Headlines: October 2nd, 1997

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment has launched a strategy framework for the life of this Parliament and beyond. A key thrust of the strategy is working in partnership and it has been published so its partners can play a part in its refinement.The DfEE, with the Employment Service, is at the centre of the Government’s ambitious agenda for change and renewal, and it needs a clear vision for the future.The framework offers a starting point for developing a vision that will provide DfEE and its partners with that clear focus. The Department wants to hear views on its ideas and thoughts on how organisations can support their work and on how they can support the work of other organisations. The expressed aim is to build a shared understanding of how best to meet the challenges of the next decade.

The role of the DfEE is investing in knowledge, skills and employability. The framework outlines how it proposes to do this. The Department believes that over the next 5 to 10 years, a set of powerful economic, social and technological forces will shape and drive the policy agenda and create key challenges:

  • raising standards
  • making a reality of lifelong learning
  • tackling deprivation and social exclusion;
  • ensuring a labour market is fair to individuals
  • creating and sustaining partnerships in developing and delivering policies.
  • helping people move from welfare to work.

From these challenges the Department has devised an aim and objectives an set out a proposed way of working. It wants to know:

  • have the main forces reshaping policy been correctly identified?
  • are the key challenges correct?
  • what agreement is there with the way the Department’s aim and objectives have been stated?
  • is there support for the new ways of working proposed?
  • how can other organisations and the Department best work together to achieve these objectives?

The wider significance of this strategy framework is that it is the first of its kind and it is being used to pioneer a process which has not been tried before. Consultation on policy proposals is an essential part of Government and there are many mechanisms through which this is done, such as Green and White Papers. The difference with the DfEE approach is that all stakeholders are invited to give views on the direction in which the Department should move. This is a significant development.

Stakeholders will be able to apply a litmus test to the framework by comparing it with initiatives currently being pursued to see if any fall outside or in any way conflict with the direction set out. Stakeholders within the Department will similarly be able to test Divisional objectives to see if there is any inconsistency. Most departments have conflicting objectives at the lower operational levels.

There is much speculation about how the framework will effect the way the Department is managed in the future. Theoretically there will be a guide to test the need for and usefulness of new initiatives and a touch stone for setting new objectives. This is just the situation than many senior civil servants have striven hard to avoid for a number of years. Strategies at departmental level have been viewed as straight jackets which would limit policy options and, with the relentless progress of change, result in detrimental decisions. It was also claimed that with a nine month tenure of office, Ministers would not welcome strategies either.

Perhaps the most significant impact of the framework in the years to come will be on the Departmental budget. The annual round of bids and the marginal adjustments from the previous year, should be changed significantly. The money, in terms of programme expenditure and running costs, should follow the strategy.

The Strategy Framework can be seen at the DfEE web site which is accessed through www.open.gov.uk/

The consultation period ends on 23 December 1997. Comments can be submitted by the form on the web site. They can also be sent by post to Steve Leman, Department for Education and Employment, Room E6c, Moorfoot, Sheffield S1 4PQ (fax 0114 259 4526); or by e-mail to framework@dfeefst.demon.co.uk