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Housing Money (No 2)

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

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Queen's Recommendation having been signified


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to give security of tenure, and the right to buy their homes, to tenants of local authorities and other bodies; to make other provision with respect to those and other tenants; to restrict the discretion of the court in making orders for the possession of land and to amend the law about housing finance in the public sector, it is expedient to authorise—

  • (a) payments out of money provided by Parliament under schemes for contributions (not exceeding £5,000, or such greater amount as may be provided by order, for any one dwelling) towards the net cost to local authorities of disposing of dwellings after carrying out works of repair, improvement or conversion;
  • (b) any increase in the sums payable out of money provided by Parliament under section 29 of the Housing Act 1974 attributable to provisions enabling housing association grants under that section (of an amount not exceeding £5,000, or such greater amount as may be provided by order, for any one dwelling) to be paid to housing associations registered under section 13 of that Act in cases where an association disposes of dwellings after carrying out works of repair, improvement or conversion;
  • (c) any increase in the sums payable in any one year out of money provided by Parliament which is attributable to the commutation of transitional town development subsidy payable under section 5 of the Housing Rent and Subsidies Act 1975; and
  • (d) any increase in the sums payable out of money provided by Parliament under the Rent Act 1977 attributable to provision for the payment of pensions, allowances or gratuities to or in respect of any person nominated to act as president or vice-president of a panel formed under Schedule 10 to that Act in respect of rent assessment committees."—[Mr. MacGregor.]
  • Treforest Skillcentre

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Jopling.]

    I shall time the debate from the moment the hon. Gentleman is called to speak.

    10.14 pm

    I am grateful for the opportunity of raising a subject upon which I have already made written and oral representations to the Manpower Services Commission and to the Department, namely, the proposed closure of the Treforest skillcentre annexe. I hope that by focusing attention on this totally mistaken decision I shall, even at this late stage, obtain its reversal.

    The present Government have looked at retraining in two ways since they assumed office. The first was an exercise carried out by Sir Derek Rayner, upon whose business acumen the Government heavily rely, and his remit was to look at the efficiency of the skillcentre network. It was proposed to close five skillcentres and five annexes, as The Times reported last December. Treforest was reported last December. Treforest was not among those recommended for closure. Therefor, it passed its efficiency audit, which is significant in itself and throws a curious light on the Government's later attempts to discredit it.

    However, in December, in their theological fervour to save public expenditure regardless of the consequences, the Government told the Manpower Services Commission that it had to save 3,400 jobs, out of which the skillcentres had to save 520. Rayner had been abandoned in favour of Procrustes, and the Treforest annexe had to be included, quite literally, to make up the number.

    By now, some reasons had to be discovered, and they were encapsulated in the Minister's letter to me of 5 March 1980 as being a combination of poor performance and over-provision in the area.

    I should like to separate those two reasons and deal with them. First, what does "poor performance" mean? It certainly does not mean a shortage of applicants. The annexe had 72 places, and it was proposed to add another class of between 12 and 14 places, with the equipment already purchased and on site. Occupancy of places was always high and there was a waiting list. Surely the Minister cannot mean the quality of the training given by the staff. The pass rates were extremely high, and employers who took the graduates were very pleased with the quality they employed. Therefore, to attack their training would be an unwarranted slur upon the teaching staff. I think that what the Minister means by that clumsy phrase is the record of subsequent placings of the men in jobs having the requisite skill requirements.

    The exact placement record is a matter of dispute. The staff at the skillcentre have produced higher figures for placing than the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission. Indeed, even the chairman had to have two goes at it, and his latest letter to me not only contradicts the union figures but his own earlier letter to such a radical extent that I wonder whether someone ought to have another go at revising it.

    In the latest letter there is this memorable paragraph:
    " We now have the 100 per cent. local follow-up for the September 1979 quarter which shows that of the 48 per cent. of trainees who responded unfortunately only 31 per cent. were using the skills in which they had been trained for any part of the work ".
    Frankly, I am not at all certain what that means, and it might even tax many who spend their lives studying the meaning of words.

    My tentative conclusion is that it means that almost three-quarters of the trainees who responded to the inquiry have jobs calling for all or part of their skills. In any event, one cannot divorce this from the general economic climate which makes placements difficult—a difficulty compounded by the apparent friction between the employment services division and the training services division in Wales, which seems to have led to a less than wholehearted placement policy.

    Secondly, there is over-production of training places in the area. The implication is that the Cardiff centre will be able to cope with all the existing courses without its two annexes at Tremorfa and Treforest. That is not true. Of the courses being conducted at Treforest, only two are being redirected within the system, and neither of those will go to the Cardiff skillcentre. Three courses have been lost at Tremorfa and six at Treforest. These are being lost without replacement at any other centre. Since their occupancy is high, there is an obvious demand for them, which will now be unmet. Therefore, the second reason for closure seems to be quite unsound.

