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Withers proposes shake-up of skills agencies

James Withers
James Withers: meeting the challenges ahead (pic: Terry Murden)

Scotland requires reform of its skills agencies if the country is to achieve its targets for economic transformation, according to a new report.

An independent review of skills delivery carried out by James Withers outlines recommendations to ensure public agencies produce the required flow of talent.

Key recommendations include the creation of a new single funding and delivery body, bringing together functions from Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and, possibly, the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).

It is also propsed that the enterprise agencies are given a clear remit for supporting businesses, with workforce planning as an embedded and integrated part of business development and planning.

Other measures include:

– ensuring there is a clear remit for the new qualifications body, the successor to the SQA, in overseeing development and accreditation of all publicly funded post-school qualifications

– moving responsibility for national skills planning to the Scottish Government

– reform of SDS to create a new body with a singular focus on careers advice and education

The Scottish Government initiated the Withers review in August last year, seeking recommendations on how the public body landscape should be adapted to drive forward Ministers’ ambitions for a skilled workforce – as set out in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET).  

Minister for Further and Higher Education Graeme Dey said: “This review is comprehensive and the direction of travel it points us towards is  very helpful.

“I am extremely grateful to James Withers for the broad and extensive range of work he has carried out to assist us in developing a skills offering fit for the years ahead.

“It is encouraging to see the good work of public sector partners acknowledged in the report, however it also sets out a clear case for extensive change so that we have a lifelong education and skills system in place which serves the needs of learners, employers and our future economy.

“I am supportive of the broad direction of travel James Withers identifies but will take a little time to consider fully the detail of the recommendations and the practicalities of implementing them.

“As a key part of that process we will, over the next few months, be engaging directly with the organisations, agencies, trades unions and other stakeholders covered by the recommendations to obtain their input before embarking on reform of the public body landscape and skills offering.”

Mr Withers, formerly chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said: “Our skills delivery landscape should aspire to be world-class and the recommendations in this report are developed to make a significant further step forward on that journey.

“There is much that is good in the current system which has served Scotland’s needs well over the past fifteen years.

“The scale of change I am proposing reflects the scale of transformation facing us and the need to create a system which allows users to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead.”

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