Concerns have been raised about the impartiality of the Institute for Apprenticeships, following the announcement that senior civil servant Peter Lauener will take on the role of the new body’s shadow chief executive.
The Department for Education announced on Monday (September 26) that top skills civil servant Lauener had been appointed as to the role, until a permanent appointment can be made at some point “in 2017”.
He will take on the role on a part-time basis – working two days a week alongside his existing responsibilities as head of the SFA and the Education Funding Agency.
However, critics of the appointment are wondering how the IfA will remain “independent of government” as originally planned, now a civil servant will take the helm.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “The fact that Peter [Lauener] is now in three very important leadership roles for skills raises concern about capacity issues in the DfE and SFA when proposed reforms are being challenged.”
His words were echoed by Mick Fletcher, the founder of Policy Consortium, who also warned that Mr Lauener’s new gig raised serious questions about impartiality.
“It will be, to all intents and purposes, another arm of the civil service, decorated with a few employers on the board and promoting government policy behind a fig leaf of ‘employer ownership’,” he said.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Peter Lauener brings extensive skills and experience in setting up and running organisations in this policy area, as well as his knowledge of apprenticeships.
“Peter has strong credibility with employers and with the skills sector and will work closely with Antony Jenkins, the shadow chair, and an independent, employer-led board.
“This is a short-term appointment, focused on the work that is needed to set up the organisation.”
The institute is due to launch in April 2017 and is designed to help to police employers as apprenticeship reforms take effect.
When the IfA was announced during George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last November, the government said it would be an “employer-led body” that would be “independent of government”.
Mr Lauener, who has been in charge at the SFA since November 2014, and at the EFA since it was formed in April 2012, is the second person to have taken on the role of shadow chief executive of the institute.
The previous post-holder, Rachel Sandby-Thomas, announced in May – after just two months in the job – that she would be leaving in September.
The former Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins was announced as shadow chair by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on June 9.
At the same time it was also revealed that Nicola Bolton, the former managing director for trade at UK Trade and Investment, was already in post as shadow chief operating officer.
In its statement on Monday, the DfE said that Mr Lauener would be supported in post by Michael Keoghan, the current director of FE at the DfE, who was made deputy chief executive of the IfA.
David Hughes, the boss of the Association of Colleges, said he looked forward to working with Mr Lauener in his new capacity.
“There is a big job to be done and we need a phased, manageable implementation which does not destabilise the system,” he said.
Pippa Morgan, head of education and skills policy at the Confederation of British Industry, also welcomed Mr Lauener’s appointment.
Another stakeholder, who did not wish to be named, quipped: “In other news, Peter Lauener will also manage the England football team and host Bake Off when it moves to C4.”