Nanny states and nanny goats

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As we (nervously) approach the outcomes of the Comprehensive Spending Review it is perhaps worth pausing and thinking about some of the implications for skills, not only in the light of likely funding cuts but also in the light of the non-interventionist approach likely from the coalition government.

At the time of writing, what has emerged so far that is relevant to skills. For a start, the status of Sector Skills Councils (of which Skills for Logistics is one) has thankfully been clarified under this regime. We are not, and never have been considered by the informed to be a “quango” to give it its derogatory label or “arms-length body” to give it its posh name.

However, the previous regime favoured a spatial approach to skills (sort it out locally) rather than sectoral (produce what the sector needs and make it available locally). This meant that SSCs were under the threat of arbitrary reduction in numbers for what amounted to doctrinal reasons.

The current skills minister, on the other hand has come out very strongly in favour of SSCs and the employer leadership and demand-led approach that they deliver. The current regime classes SSCs as front-line bodies with a key role to play in delivering Apprenticeships and other key policy areas.

While this is obviously welcome, I predict no funding protection and we, like all other publicly funded organisations are modelling 25 per cent and 40 per cent budget cuts and looking nervously towards 20th October when the CSR is announced. I am confident that SSCs have a key role to play in helping to simplify the workings of the horrendously over-complex skills sector and hope that the simplification following the CSR reflects that.

In my discussions with officials and ministers in a number of government departments, it is clear that there is a big wind of change, not only as a result the well publicised and necessary cuts but also of course in the degree of intervention by government. The Department for Transport is clearly stepping way back from its increasingly hands-on approach under the last regime and moving much more to the strategic level.

In most cases, this is to be applauded and I am sure that the Trade Associations and their members welcome any rolling back of the Nanny State. This was clearly demonstrated by the noise surrounding DfT’s previous policy suggestion of making eco-driving a mandatory part of Driver CPC.

[asset_ref id=”993″]  Dr Mick Jackson

I had seven years in a trade association so I understand the standpoint in general of the organisations and the companies they represent. However, it all becomes a bit less black and white when it comes to skills. Larger and more aware employers obviously take skills development very seriously and embed professional development in their organisations (now) at all levels.

From my point of view that is to be totally commended. At the end of the day, they don’t do it for altruistic reasons, they do it for hard-nosed commercial reasons. Once they reach a point of having genuine professional development embedded, it reflects their overall terms and conditions and they use that to make themselves employers of choice. These organisations develop the skills of their employees for sound commercial reasons, not because the government tells them to. Governments offer these companies funding to meet their targets and of course they willingly take the funding because that improves the commercial raison d’etre even further.

It is by and large these companies that are quoted as reasons to leave it to the market to upskill rather than have governments intervene by regulation. The problem is the 90 per cent of organisations that don’t recognise the commercial benefits of skills development then call for government intervention to fund training otherwise they won’t bother.

So this industry rump don’t want government intervention on regulation but do want government intervention to fund training improvements that will benefit their bottom line.

Current government policy appears to not support funding of say eco-driving as a means to deliver carbon reduction targets because it directly benefits companies’ trading position. This seems at odds with other sustainability policies – offering me grants to insulate my house and fit new boilers to reduce my carbon footprint, whether I can afford it or not and making a virtue of the fact that it will enhance my personal trading position.

So we seem to have an industry divided between the skills aware and those that carry of regardless irrespective of the proven benefits and a government that will let them go to the wall rather than intervene.

Somehow we need to find a happy medium between the nanny state and the nanny goats. I wonder if Nanny McPhee is available?

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