Industry chiefs have been angered by a decision not to make engineering training organisation EMTA a pilot in the government’s new skills programme.
The training body had been hoping to become one of five ‘trailblazing’ Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) that will replace the old National Training Organisations. But it was overlooked, with organisations covering the petrochemicals and textiles sectors the only manufacturing-related bodies given this status. Three other training bodies, for retail, agriculture and broadcasting, were also appointed.
While many employer associations have deliberately refrained from attacking the government, Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU, said he was extremely angry that the suffering of the UK’s manufacturing industry was not being taken seriously. ‘There have been a lot of warm words from the government, saying they are keen to develop the skills agenda and provide support for manufacturing, but when it comes down to a concrete project, they do not take the opportunity to progress with it.’
Education Secretary Estelle Morris announced plans to reduce the 73 NTOs to a smaller number of SSCs last October. Many of the NTOs, which were set up under the Conservatives to improve links between industry and government, were criticised for being weak, under-resourced and ineffective. The government hopes creating a smaller number of larger organisations will make them more effective at lobbying on behalf of employers.
Dr Michael Sanderson, chief executive of EMTA, said he was disappointed the training body was not chosen as a ‘trailblazing’ SSC, despite having the support of all the manufacturing trade associations, unions and companies such as Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Marconi.
But he was reluctant to criticise the government for its decision, as the organisation now plans to apply for mainstream SSC status by the end of March.
Over the next three months EMTA must submit a declaration of its intention to apply to become an SSC, detailing its financial viability and support from employers. If accepted, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) will appoint a mentor to help put its final bid together. EMTA’s bid will then be sent to the yet-to-be-launched Sector Skills Development Agency, the regulatory body that will have the power to appoint each of the SSCs, provide funding and axe those councils that fail to meet their objectives.
Sanderson questioned whether the new body will be set up in time to meet the government’s own deadline, as the chief executive and other key staff have yet to be appointed. But if the deadline is met, most of the new SSCs will be in operation by April, with a five-year operating licence.
EMTA is ‘cautiously optimistic’ it will be successful in its application, Sanderson said. ‘I think it is fairly unlikely we will be rejected, as we have very strong industry support. When you read through the government’s document explaining all the things the SSCs should be doing that the NTOs were not, we are already doing all of them.’
Around 20-25 SSCs are expected to be created, with many smaller or ineffective NTOs likely to merge or be axed in April. The surviving councils will inherit the £67m allocated to NTOs by the government under the comprehensive spending review until 2004, as well as an extra £1m annually for each council’s core activities, on condition that they secure at least the same amount from employers.