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Post-16 Training

Volume 334: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1999

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3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Government's proposals for education, skills and lifelong learning in England. I thank my ministerial colleagues and officials for the work that they have done with me on the White Paper.

Earlier this year I announced a review, and consultation resulted in substantial support for radical change. It is clear that a highly skilled work force is essential for prosperity and social cohesion in the next century, that the existing post-16 system is inadequate for that purpose, that staying-on rates remain too low, and that standards are too variable and are unacceptably low in many areas. There is too little clarity, co-ordination and coherence between further education and training, and there is too much duplication and too many layers in the contracting and funding system.

In view of the need to plan for such major change, we have set out an illustrative timetable—subject, of course, to legislation. Today, I commend to the House our new White Paper "Learning to Succeed", the draft transitional plan that accompanies it, our consultation paper on the future of sixth-form funding, and the parallel consultation on the Small Business Service announced today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

We set out proposals which support the tripartite responsibility of employers, learners and Government. We need to ensure that we have high standards in further education and training, effective planning and funding, and the delivery of national targets. I wish to build on what has worked best and improve dramatically what has not.

Those in further education, training and enterprise councils and the careers service have done a good job; many have given their time freely, and I thank them for that. The local learning partnerships that I announced last autumn are developing a powerful role in bringing together providers and broader interests. Those will continue.

Today, we propose a new national learning and skills council to respond to the weaknesses that we have identified. The council will be responsible for the learning provided to more than 5 million students over the age of 16, funded by about £5 billion of public money each year. The council will bring together the role of the training and enterprise councils and the Further Education Funding Council in funding and contracting for training. It will have separate committees focusing on the needs of 16 to 19-year-olds and of adult learners, ensuring that both are addressed thoroughly.

We need greater coherence to meet the needs of students, trainees and employers. Our proposed new local learning and skills councils will take responsibility for all post-16 learning, from developing basic skills through community learning to the funding of high-level training and for promoting work force development. They will work in partnership with both the new regional development agencies and the existing local learning partnerships.

Each local council will cover a travel-to-learn and travel-to-work area. They will work alongside the local arms of the Small Business Service and co-operate with them and with local authorities on economic development and meeting labour market needs. The new arrangements will cut through duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy, with a saving of at least £50 million a year to fund the needs of learners.

Employers and the nation need skilled, adaptable men and women in order to stay competitive in the modern economy. It is vital that our new arrangements meet employers' needs and engage them in shaping and influencing the range of post-16 provision. That is why, both nationally and locally, employers will have the largest single input in the new learning and skills councils. Trade unions, local government and the service users will be fully represented. I hope that those from small as well as large businesses will work with us to help to determine a budget five times larger than that administered by TECs. Our goal is a funding system that responds to the needs of learners rather than institutions and that encourages greater participation and achievement.

Individual learning accounts, the university for industry and new incentives through the tax system will make learning more accessible. I also want higher standards and greater choice for over-16s through more co-operation between school sixth forms, sixth-form colleges and further education. Such co-operation already exists in certain areas. Both schools and colleges play a central role in the education of 16 to 19-year-olds.

We intend to promote high standards across all providers, but there are different levels of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds depending on which institution they attend. That is why the Further Education Funding Council announced last week significant improvements in the funding of colleges for those taking three A-levels. Over a period, we want to develop the principle of equivalent funding for equivalent courses. We will guarantee that present levels of funding for any school sixth form are at least maintained in real terms, provided that student numbers do not fall.

Our focus is on improved standards, increased probity and renewed emphasis on quality. Over the past two years, the Further Education Funding Council and training inspectorates have identified and tackled the weaknesses in poorly performing further education and training providers. We want to introduce greater rigour and coherence, so we will create a new adult learning inspectorate to deal with all post-19 education and training, with responsibility for inspection of work-based training for students of any age. Ofsted will be responsible for the inspection of provision for 16 to 19-year-olds in schools and colleges. The two inspectorates will work together on the inspection of colleges for that age group.

