Leader: Joined-up thinking lost in skills plans

"To change the world, we first have to understand it," trumpets the UK Commission for Education & Skills (UKCES) in its introduction to Skills for Jobs:

Today and Tomorrow - an analysis, published in March, of future skills need based on the UKCES's assessment of sectors deemed to be of most economic significance.

Unfortunately, however, the commission's own efforts to "understand" the world have proved less than convincing, as its decision to "look again" at agriculture, dumped second from bottom in a line-up of 27 sectors by the report's authors, implicitly acknowledges (news, page 4). That the commission is now to take a fresh look at its shockingly low estimation of the significance of this industry is thanks to the timely intervention of land-based sector skills body Lantra and other concerned voices.

Indeed, it was Lantra's director for England Madge Moore who called the industry to arms on the issue at last December's meeting of the cross-industry green skills initiative in London.

If future skills funding is to be pegged to the priority areas identified by the UKCES report - and horticulture remains outside - its impact will be devastating for the sector, whose colleges have already been hit disproportionately hard by a shift in funding towards school leavers. Many are now in the process of implementing cuts to horticulture provision as a direct result of that move.

What seems extraordinary is that even given the recognition (albeit somewhat belated) in Government that action needs to be taken to aid an increase in vegetable and fruit production in the UK in response to concerns over food security, the UKCES assessment makes no mention of this key strategic issue at all. It is, as Lantra chief executive Peter Martin says, a staggering oversight.

That is to say nothing of the worsening skills crisis in the green space sector, which given the growing recognition of the urgent need to protect and expand the green infrastructure of our cities in the face of climate change (news, page 6) also has a strong claim as a priority area for Government. We can only hope that the UKCES's rethink is a sign that the Government's skills strategists are starting to get the message.

Email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/leader for recent leaders.

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