Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-07-20 - 9:07 a.m.

I at last got round to making a CD of Robin’s loops for Andrew K – now its just a matter of getting it into the post. I noted that he went over Red Pike yesterday – James and I did that ridge one Easter without the benefit of any views – even so it was good fun. We were heading south towards the hub of the Lake District dome.

It has been hard work today – we had a long management meeting today which looked at the way that some of our new contracts have helped companies adopt a strategic approach towards operational excellence. This led on to a debate about the relationship between the global automotive quality standard and the European Foundation equivalent. This was useful to me as I am meant to be teaching this topic at Cambridge early next year to a post-post-graduate course and I don’t know the answer. The net effect was that I missed the visit of the sandwich lady and never got round to having any lunch.

The morning’s discussion meant that I had to do some research on the new financial regime within the UK vocational education and training regime – crudely speaking the Government have decided that employers should pay a higher proportion of the costs of the training that they buy from the public sector unless the training fits certain social objectives. At the moment employers pay only about 9% of the public sector costs. There is a bit of a problem with this strategy – employers spend a relatively small amount of their own training budgets on the public sector because they are dubious about the quality of provision – if the price goes up then they are likely to spend even less – unless the quality improves. The Govt believes it has a policy to raise the quality but the effectiveness of its policy is at best unproven.

The aim of the unproven policy is to strengthen the consumer voice – which is where the magnum opus fits in – as an expression of companies’ needs against the backdrop of what competitor nations are doing. The question is what mechanism is going to be used to engage this vision of “need” with the public sector provision. A new piece of machinery is being created to achieve this – the Regional Skills Partnership – but this mechanism is unproven. There is also a new budgetary cycle which seeks to create a window for the partnerships to influence the planning and hence the delivery. Anyway part of my task today was to pull all these different bits together so that we could see what the opportunities for influence are. All in all it is rather a long odds bet that the higher quality will offset the effect of higher prices.

In the middle of all of this someone wanted a quantitative regionally disaggregated ten year forecast of demand from the magnum opus . I decided that an extremist version of the forecast was the only viable approach. Assumption 1 was that the Govt is seriously wants UK productivity to go up faster than that of our industrial competitors. This is what it says but these days you cant be too careful. Assumption 2 was that unless something drastic is done on skills in the first three years then the DfES forecast of 100k job losses in ten years will come true. Its obvious that if you think there could be 30% job losses in a sector which provides 15% of UK exports – the requirement is to to take the productivity objective seriously – and to set a skills objective accordingly. This is what the forecast does – it looks at the implication of being serious about globally competitive levels of skills in the industry.

The Government has also had the good sense to to link higher level skills – those to do with innovation and new product development – to the regional agenda. In as much as assumptions 1 and 2 produce a very steep rate of climb at graduate and postgraduate level then it is down to the regions to deliver it. The RDAs have to convert the forecast of “need” based on the Government objectives into “demand” and “effective delivery. Clearly any forecast is only one possible version of events.

Listened to The Way You Do The Things You Do by the Temptations – remembered that time PW suggested to ND that it was like One of These Things First.

Practised a lot to Robin’s loop first thing.

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