Phillis: slated "extraordinary decision"
Government ministries have been accused of being in a complete muddle over their approach to the newspaper, magazine and book industry.
It follows an astonishing snub in which the Department for Education and Skills has rejected the publishing media’s training proposals for a Sector Skills Council on the grounds that it is too small an industry to be considered of "economic or strategic significance".
The plan was for a publishing SSC, which would develop skills within the industry, to replace the newly-established Publishing National Training Organisation.
The snub was delivered the night before the Department of Trade and Industry held a press conference last week to launch a new report hailing publishing as an industry worth £22bn – twice as much as the pharmaceutical sector.
The DTI-commissioned report from PIRA – "Publishing in the Knowledge Economy" – said in its proposed action plan for the industry that a strong skilled-based SSC was essential.
The report noted that while publishing was a fashionable business, able to recruit highly qualified junior staff on low salaries, it suffered from high staff turnover.
The report said that as publishing sought to produce new products and services it will need to attract people into the industry and continually train them to develop specialist skills.
It concluded: "A strong publishing Sector Skills Council must be established urgently to ensure the skills reflect those required in the knowledge economy.
"Proper career development paths using industry standard qualifications (driven by SSC) must be put into place."
Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the Publishing National Training Organisation, said: "It is a major blow that the Government is blocking the sector’s proposals to develop a Sector Skills Council to raise skills and enhance career development opportunities for people working in publishing."
Guardian Media Group chief executive Bob Phillis, the new chair of the Publishing NTO, added: "This is a quite extraordinary decision. The publishing industries are one of Britain’s largest investors in the information society. For the DfES to have dismissed the sector’s proposals on the grounds of size and economic and strategic significance seems bizarre."
Reasons given to the compilers of the report for staff moving out of publishing were the lack of a career path, more attractive offers from other industries, and a desire for a better quality of life.
Speaking at the conference, the Government’s e-commerce and competitiveness minister Stephen Timms described Britain’s thriving publishing industry as "a great success story".
Ian Locks, chief executive of the Periodical Publishers Association, said the publishing industry would re-submit its application for an SSC.
What has angered insiders is that smaller industries, such as the audio-visual sector, have already gained approval for SSCs.