    It is rarely enough to demonstrate that the reasons given for closing something are not sound. Indeed, it would never be enough for this Government, whose every move seems to be based on unsound reasoning. Therefore, I shall put forward some positive reasons why the Treforest annexe should be retained. These reasons are nothing to do with sentiment, although I am grateful that a Government training scheme existed in Treforest more than 40 years ago because it enabled my father, an unemployed miner, to be retrained as a painter. Nor are they based on the strong local support for its retention., as evidenced both in the local newspapers and by the very strong support given to the fight by the Taff Ely borough council.

    The two reasons that I adduce are, first, the ostensible strategy of the Government, which says that job loss in obsolescent industry is inevitable and that we must switch to new industries. The Government counsel us not to be afraid of change, but how can that be unless men are given the opportunity to train in new skills? It would be cruel if the Government were to tolerate job loss without trying to create new job prospects.

    The second reason is that there is an increasing need in this area for men to -acquire new skills. The Government and the Manpower Services Commission have concentrated on likely steel and colliery closures and have modified their proposals for skillcentre closures to take account of these. I beg the Government not to be oblivious to the job loss that is occurring constantly in our area.

    This annexe is situated on the Treforest industrial estate, which is fast becoming an industrial desert. Since the beginning of this year nearly 1,000 jobs have been lost, either through whole factories closing or through existing employers shedding labour. By emptying this factory the Government will have added their direct contribution towards making this a ghost industrial estate. We cannot see an end to it, and without training facilities we will have no hope of taking advantage of whatever bright spots may occur in the future.

    If the Government believe in a strong industry, and if they believe that workpeople have the adaptability and resilience to change their industrial circumstances, they will retain the annexe. If not, it will be because dogma has blinded them to the economic consequences of wasted potential and to the human tragedy. Therefore, I hope that even at this late stage the Government will think again about what I profoundly believe to have been a mistaken decision.

    10.18 pm

    I am grateful for an opportunity to make a brief intervention. The Treforest skillcentre, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), is on the border of my constituency. Mine is a constituency of very high unemployment. Many members of the staff of the Treforest skillcentre, and certainly many of the trainees there, come from my constituency, and there is great concern that an institution that is performing such a useful function in difficult days should be closed. I hasten to add that these days are made more difficult by the policies of the Government. A great deal of benefit was being derived from the skillcentre.

    A Manpower Services Commission press release of 23 April pointed out in reference to cuts and redistribution that although skillcentre rationalisation would involve closures, the chairman had said that, overall, the needs of individuals and industry would be better served than before.

    That is abject nonsense. It is like a surgeon trying to comfort a patient by telling him that although he has to undergo the amputation of a leg, he will afterwards be able to hobble along more rapidly on crutches than he could when his legs were in good condition.

    I could understand the Government going in for cuts and saying that they were not really interested in the problems of unemployment and retraining, but trying to dress up cuts by saying that everyone will be better off is not only nonsense, but dishonest nonsense.

    10.25 pm

    I start by saying that I appreciate the concern and disappointment of the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and Caerphilly (Mr. Hudson Davies) at the Manpower Services Commission's decision to close the skillcentre annexe at Treforest. Loss of such a facility can never be welcome to local people.

    It is fair to say that that is something that has very much influenced the way in which the MSC has gone about taking its decisions on rationalising the skillcentre network. I hope that I can at least help the hon. Member for Pontypridd and others who may share his views to understand why the MSC has taken its decision.

    The decision to close the Treforest annexe is part of a much wider set of decisions on the future shape of the skill-centre network. It is the result of the review established by the previous Labour Government two years ago.

    The MSC's aims, which I entirely support, are to get a network of skillcentres located where industry can make most use of them and where a majority of individuals can easily get access to training. The rationalisation proposals are designed to achieve these aims while providing more training, but in fewer centres and therefore at less cost.

    The closures will also enable the commission to put more resources into offering direct training assistance to employers and their employees, through the direct training services. These services are especially valuable in helping new and developing industry, which is of particular importance to Wales.

    At a general level, these proposals must make good sense, but the MSC has rightly recognised that closures are bound to disappoint and inconvenience local people. It has paid a great deal of attention to the ways in which individuals will be affected—whether they will have access to alternative training, how difficult the transport arrangements are, whether specal transport needs to be provided, how many other people will benefit from new alternative centres opening and from classes being moved from closed centres, and so on. I believe that the commission has made an honest and successful attempt to decide on a future network that minimises inconvenience and maximises advantage.

