COMPANY staff who deal with the public are to have their English skills assessed in a pilot scheme that aims to maintain the SAR's international image. Around 1,000 secretaries, clerks and receptionists will take part in the tests amid concerns that standards of English are falling. The results - to be announced in January - would form the basis of a government benchmark level of English, said Raymond Young Lap-moon, deputy secretary for education and manpower. 'The atmosphere for learning English is fading after the handover,' Mr Young said, 'perhaps because people are more interested in learning Mandarin.' Michael Tien Pak-sun, a businessman who chairs the steering committee for the English in the Workplace Campaign, said Hong Kong needed to keep a high standard of English to differentiate itself from the mainland. 'If the gap closes, we will lose our identity. Then 'one country, two systems' won't work any more,' he said. The Government yesterday also urged the private sector to set a benchmark for English in the workplace, and to test employees' proficiency with the help of four recommended language assessment agencies, three from Britain and one from the United States. The administration has faced criticism, most notably from legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai, over falling standards of English. While claiming to have a bilingual policy, some government departments, such as the Labour Department, have issued brochures and announcements only in Chinese.