The support and guidance that young people receive is vital to their future. In the White Paper we outline a programme called "Connexions", which is designed to address the needs of young people. We propose a new youth support service to modernise and reform the careers service and improve links with the youth service: a new gateway to work and learning. We will publish further details, alongside the report from the social exclusion unit, shortly.

The proposals will make it easier to improve standards, to increase the skills of our work force, and to foster greater efficiency and co-ordination between national training organisations, work-based training, employers and formal providers. They will help our young people to make better and more informed choices about the best route to success, and focus resources on the needs of learners.

Above all, we aim to modernise learning and skills for the economic challenges of the new century. Investment in human capital will be the foundation of success, both economically and in building a cohesive society. I commend the White Paper to the House.

First, I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of his statement and of the White Paper—although, at least in relation to the White Paper, perhaps I need to improve my skills by training in speed reading.

The Opposition recognise that the education and training of young people and others post-16 is of the utmost importance for the United Kingdom. We therefore believe that certain criteria must be met by any new proposals for provision of education and training post-16. They are clear and simple criteria, aimed at ensuring the best possible provision to meet the needs of young people and others and the needs of the country.

Do the proposals involve the minimum of centralisation and the maximum of local discretion? Do they minimise bureaucracy and ensure that maximum funding really goes to students' education and training? Do they ensure diversity of provision, flexibility and real choice for students? Finally, will they preserve the best and improve the rest—not impose a new structure, willy-nilly, over the whole system, but preserve those spheres and institutions that have worked well?

Sadly, on all four of those criteria, the proposals that the Government have announced today fail. I say sadly because, in failing to meet the criteria, the Government will be not only failing to meet the country's training needs, they will be failing young people and other learners, as they are the ones who will suffer. The proposals centralise decision-taking, increase bureaucracy and red tape, reduce diversity and throw away what has been achieved in recent years in bringing business into the education and training system through training and enterprise councils.

Today is a sad day for the Government. The proposals show that, whatever their rhetoric, the Government have turned their back on local decision-taking and only pay lip service to involvement of the private sector. As the Financial Times said today:
"The last time Mr. Blunkett's centralised approach was adopted was under the Manpower Services Commission in the 1970s and 1980s".
That commission was wound up and the TECs invented precisely because it was recognised that skills shortages and training deficiencies were best tackled by the private sector at local labour market level.

Today's White Paper throws away that local decision-taking and introduces a centralised bureaucracy that will weaken the involvement of the private sector and reduce private sector commitment to local partnership. Bureaucracy will increase. There will now be a national learning and skills council, regional development agencies, local learning and skills councils and local learning partnerships before one even gets to a school or a college, let alone to a student.

How much will the Secretary of State's desire to control every aspect of the education system from Whitehall really cost? Will he tell the House how much the new structure will cost—in capital and revenue—to implement and operate in each of the next three years? How much of that money will be new money, over and above current expenditure? What criteria will be used to judge the distribution of funding by the national body? What percentage, if any, of national funds will be made available through, or on the decision of, the local learning and skills councils?

Will the Secretary of State explain how large those local learning and skills councils will be, how many staff they will employ, and what is a "travel to study and work area", which is the area that they will cover? If they have no power in the discretionary release of funds, what will their purpose be, other than as a fig leaf to hide the Government's centralising tendencies?

Three groups of people will lose out as a result of today's proposals. The first to lose out will be the Deputy Prime Minister, whose regional development agencies will be emasculated in their education and training role. The right hon. Gentleman has not had a good time recently. First, the Prime Minister drove up his bus lane, and now the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has driven a coach and horses through his regional development agencies.

The second group to lose out will be business. Over the years, many business men and women have given voluntarily of their time and that of their companies to TECs because they were concerned about improving training and enhancing the skills base in the country as a whole, but especially in their local communities. They are now to be cast to one side. How will the Government convince the business community that it will continue to have a real role to play, when that role is to be subsumed in a national body? The White Paper is 84 pages long, but the question of engaging and involving businesses merits only half a page.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the national body will include employer representation, rather than business representation, and so could be led and driven by the public sector? By what criteria will the Government judge whether local business needs are being met in any particular area? If they are not being met, what action will be taken, and by whom? There is real concern in the business sector that the new bodies will fail to address real needs and will become nothing more than talking shops. As one business man told The Guardian recently:
"What is going to happen now is a reversion to the days of manpower planning which did not work."
Perhaps this is more about the internal debate in the Labour party than it is about providing training and education, because the third group to lose out—and the most important—will be young people and other learners. Training provision in their areas will fail to meet the needs of the local community, but it will be determined nationally by the Government's agenda.

