Monday, 11 May 2009

AdEd value

I have today submitted a proposal for the Council to set up a 'select committee' about Adult Education in the city. This is a subject that I have blogged and spoken about before.

A select committee is effectively a formal review of an area of the Council's work (or influence) to develop new policy or improve services. I was, for a while, the chair of the Sustainable Travel Select Committee this year, although I had to stop this when the Lib Dems took control of the Council after Labour quit in February. Select Committees tend to last around six months and to call expert witnesses to help the Council to take good long-term and (hopefully!) cross-party decisions.

The reason that I think Adult Education needs this sort of attention is that the Government has just published a White Paper on the topic. They have been shifting their policy very quickly for a number of years now, effectively moving money away from 'informal' learning and into courses focused on employability. This is affecting the ability of councils to lay on the sorts of course which don't lead to qualifications, but which are still highly valued by residents and which have all sorts of positive impacts on health, well-being, social inclusion, community cohesion and so on. Examples might be foreign languages, beginners IT skills, arts courses, English for speakers of other languages, practical skills (e.g. DIY) and so on.

There was a funding crisis in Bristol a couple of years ago as a result. Without going into the labyrinthine detail of adult education funding, the government changes left the Council about £150,000 short and placed many courses (and potentially the whole lot) in jeopardy. That gap was plugged, but there hasn't been a root-and-branch look to make sure that similar problems won't happen again in the future. Basically, we need to build a model that isn't so dependent on government funding.

The Council has a number of services and programmes that offer a very good portfolio of courses, but I believe that we could do better, especially in terms of spreading the courses out within the city more and working more closely with other providers. A select committee would offer the chance to pause and think carefully about what we put in place for the next ten years.

The proposal will be assessed by the Overview & Scrutiny Management committee, so I will be keeping my fingers crossed. It has cross-party support from the Quality of Life Scrutiny Commission, which is very helpful.

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