claimed more than £143,000 between 2001-08 on his second home allowance, according to the Telegraph‘s expenses campaign. So far, he has given back just the cost of the light bulb home help.

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