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Privatisation of adult learning 'a foolish step'
6:41pm Sunday 1st July 2012 in News
CONCERNS have been raised about plans that could see the majority of Oxfordshire’s adult learning service privatised.
More than 7,200 people use the service across the county, which includes courses, apprenticeships for young people and training for the unemployed.
Funding is provided by the Government but this has been cut by £300,000, from around £3.8m last year to £3.5m for 2012/13.
The majority of services, around 70 per cent, are currently provided by Oxfordshire County Council.
The rest are already farmed out to other organisations, but that proportion could grow to around 80 per cent as part of a review into the way the service is provided.
This has led to concerns about job cuts, charges and maintaining standards.
The county council has stressed the service review is in the very early stages, a number of options are being considered and no decisions have been made yet.
The authority has also denied they are reviewing adult learning because of funding cuts from the Government Skills Funding Agency.
A council spokesman did confirm the service had been operating at a deficit for “a number of years”, and so the county put in £220,000 to clear the deficit last year. The council receives £900,000 in income from people who use the service.
Cabinet member for safer and stronger communities Judith Heathcoat said: “The externalisation of the delivery of adult learning is very much in its embryonic stage and there is detailed work which needs to be done. All options must definitely be looked at.”
People who use the adult learning raised concerns about the idea.
Teresa Garlake, a 49-year-old teacher from East Oxford, said: “In my experience every time something is privatised the standards go down and as a teacher I disagree with the privatisation of education.”
Karen Godwin, a 41-year-old carer from Headington, said: “When things are privatised they tend to put making money above looking after people.”
The possibility of “externalising” the service was revealed in the detail of a report to the council’s safer and stronger communities safety committee.
Committee member and Labour county councillor for West Central Oxford Susanna Pressel feared the council could be preparing for the privatisation of the adult learning service to save money.
She said: “I think it would be foolish to privatise the adult learning service after it received a good Ofsted report earlier this year.
“If the service is completely externalised then any profits will go into the pockets of shareholders instead of going back into the service.
“This could lead to some staff, including managers and tutors losing their jobs.
“And some staff could end up being paid less by private companies following privatisation.”
The county currently employees 220 staff in adult learning services. Workers are based at Unipart House in Cowley, and at offices in Kidlington and Grove.
County council spokesman Paul Smith said there were currently “no staffing implications and no financial implications.”
Any staff transfered to other organisations would have their terms and conditions protected.
He said: “The council is in the process of formulating a range of different possibilities and these will become more apparent in future when this matter has taken greater form and is ready for decision.
“It is very important to note the council has for many years either delivered adult learning directly itself or commissioned external agencies to do this.
“What this latest development is about is whether further delivery should be carried out external to Oxfordshire County Council where this makes sense.”