School sixth forms have been under threat since the review was announced, but they still do not know whether they have a future. If anything, the statement has made matters worse for them, as they find themselves subject to a further review, consultation on which will be held over the summer holidays. A decision will be reached within weeks of the end of the consultation exercise, which therefore looks very much like the normal sham that we expect from the Government.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House who will undertake the review of school sixth forms? How will consultation be conducted with school sixth forms, and with others? Will the Secretary of State confirm that school sixth forms, unlike colleges, will get no additional funding for the new curriculum? If no money is to be made available, what will be the consequences for standards and for schools' ability to offer the full range of subjects under the new curriculum? Will school sixth forms also be excluded from funding for other Government initiatives in future?

Local education authorities are to have two choices: either the Secretary of State will tell them what to spend on school sixth forms, and how, or the national learning and skills council will tell them. Either way, local discretion is reduced. Is this to be the closure of school sixth forms by stealth? Will the right hon. Gentleman reaffirm the undertaking given in this House on 29 April by the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment that, whatever the outcome of the review of sixth forms, no school sixth form will close against the wishes of local parents, teachers and education authorities as a result of that review or of today's White Paper? Will the Secretary of State also confirm that anything in the review that does not build on sixth forms will be strongly opposed by the Government, as the Under-Secretary stated?

We have waited a long time for this review. The review of training and enterprise councils was first announced in May 1998. In March this year, it became clear that the results of that review had been ditched, and the Secretary of State announced that he would extend the TEC review to consider options for local and national delivery of learning and skills. Seldom have we waited so long for so much, and got so little.

The Government have had two years to get this matter right. They have produced a mishmash of proposals that leaves many questions unanswered, particularly regarding the future of school sixth forms. The proposals increase centralisation and bureaucracy, but reduce diversity, flexibility and choice. In so doing, they will damage the education and training of all learners post-16. "Preserve the best and improve the rest" should be our watchwords in all education. We want both: sadly, this statement delivers neither.

I welcome the hon. Lady, in her new guise, to the Dispatch Box and wish her a long sojourn in the post. I have two pieces of advice for her—one is not to be negative and the other is not to take so long.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not found it in her soul to welcome our announcements this afternoon, which will involve employers across the board at national and local level in a way that they have not been involved before, with spending of £5 billion—not the £1 billion that training and enterprise councils currently operate under—which will give them influence in driving the skills needs of the nation, in collaboration with all those at national and local level who have a part to play.

I made it clear, when I said that local government would have a role to play in local learning and skills councils, that we were not simply talking about rolling together the term "employer". I say that as it is important that Conservative Members do not mislead people into believing that we are saying something that we are not. That is also true of sixth forms. I gave a guarantee this afternoon on the funding of sixth forms, and I did so on the basis that sixth forms are not threatened by these proposals.

We are talking about getting people to work together to provide real choice for young people and the highest level of efficiency. For instance, I want all providers—further education and sixth forms—to match the productivity and quality levels of sixth-form colleges. For a reduction of 20 per cent. in funding, sixth-form colleges provide the equivalent A-level points to the average sixth form throughout the country. If we can achieve that sort of quality level in every provider, we will have transformed the life chances of millions of young people.

How can I promise the House that we will save £50 million a year and be accused by the hon. Lady of creating new bureaucracy? Far from doing that, we are about to slim down a contracting system that was equalled only by the Soviet Union's wholesale distribution network. In some training and enterprise council areas, 35 per cent. of their budgets have been going on administration and staffing costs. The reality of the situation is that to gain a level 3 vocational qualification, it costs on average £3,900 in further education and £6,100 through a TEC.

