Today saw the launch of the latest budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown MP; the man widely tipped to be the next Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister.
The budget announcement comes at a time when the government is coming under fire on a number of fronts. At Prime Minister’s Questions, which immediately preceded the budget statement from Mr. Brown, the Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron MP asked Mr. Blair whether this would be Mr. Brown’s final budget announcement; a clear indication that, given the likelihood of his succession when Mr. Blair steps down, this budget statement was about far more than numbers and figures.
He addressed the issues of education at some length. His office has initiated the Leitch Review of Skills, which is aimed at establishing the skills that the workforce will require to be truly competitive in the year 2020. Mr. Brown spoke of the changing face of the workforce today, especially referring to the recent studies that have shown that the average young person today will have to retrain and move into seven careers in the course of their working lives.
Having said this, he made the landmark announcement in terms of FE funding that from now on education would continue to offer a second chance to people who may have been neglected in their first experience in education. He announced that all individuals up to the age of 25 would now be able to study for any exam up to A Level or its equivalent, free of charge.
There has been a great deal of emphasis put on the importance of bringing employers into the education system, and he stressed the importance of improved participation which can only come through skills provision along the lines of employer demand. He has declared that “The New Deal stays”, and will now target it towards training for new skills and jobs as well. He cited figures claiming that the New Deal has helped some 1 million people back to work.
He has called for the bringing together of employment and training services, and for these to be made available for all and not just those who are unemployed. This it would seem is designed to address the problem that he highlighted towards the beginning of his statement, namely that of the need for those within a career path to constantly update their skills. He stated that the skills position, whilst better, needs constant attention.
He also went on to touch on the issues raised by the Women in Work Commission and the issues of the gender pay gap (both of which have been extensively covered right here at FE News). He will double the training available to women, and will attack what he describes as the “unacceptable” pay gap suffered by many women.
The statement will be welcomed by some in Further Education as it would seem to promise an ever stronger role for FE in the national skills and employment strategy. It can only be encouraging that the man widely expected to be the next Prime Minister attaches such an importance to FE. However, it should be noted that other areas of Further Education, such as other Adult Learning courses and community / social inclusion sections, look set to suffer from underfunding and neglect, which can only have a long term detrimental effect.
As he put it: “Investing in education comes first. And investing in education is this Government’s choice.” Let us hope that this is put into action, and that the Government is up to the task of meeting the manifold issues in FE head on.
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