David Harbourne may have changed his role, but his North Yorkshire office and the faces around him remain the same. Only the challenges have intensified by government decree...

I have a new job! As from this month, I became executive director of the North Yorkshire Learning and Skills Council, which takes over the work of the Training and Enterprise Council in April 2001.

This was a somewhat unusual experience, because I am based in the same Clifton Moor office as I had with North Yorkshire TEC, surrounded by familiar faces and the same heaps of paper.

The new council's role will be significantly different from that of the TEC. It will encompass all aspects of publicly-funded training and education for everyone aged 16 and over, with the notable exceptions of higher education and training for unemployed adults.

Bringing all the funds together will make a lot of sense. It will give us a clear focus on the skills and knowledge people need to fulfil their hopes, and improve the competitiveness of our local businesses.

Within a few days of starting my new role, I travelled with Linda Pollard, the chairman of the North Yorkshire Learning and Skills Council, to a launch conference in London. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, was the main speaker. He also answered questions from the floor, and one of his answers intrigued me.

He was asked: "How will you judge the early success of the council?" He replied that one key measure of success will be that interest rates remain stable.

How, we all wondered, could the council achieve that? Answer: by changing the way the economy is viewed by the committee which advises the Bank of England on interest rates.

Mr Blunkett's vision is that as a result of our efforts to promote lifelong learning, the committee will base forecasts of future economic progress on the premise that we have truly become a knowledge-based economy.

He said: "Where once we could succeed on the basis of an abundance of natural resources, today our prosperity, and the vitality of our communities, depends on our biggest single asset - the skills and abilities of our people.

''Our vision is of a learning society in which everyone has the opportunity to go as far as their talents and efforts will take them. The Learning and Skills Council will be a leading agent of change in realising this vision.''

This is pretty challenging stuff, and we will undoubtedly have our work cut out to achieve this. But across York and North Yorkshire, we will be building on strong foundations.

We have some of the best schools, colleges and training organisations in the country, and many businesses already recognise the linkages between the skills of their people and business performance.

Working with colleagues in education and training, with Yorkshire Forward and with Business Link North Yorkshire, our aim will be to make sure that everyone, every business and every community has the opportunity to benefit from the vision described by David Blunkett.