If the hon. Lady is to succeed on the Opposition Front Bench, she should do a little homework, which I know she is renowned for doing, get her facts straight and understand that the new slimmed-down system with 50 sub-regional local councils and one body nationally, operating with all those who are prepared to be part of the partnership, will ensure that we deliver to our nation what we have needed for a very long time.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement in the White Paper. It throws an encouraging light on an area of public policy that has been much neglected, albeit at some expense. May I ask my right hon. Friend about the approximately 160,000 boys and girls aged 16 to 18 who are neither in work or in education? That is about one in 11 of that age group. Will he say more about his plans for that important group, bearing in mind that some of those youngsters will have had a bad experience in their own schools and that in some parts of the country some of them may have older siblings who are out of work and dads who have recently been made redundant? How do we persuade and enable that group to take up the opportunities of a second chance—a second chance that they need and the country needs for them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We need to do so by connecting them with the education and potential employment of the future at a much earlier stage. In many cases, we need to reconnect them with the education service that they have left through truancy or disaffection. We need to do so by building the new service connection from 12 and 13 upwards, so that it links mentoring in school with a gateway and support service for those in the transitional stage between school, post-16 and adult life.

We need to create a careers service and a 14 to 16 curriculum that relates those young people to the world of work, and ensures that they appreciate that only through qualification will they be able to earn, secure and hold a job in the knowledge-based economy of the future. Through education and maintenance allowances, on whose pilots we are engaged, and through the other proposals that we are introducing, we shall be able to sustain them through that critical period. I hope that the report of the social exclusion unit, which will be published shortly, and the further detail that we shall publish with it, will enable the House to see that we are at last putting together the jigsaw. From sure start in the earliest years, we shall develop the needs of children from the moment that they are born until they enter adult life—giving them the opportunity of learning and work.

We welcome the broad thrust of the White Paper. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has completed the school of charm at Smith square, but we have only to look around us, in all our cities, to see how past policies have failed. We welcome particularly the idea of co-ordinating both the planning and the resourcing of post-16 provision. We welcome the setting up of local, sub-regional councils, although we should have liked the regional development agencies to have played a more significant role, as I am sure the Secretary of State is aware.

We have some concerns as to the structure, especially whether, for example, the careers guidance will be only for 16 to 19-year-olds. Will it follow the Welsh model of a careers guidance service that is inclusive of all adults as well? We are concerned about the part to be played by the university for industry—it seems to have a separate identity, with its own structure. It may be complementary, but will the right hon. Gentleman explain why it is not part and parcel of an inclusive programme?

We were promised that we should have standards not structures. However, apart from the new inspection regime, which I am sure will be welcomed by all, there is little about standards. Why has the Secretary of State not taken this opportunity to deal with the tremendous problems relating to the professionalism and career opportunities of our further education staff? One in five full-time staff, and six in 10 part-time staff, have no teaching qualification. Is not this the place to start by giving them their own equivalent of a General Teaching Council or an institute of teaching and learning? This was an opportunity to grasp the nettle and say that our FE lecturers must have increased status and professionalism if we want this agenda to be delivered.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his broad welcome for the White Paper. I assure him that the points that he makes are dealt with. May I take this opportunity to say that I delivered the White Paper to Opposition Members an hour earlier than was traditional before we took office? I am not having a go at Liberal Democrat Members; I refer to the comment made by my opposite number on the Conservative Benches, the hon. Member for Maidenhead. I want to assure the hon. Lady that her colleagues used not to do that, although, obviously, I shall be happy to try to do better in future.

The White Paper deals with the question of separating the funding regime from the delivery mechanism. The university for industry, which is a provider and a facilitator of learning, will play its part in the same way as do further education colleges and private providers.

In relation to training and quality, it is not only in further education that it is important that the new further education and national training organisation gets a grip on the needs of part-time and full-time employees; it is also important in private training provision, where almost no qualification system exists at all. We need to set up mechanisms to introduce that as quickly as possible. We share that agenda. The concordat that has been reached between the unions and the Association of Colleges and the rebuilding of industrial relations offers real hope that we can lift the morale and motivation of those in formal further education, and that we can improve quality for those in private providers.

