Flagship IT skills body set for April relaunch

The public/private sector partnership responsible for IT training in the UK said it was confident it would win funding to become...

The public/private sector partnership responsible for IT training in the UK said it was confident it would win funding to become one of the government's new employer-led training organisations within a matter of months, despite delays to the government's training reforms.

Karen Price, chief executive of E-Skills UK, said she expected to get the go-ahead to transform the organisation into one of the first of the government's flagship sector skills councils in April, bringing months of uncertainty to an end.

The creation of a sector skills council for IT promises to give employers greater say over government training policy and the work of colleges and universities and is likely to mean injections of cash for employer-led training programmes.

"It will leverage the momentum we have gained. Instead of reaching tens of thousands [of people] we are going to reach hundreds of thousands directly. We are also going to be able to work through many intermediaries to get employers' agenda actioned," said Price.

The breakthrough follows what critics claim is nearly a year of delays by the Department for Education and Skills and the Sector Skills Development Agency.

Few of the former national training organisations that have applied for sector skills council status are willing to jeopardise their applications for funding by speaking out publicly, but in private they scathing.

One concern is that the agency appears to have changed its mind about the criteria that the former training bodies are expected to meet to win sector skills council status.

"The Sector Skills Development Agency keeps moving the goalposts. The agency seems to be on permanent castors," said one official this week.

The need to integrate the role of the sector skills councils in England with the priorities of the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales is understood to be one of the factors behind the delays.

In April 2002, Computer Weekly reported concerns in the training industry that unless the sector skills council programme progressed more rapidly, employers would withdraw their support for the councils.

Nine months later no sector skills councils have yet been approved. E-Skills UK said, however, that it had managed to retain the support of employers, despite what it describes as a four-month "time in the wilderness".

"I think we have had an unfortunate four months from April to August where the agenda did stall. It was demoralising. But since August, it is almost as if we are acting as a sector skills council. We are growing, doing more, we have got bigger clout and a bigger voice," said Price.

The Sector Skills Development Agency was unavailable for comment.

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