A leading HR body has found itself at the centre of a PR storm following the publication of a policy paper about skills quangos, which has been branded “wildly inaccurate” and “unprofessional”.
The report entitled ‘Quangos in the Education and Skills System’, which was published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) last week and has since been removed from its web site, put forward the view that the coalition government could save more than £500 million by either dissolving or selling off 13 education and skills quangos.
Tom Richmond, the CIPD’s policy advisor on skills, pointed to a number of “worrying trends”, which included several quangos now offering free consultancy, free event management and free teaching materials for schools and colleges courtesy of the taxpayer.
“With so much money at stake and with imminent spending reductions across many government departments, the role, purpose and operations of each individual quango must therefore be revisited as a matter of urgency,” he said.
But Richmond also warned that simply cutting expenditure on quangos for purposes of political expediency could lead to a number of “unintended yet potentially serious consequences” in terms of job losses, union relations and even damage to the economy, Richmond said.
As a result, it was vital that any spending decisions were taken objectively and in an “open, transparent and consistent way,” he added.
But several bodies cited in the policy paper reacted angrily to its findings, forcing chief executive Jackie Orme to apologise to at least two. David Collins, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), wrote an open letter to the Daily Telegraph saying that the section of the CIPD report referring to the LSIS was “wildly inaccurate”.
On the one hand, it was not a quango but a “sector led body”, while on the other, the LSIS did not fund the Learning and Skills Network (LSN). It also delivered “the majority of our funding back to the front line” and assisted institutions that had failed their inspections.
“It is unfortunate that an organisation such as the CIPD that purports to support professional development can be both so inaccurate and dismissive of this activity. It’s a pity too that they can be so unprofessional as to not check the facts or find out how an organisation really works or what it does before rushing into print,” Collins said.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) was similarly outraged. It said in a statement: “Unlike quangos, which have their boards chosen or ratified by a secretary of state, the board of NIACE is accountable to more than 600 corporate and individual members subscribing to its aims.”
Rather than calling for NIACE to be cut, the CIPD “might wish to reflect on the extent to which support for voluntary and community sector organisations such as NIACE might represent a highly effective and efficient use of public funds, worthy of expansion in future”, it said.
The Learning and Skills Network also told PersonnelToday that it was writing to Orme to seek an apology and retraction statement.