I warmly welcome the broad thrust of my right hon. Friend's White Paper, which is so important to enhancing the competitiveness of the nation and of regions such as mine and his. But may I say, as someone who has lived through many such reorganisations during the past 30 years, that the acid test of his success is whether he really will devise an employer and learner-driven system rather than one which is for the convenience of organisations, training providers and further education institutes?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is clear that the provider-purchaser separation will enable us to put the learner at the heart of what we are doing, through the development of individual learning accounts and the focus on individual learners, and through the involvement of employers who will, for the first time, not only locally but nationally, be able to drive the system. Getting that partnership working and getting people collaborating in a way that overcomes past divisions and conflicts rather than emphasising them will be crucial to success.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the whole history of taxpayers' support for post-school training in Britain, going back over many years, has been a history of substantial sums of public money, committed for the best of motives but failing to deliver its objectives, in large measure because of inadequate voice from employers and inadequate influence by employers on the way in which that money is used? If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that analysis, can he tell the House now what single change he is proposing this afternoon that will make more effective the voice of employers in the training system and, thereby, make the training system itself more efficient?

I accept a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman says about the investment of past resources. We have not succeeded in developing our productivity, competitiveness or qualification levels to anything like those of other developed nations. The greater involvement of those who have an immediate interest and who are closest to the needs of delivery are critical, not simply in this new structure in terms of their involvement nationally and locally, but by engaging the new national training organisations, of which there are now 70 since the general election, dealing with particular sectors and, therefore, needs within the economy. We wish to engage them and individual employers, including small employers, and, linked to the Small Business Service, their enterprise commitment to making this work better. There is no guarantee that, by involving employers more, we will have a better system. There is a guarantee that, by making everyone engaged and focused on the needs of tomorrow rather than the training needs of yesterday, we might get things right.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which may well turn out to be historic. Does the statement in any part refer to Wales and does it presage more apprenticeships to service our manufacturing industry, with particular reference to steel and to aerospace? Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about further education colleges, which have been having a tough time and need a boost?

A separate consultation has been undertaken in Wales, which the Welsh Assembly will be taking forward. We are keen to develop and build on the excellent modern apprenticeship programme. During the past two years, we have had 100,000 modern apprenticeships, and many young people are entering the programme. However, with the development from the old youth training scheme into the new national traineeships and the modern apprenticeships at level 3, there has been a real problem in terms of those finishing their training and, therefore, of retention. We need to examine with employers why that is happening and what sorts of rights of appeal and support young people can be given so that they have the same rights and investment that they would have in full-time education. As I mentioned a moment ago, we want to invest heavily in further education—as we are with the £725 million during the first two years of the comprehensive spending review—lift morale and ensure that the job can be done.

Each year, 3 million-plus learners go through further education colleges. Very few of them are the sons, daughters or relatives of those in powerful positions, particularly in our broadcast and print media. I want them to take more seriously what in France, Germany and the United States drives the link between vocational and academic education and to stop the sneers from the professional classes about what we are investing in today.

I am sure that Weymouth college and other further education colleges that run sixth forms will welcome the hint that they might get some more money for A-level students, but the rest of industry will be very upset with what the Government are saying about doing away with TECs. I am sure that the Secretary of State knows that the governing bodies of colleges such as Weymouth had to sack business governors because they were not allowed to have as many governors as under the previous Government. The input from TECs has been the reason why our economy is working as well as it will—[Interruption.]—as it currently is and, indeed, for the reduction in unemployment.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider carefully what has happened with the new deal? One hundred thousand people have gone through the gateway without TECs being involved; 85,000 of them have found their own jobs without going into any sort of learning. People coming out of the learning options are not getting jobs. In the 12 months since the new deal has been in place, the number of people in the 18 to 24 age group who are unemployed or on a non-employment option has increased.

Just to put the record straight, 284,000 young people have gone into the gateway and 105,000 have had a job. The programme engages for the first time with qualification and training for all young people who are on the new deal. That never happened on the make-weight schemes that the previous regime put in place. Those young people are contributing to the lowest level of youth unemployment since 1975. Just a few facts would shed a bit of light on this subject.

