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Wicks announces consultation into future of NTOs


Malcolm Wicks
Lifelong Learning Minister Malcolm Wicks has announced the launch of a major consultation into the role and future for National Training Organisations (NTOs).

The consultation is the start of a planned overhaul of the existing network of NTOs, which is likely to see a number of mergers between the existing 73 sector representatives to form a smaller, leaner network of organisations.

The Learning and Skills Bill passed last autumn highlighted a need for NTOs to work closely with the incoming Learning and Skills Councils to help them identify key areas for developing skills. The consultation is a first step towards this, together with the announcement that £45 million will be made available over the next three years to help NTOs establish a clearer and stronger role for themselves. In return, NTOs are to be asked to produce an annual audit setting out their progress towards targets set for them.

In a joint statement, Mr Wicks and the Lifelong Learning Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said: "National Training Organisations have a crucial role to support and promote investment in skills. They provide an essential link between employers and training and they are a key part of our aims to build a workforce with the skills for the knowledge economy. NTOs have the capacity to act strategically and to make a real difference to the level and quality of skills development in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but they must increase their credibility and effectiveness. Together, these factors point towards the need for a smaller, stronger and better-resourced network of NTOs. We believe that NTOs have a crucial role to play in developing skills. We expect NTOs to respond positively to this opportunity to build a new and stronger network to make a substantial impact on skills in their sectors."

In Scotland NTOs have a similar role to play in partnership with the enterprise network and the new Scottish Labour Market Intelligence Unit. In Northern Ireland NTOs are formally recognised for national occupational standards and NVQ purposes only. Northern Ireland has an existing system of sector training councils to promote sector-based learning.

The consultation document has been sent out to all NTOs and partner organisations including local government representatives. A number of events and workshops will also take place over the 12 week consultation period, which is due to end on 12 April.

Responding to the consultation, Andy Powell, chief executive of NTO National Council said: "We welcome the recognition by government of a central role for NTOs in representing employer interests in relation to the Government's learning and skills agenda. The strengthening of NTOs marks the final stage of the transition needed in learning and skills to ensure the UK develops a high skills, high value-added economy. The skill shortages increasingly being felt by employers in every sector will not be filled without a stronger impact on learning and skills from employers, unions and other employment interests. Similarly the potential for our education and training systems to help every individual achieve their potential will not be realised without a stronger work-based influence. Government is clear that strong NTOs are critical to achieving these aims, and we are pleased they have recognised the necessity for significant additional resources."

Powell did however add a note of caution to the proposed rationalisation of the NTO network: "The suggestion that there should be fewer NTOs will need to be carefully considered. The over-riding factor in determining the structure of the NTO network is that it must enhance NTOs' ability to continue to increase significantly the engagement and investment of employers in learning and skills. Building on this platform, NTOs also need to be able to ensure that their sectoral priorities and intelligence are at the heart of national, regional and local skills strategies. NTO National Council will be working with NTOs, governments and key partners over the next three months to ensure both requirements are met."


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