UK: Textile training agency Skillfast-UK could lose licence
Skillfast-UK, the agency charged with improving skills in the fashion and textiles industry, faces delicensing by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in a move that would put an end to its government funding.
The decision would also be detrimental for the sector's employers, a Skillfast-UK spokesperson told just-style, "not least because there will be no dedicated voice for an industry that contributes GBP10bn to the UK economy and has very complex levels of training and skills needs."
Skillfast-UK is one of the country's 25 sector skills councils, and its current licence runs until the end of March 2010.
But following an audit in January and February of this year, the Commission decided not to recommend the body for a new licence.
It also rejected an appeal against the decision, which was lodged in June and backed by 78 industry employers, trade associations and trade unions.
Skillfast-UK says it is now considering a direct approach to the Minister for Sector Skills Councils, Kevin Brennan, who recently pledged to take a close look at its licence recommendation.
The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), the recently-formed body that represents the fashion and textile sector, says it will also be taking up the case with both the Commission and with Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.
"It is vital we protect core funding routes for the industry," explained Peter Lucas, chairman, UKFT.
He added that UKFT plays "a very active role with both Skillfast-UK and the National Skills Academy and it is important that these bodies are supported to preserve the manufacturing and design talent we have in the UK."
However, the lobby group added that if Skillfast-UK is not successful in retaining a licence, it would "step up to the plate to ensure that appropriate training and education is available to employees within the fashion and textile industry."
Skillfast-UK, whose remit covers 79,000 businesses employing 384,000 workers in Britain's apparel, footwear and textile industry, helps ensure employers have access to a skilled workforce, capable of delivering added-value products and services.
Some of its current initiatives include a special training project called Women & Work which provides grants to help women workers develop their technical and management skills, and a new business plan called C-Change, which aims to deliver 100 improvements to the skills system over the next year.
At the end of last year it also helped launch a GBP24.5m three-year scheme to help beat skills shortages and build a world-class workforce in the UK's fashion and textiles industries.
Hitting back at suggestions that Skillfast-UK has not been re-licensed because it does not offer good value for money and is not well run financially, the spokesperson said the assessment process "did not raise any concerns about the organisation's ongoing financial viability nor did it highlight any issues about loss or misuse of public money."
However, the agency said it had its own concerns about the way the audit was carried out.
Interview appointments with employers were missed, positive comments made by those who were interviewed were overlooked and key pieces evidence were not taken into account, it said.
Skillfast-UK also said its appeal was unsuccessful "because the appeal panel was not prepared to consider the evidence of positive performance that had been missed during the first assessment.
"The appeal panel also said that the degree of support from the sector's employers would have no impact on their decision."
It also points out that until this assessment, Skillfast-UK was ranked eighth out of 25 Sector Skills Councils, and no concerns had ever been raised about its performance.
And confusingly, it seems to have failed its licence assessment on areas where it had previously been rated as above average.
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