The UK’s National School of Government – which I indicated (in my recent table about such national Institutes) had been reprieved from closure last year – will now be closed next March. According to a Ministerial statement in Parliament in June, it delivered 809 events to a domestic audience for the 12 month period from 1 June 2010 to 31 May 2011. These events were attended by 33,254 UK government officials. But last week its closure was announced (again) with a bland statement that "The new "Civil Service Learning" will focus on work-based approaches, including e-learning, and will directly involve managers in the training process" says the official statement. Previously called the Civil Service College, the facility runs training, development and consultancy courses for Whitehall mandarins. It employs 232 staff and is based at Sunningdale Park in Berkshire, with an annual budget of £31 million.
Quoted on the school's website earlier in the year, the Head of the Civil Service said: "It is clear that the public sector will be confronted with some serious challenges in the future. The National School of Government is a vital tool to help us meet them. The learning and development it provides must be part of our solution." But the Minister (Mr Maude) has claimed a shake-up of training will "improve the quality and impact of training". In his recent Parliamentary statement, he added: "It will also create greater flexibility by sourcing much of the training from external providers, including small and medium-sized enterprises."
I would have to say that the School was always vulnerable to such treatment. For example, it never produced anything that was available publicly. My source of inspiration when I was a young reforming politician in local government was the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at Birmingam University which was built entirely around the passion of one man John Stewart; which produced a bi-monthly journal; Discussion papers; and books. And to whose seminars one could easily access as a local government person. The revenue came from its local government pmarket - which is politically diverse.
Warwick University has also been home to another such Institute - the Local Government Centre built around one man John Bennington.
The School of Government was more elitist - and political. And therefore vulnerable. So one lesson is not to be too dependent on one market. The recent trend for amalgamating training of local and central government has a lot to be said for it - not least that people from these 2 sectors get to rub shoulders with one another.
There are lessons there - that a sustainable centre needs independence!