5 April 1996

ATB funding

slashed and offices cut

FOUR regional agricultural training bases are to close in England after a MAFF decision to slash £500,000 from the ATB Landbase budget in 1996/7.

MAFF has cut its funding from £2.4m to £1.9m, but this has been balanced by additional financial support from the Scottish Office, Department of Education and Employment and the EU through the social fund 5b programmes in Wales.

The MAFF contract cut continues a downgrading of support from a maximum of £6.5m in 1994, when the Agricultural Training Board was a MAFF agency and had 70 offices, to the present level of just under £2m.

The four regional offices – set up only two years ago – which will close are at Tiverton, Droitwich, Newmarket and Penrith.

More emphasis will be placed on support for training providers by the Stoneleigh-based ATB Landbase National Customer Service Unit, which deals with enquiries and orders for about 400 course titles available to registered training providers.

Andy Stewart, ATB Landbase chairman, also announced the launch of a new national helpline at Stoneleigh this summer, which will deal with enquiries.

Mr Stewart said he was disappointed by the office closures, but argued the costs involved and the extent of the funding secured from MAFF for local support services had to be taken into account.

Rural services maintained

He stressed services would be maintained in the more remote rural areas. "The enforced changes will not prohibit farmers and growers accessing first class training through the training provider network."

Nigel Snook, ATB Landbase chief executive, said the MAFF funding would be spent on meeting the costs of the 105 staff supporting training development of up to 1000 instructors, and research and development.

Mr Snook added that ATB Landbase was looking further at increasing its commercial turnover from management training from its current £0.5m level through greater links with Training and Enterprise Councils.

Tony McDougal