Tuesday 20 January 2009

After Leitch


   Remember the 2006 Leitch Review and the 2007 Skills Pledge?


As I described in a 2007 post, and elsewhere, these were early attempts by the UK's new PM, Gordon Brown, to stimulate productivity through significantly enhanced skills.


This Review has itself now been reviewed by a House of Commons Committee, and their conclusions published as the 'After Leitch' report.


I'm not going to post an extensive review of the review (of the review), which you'll find elsewhere, for example on Training Zone.  But as I was a supporter of the original Leitch Review, and the new review is fairly critical of this, I think I should comment on some of the key points.


Firstly, this latest review notes that as the UK's economic climate has worsened, government targets and investments need to be revised.  This is self-evident, and I don't think the fact that Leitch failed to anticipate the changing economy detracts from his work, or his conclusions.  It's just that, short-term at least, we may need to make some changes in priorities (eg upsklilling to reskilling).


Secondly, yes, the UK's skills infrastructure is still a bit of a mess ('a pig's ear or a dog's breakfast'), and it's still not effectively employer led.  Again, I don't think this is Leitch's fault.  These are longstanding issues, dating back at least 15 years to when I worked for one of the UK's Training & Enterprise Councils, which were designed specifically to help bring training and business together (actually, the issues probably go back at least twice this long).  Some of Leitch's recommendations are still in progress, for example winding up the LSC, and I think we now need to see whether these changes (obviously implemented with sufficient flexibility and communication etc) do effectively simplify and improve the system.


But my main point refers to the Committee's conclusions that the Leitch review was unduly optimistic and its targets unrealistic and unachievable.


I think it's a shame if we move away from these targets.  And I think they could be achieved, with the right political will and stakeholder engagement etc.  Yes, it's a shame that they focus so much on qualifications, but without these surrogates for skills increases, there would be even more questions about whether higher skills actually deliver increases in productivity, something the House of Commons Committee has already noted as a further concern.


I'm sure there is a link between skills and productivity, but I'm equally as sure that it's going to be indirect and long-term.  Scaling back too far now is going to cause us more problems later on.  And we're still going to need world-class skills to deliver productivity improvements and pay for Gordon Brown's current splurge.


I've already commented on the fact that, amongst the cuts, many businesses are still investing quite heavily for the eventual economic upturn.  I think that with the skills agenda at least, the UK government needs to do the same.




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