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Volume 80: debated on Tuesday 11 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are currently attending skillcentres; and what were the figures for 1984 and 1983.

During April 1985, the latest month for which information is available, on average 8,800 people attended skillcentres at any one time. For April 1984 and April 1983 the numbers were about 10,600 and 12,100 respectively. Overall, however, skillcentres plan to train 35,000 adults in 1985–86 compared with 33,000 in 1984–85 and 31,000 in 1983–84.

Does the Minister recollect the words of the Secretary of State, who recently said that the shortage of skill in Britain represented a time bomb which, if not remedied, would blow the whole economy to pieces? Why, then, has he changed his mind and decided to keep open only two skillcentres out of all those that have been closed? The two that have been re-opened are in Twickenham and Southampton, and members of the Conservative party in those two areas knew that their centres would remain open before the Minister announced publicly the new decision.

I recollect well what my right hon. Friend said about skill shortages. Surely the hon. Gentleman was not listening to my answer. I pointed out that in the year ahead 35,000 people would be trained in skillcentres, compared with 31,000 in 1983–84. Furthermore, thanks to the rejigged adult training strategy, 250,000 people will be trained next year, as opposed to 125,000 in the past year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it does not matter whether the physical building is called a skillcentre, a technical college or a training centre; what matters is the quantity, quality and cost-effectiveness of the training?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That is precisely why the adult training strategy has been adopted.

Will the Minister come clean and accept that the so-called re-jigging hides the fact that throughout the country short-term "cheapo" courses are being substituted for genuine year-long skills training in our skillcentres? Is it not a surprise that the two skillcentres that the Minister has saved are in Tory marginal seats? Is he aware that men and women in other areas will take that lesson hard, they having had their skill-training opportunities taken away from them?

The decision as to which skillcentres to keep was made entirely by the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission. The hon. Gentleman will know that the leader of the CSU pleaded with the chairman of the MSC to retain the Southampton skillcentre. He will know also that it was the Labour-controlled council which guaranteed money for the Southampton centre. Those are the facts.