On the one hand, rising unemployment and a stumbling, shaky industrial sector. On he other, a deficit that boggles the mind, and promises of immediate, searching cuts – this issue goes to press just ahead of the emergency Budget.

We need the skills sector. Many would argue that we have never needed it more. But can we afford it? The dilemma is made more fraught by endless reform having overcomplicated the sector to a staggering degree. What should be a simple function of our system – enabling people to learn new things – is buried in a tortuous labyrinth. Dozens of quangos cover the same ground. Money goes round and round. No one quite knows what anyone else is up to.

And in the meantime we are falling behind other countries. Employers are desperate for a better-equipped workforce, desperate for people with vocational qualifications, languages, sciences. Employees want to improve their situation. It should be a simple equation. Instead, the skills sector finds itself facing one of the biggest challenges in its existence. How will it fare?


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