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Automotive Skills to merge with IMI

Automotive Skills is set to merge with the Institute of the Motor Industry in a move destined to give fresh impetus to the sector’s drive for skills improvements.

The publicly-funded sector skills council (SSC), which sets the industry’s competency standards and supports training and apprenticeships, has been hurt by recent mismanagement, excessive costs and former director James Munroe being jailed for fraud.

AM understands that Automotive Skills is expected to report a loss of around £1.8m for the 2005/06 financial year when it files its accounts next month. Patricia Richards lost the chief executive’s job last October in unexplained circumstances. However, AM has since learned that the charitable organization was overspending by more than £100,000 per month during Richards’ reign.

IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars was given temporary stewardship after Richards’ departure. She was tasked with commissioning a number of route maps for Automotive Skill’s future.

These were presented to its board last month. AM understands they included closing the organization, merging it with a trade association, absorbing it into a larger SSC called SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance), or merging with the IMI.

The board unanimously backed the IMI merger option. It has also been approved by the IMI’s board. Now the final decision rests with the Sector Skills Development Agency, responsible for funding and monitoring all SSCs. Its decision is expected within weeks.

The IMI is currently an awarding body for motor retail qualifications, alongside City & Guilds. If the merger completes, its qualifications section would be divorced into a separate company to avoid vested interest.

A source close to the SSC says: “Automotive Skills has fundamentally underperformed. If we don’t get this merger, it will set the retail motor industry back years in getting the government funding it needs to plug the skills gap.”

The Leitch Review, published in December, sees skills funding allocated through the SSCs. If the automotive sector does not have its own SSC, employers and training providers will have to go to ones for the broader retail, manufacturing or engineering sectors.

AM view

Months into her temporary stewardship, Sillars has already begun knocking Automotive Skills into shape and cutting waste. This merger can only benefit the industry and give it the employer-led focus it needs to meet future challenges.

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