    The commission has been at pains to consult widely and to take full account of local views. In one or two cases that process is still going on. Obviously, the commission has had to balance the views that it has heard against its aims in rationalising the network to provide a better and a stronger system overall, but as a result of the consultations there have been changes, shifts in emphasis and timetable, and consideration given to transport arrangements. Above all the MSC has taken a positive approach to the best means of ensuring, with the help of local input, that local training needs—of both employers and trainees—are met, whether through skillcentres or otherwise.

    The hon. Member for Pontypridd has made his own representations. I hope that he will agree that he has received a full and fair response, even if he cannot share the MSC's conclusions, though I gathered from his remarks that that is not the case.

    Perhaps I may now turn to the Treforest annexe, and why the MSC has decided that it should be closed. As the hon. Member will know, and has said, one of the main criteria used by the commission in selecting skillcentres or annexes for closure has been how successful they are in producing trainees who find and settle into jobs using the skills that they have learnt. Another important factor has been how well utilised are the skillcentre facilities, and those of other neighbouring centres. The Treforest annexe has 70 places operational at present. I freely concede that recently these have been well used, with over 90 per cent. of the possible capacity being used. This is partly the result of taking out classes with a poor occupancy record.

    Treforest is one of a number of centres within not very many miles of each other. There are a further 270 places at the main centre at Cardiff, an easy eight miles away. There are 250 places at Newport, 15 miles away, and another 160 places at West Gwent skillcentre, 12 miles away. Occupancy has certainly improved in all these centres, but there are unused places—130 in mid-March—and there is unused space. Classes have been shut for lack of an instructor, and they can be opened if staff become available from closing skillcentres.

    Overall, the area at present has twice the national average of skillcentre places per head. Even after closures it will still have substantially above average places. No one will quarrel with that, in view of high unemployment and the need to do what we can to regenerate industry. But there is spare capacity close by to take trainees who might otherwise have gone to Treforest.

    That is not the main reason why Treforest is to be closed. The commission has had to take account of the employment prospects for trainees. The simple and distressing facts are that of 158 trainees completing courses at the annexe in 1979, only 44–28 per cent.—were placed on completing their course. Of 32 trainees who completed courses in the quarter ending March, only two were placed on completion. And this is not for want of trying by the skillcentre staff. Thank goodness, the results of the regular 100 per cent. survey of trainees, which is taken three months after they finish training, tell a slightly happier story. They show that 58 per cent. of respondents in training used their skills for the quarter ending December last year. But these placing results give a most depressing picture.

    Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to stress the need to have facilities available to retrain those who will be made redundant in South Wales, if they want to be trained. However, Treforest is not ideally situated from that point of view. That is why the MSC has taken careful account of the alternative capacity available, and of the timing of other closures in South Wales.

    The MSC cannot just offer training with a blind and cynical disregard for whether trainees will get a job at the end. The training is long and arduous. It involves a considerable investment of effort by the individual and of money by the State. I regret that, by and large, employers on the Treforest trading estate and others nearby do not take skillcentre trainees, and they do not use the annexe facilities for upgrading the skill of their own employees, but it is less than fair to trainees to offer them training with such dismal prospects of a job at the end of it. Moreover, their lack of success can give skillcentre training generally a bad name.

    The basic facts are that the placing results from Treforest cannot justify its continuance, and that alternative facilities exist reasonably close by.

    Does the Minister dispute my statement that six classes, including three welding classes, one motor mechanics class, one class in motor body work and one in radio and television work, are disappearing? Does he dispute that they are not being replaced in Cardiff or anywhere else?

    I was just about to come to that point. Treforest has six classes, all duplicated in neighbouring centres. There are motor vehicle body repair classes at Newport and Port Talbot; motor vehicle repair and maintenance classes at those two centres and West Gwent; electric are welding classes at all four of the neighbouring centres; a radio and television servicing class at Cardiff; and coded welding classes at Newport and Port Talbot. One coded welding class will move to Wrexham skillcentre, where it can help those made redundant from Shotton. Closing the radio and television class should mean that an important class in industrial electronics can open at Cardiff, using the same instructor.

    There are good prospects for redeploying the staff concerned, some to fill important vacancies. Between now and February 1981, when the annexe is due to shut, trainees will be gradually diverted elsewhere. None will be unable to finish the course.

    The advantages of rationalising the skillcentre network, and the case for closing Treforest as part of the exercise, seem to me to be irrefutable. I understand that the district manpower committee for Mid-Glamorgan and the MSC's Welsh committee have accepted the case for closure, whilst regretting the loss of a local facility. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can do likewise. I am sure that he can look to the Manpower Services Commission, in concert with those concerned locally, to do all that can be done within the resources available to it to ensure that training needs of both individuals and employers in the area are properly catered for.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Eleven o'clock.