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Sillars takes charge

Sarah Sillars is to run Automotive Skills until the spring following the sudden departure of chief executive Patricia Richards.

Sillars remains chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI).

Many executives were surprised by what one calls “the extreme curtness” of the announcement saying Richards “has left the company”.

Sillars says: “Regrettable though these circumstances are, it is of the utmost importance that the skills agenda for the automotive sector begins a fresh engagement with the industry.”

She is expected to divide her time between the two organizations marginally in favour of Automotive Skills.

Sillars’ appointment was a surprise as it raises concerns about a potential conflict of interest. She now oversees the awarding body (IMI) and the sector skills council which sets the standards.

Meetings have been arranged with City & Guilds and other awarding bodies to calm any worries.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Richards, appointed Automotive Skills’ chief executive in October 2003, says: “I left on good terms and have great admiration for the dedication of members of the Automotive Skills’ board of directors.”

Richards’ exit came within weeks of a former employee, James Munroe, being charged with the theft of £70,000 from Automotive Skills. Munroe’s court case has been adjourned until November 20.

An industry source says: “There is no connection between the two events, other than that Patricia Richards was in charge.”

Automotive Skills’ checking procedures should have been more robust; however, Monroe was jailed in 2000 for defrauding his then employers of almost £3m.

Another source suggests that Richards left because of a clash of personalities between herself and another industry executive.

“There has been talk for some time about difficulties at Automotive Skills. It’s been a difficult position, especially as the company is financed by Government money,” says the source.

Inchcape chairman Peter Johnson, who is chairman of Automotive Skills, issued a statement about the importance of the skills council but made no mention of Richards’ contribution.

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