Sunday, June 22, 2008

Political skills

When responding to questions about the impact of the changes in funding that will affect adult education in universities, ministers keep insisting this is not a cut but a reallocation. Though many departments, like the one I work in, may well experience it as a reduction, the money is supposed to stay in the system and support new learners.

One of the main ways they expect to spend the 'saving' is on co-financed provision with employers. I think that everyone recognises that there is a need for better skills training, but there is also widespread scepticism about whether the diversion of funds will be successful and employers' willingness to engage with the scheme. At the heart of it is a typical New Labour elision. Skills training is supposed to be employer, rather than employee, led. You might have noticed that their interests are not always identical, especially if the employee wants to use education to escape the clutches of the employer who is supposed to be paying for it.

Now it appears that there is some empirical foundation to these doubts as the BBC reports that:

About £15m of government funds set aside for work-related training has not been taken up and has been reallocated, Skills Secretary John Denham has said.

It is hardly encouraging that adult education, for which there is a demand, is being sacrificed to divert funds to something currently as unsuccessful. However, this is not the most important story. The Conservatives are making all the right noises, as you can see from the comment by John Hayes, and I can assure you that they have taken a keen and supportive interest in the campaign against the changes. This has led some Labour voting colleagues to suggest that we might be better off with a Tory government and looking forward to a Labour defeat. It is an argument I wholeheartedly reject and view Conservative support as largely opportunistic.

However, this is what is at the crux of the contemporary British political scene. We have a Labour government capable of doing immensely stupid things, but until now they have always been able to rely on an even stupider opposition. Today we have a dumb government and a smart opposition.It is time for Labour to think again if it wants to retain power.

Thanks to Ian

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