The central issue that the hon. Gentleman raised at the beginning of his submission—it was not so much a question as a submission—was that employers would be annoyed with the proposals. In March, I embarked on this final review because every agency that had come forward in previous reviews—the TEC national council, the Further Education Funding Council quinquennial review, the Moser commission on basic skills, the skills task force and the chambers of commerce—all said that the existing system was in need of review. That is why we embarked on a fundamental and radical review to get it right. We are rolling with the tide in this country that is in favour of a slimmed-down system in which money is spent on learners, not bureaucracy.

I am sure that the majority of Members agree with me that my right hon. Friend has made a statement this afternoon that shows the way forward from a system that was shambolic, inefficient and inequitable. I congratulate him on that. How does he expect the proposals to benefit and assist part-time as well as full-time students who sometimes fell through the cracks under the previous regime?

We are pulling together vocational and non-vocational, part-time and full-time courses and young people who are in work and out of work so that the funding tariffs and the contracting system as it exists at the moment make it possible to assist and support part-timers wherever and whenever they need it. That fits in with the programme of linking our commitment to funding for higher education with enabling those in further education to have the same opportunities.

Do the changes mean that the Government expect a pattern to develop whereby young people will do one or two A-levels in the school sixth form and the other one or two at a college of FE? Will the changes have any effect on schools that are involved in intricate negotiations with his Department on obtaining special technology status or special modern language status?

The changes will not affect those schools. We are committed to the substantial expansion of investment in specialist schools on the basis of their co-operation with other schools in the area and the wider community.

Young people can do one or two A-levels in a sixth form and undertake one of the new GNVQs at advanced level in a local college. It may be possible for college and sixth-form staff to work together using combined resources. People could break down the antagonism between providers if they realised that they have a common goal, which is to meet the interests of those young people.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. May I commend to him the effective co-operation and partnership between Cambridge Regional college, Hills Road and Long Road sixth form colleges and some of the school sixth forms in my constituency? Will he assure the House that his statement will offer some relief to further education colleges, given the funding pressures that they have faced ever since the previous Government imposed swingeing cuts on that sector of the education system?

I remember attending the Cambridge Regional college with my hon. Friend—I think it was in opposition, but it is all merged into one these days as the years pass by. Yes, we can give a commitment that, as I spelled out, students taking a course in a particular institution in the period ahead will have the same funding whichever college, institution or sixth form they attend. That seems to me to be equitable. The £400 per student for those taking three A-levels, which was announced by the Further Education Funding Council last week, is a step in that direction.

In my constituency, Guildford college of further and higher education, which has just launched a new sixth-form unit, will welcome the extra money that the statement presaged. Most 16 to 18-year-old students in my constituency and in other parts of the country are in sixth forms, and for them the death knell for the sixth forms in schools up and down the country has been sounded in this statement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that his guarantee of an increase in real terms relates to an increase in prices, not wages? After all, costs increase year after year because of increased wages. Will he also confirm that he hemmed in his guarantee by saying that resources would be increased provided that numbers were maintained? Surely if extra money is given to FE colleges, their numbers will go up at the expense of sixth forms, which will have to close as a result.

I despair. We are about to encourage tens of thousands more young people to stay on in further education of one sort or another. That is the endeavour of all of us. We are going to great lengths to persuade them that it is in their best interests to stay on. There is no threat to providers under this system—in fact, quite the opposite. We have gone out of our way to say that we will maintain funding for sixth forms in real terms—and real terms means real terms under anyone's guarantee. I said that increases will be dependent on numbers because if a sixth form dwindles to a handful of students and the school decides that it cannot cross-subsidise to keep it open, clearly that guarantee cannot stand. That is common sense.

I appeal to the Opposition, whatever differences they may have with us about the White Paper, not to go around scaring sixth-form teachers, parents and young people by suggesting that we are about to close sixth forms. We are about to open many more places for post-16 youngsters, because that is the future they will need to compete in the new economy of the new century.

Order. It will be difficult for me to enable every hon. Member to make a contribution. However, brevity would help me to be more generous.

I welcome the proposals that the Secretary of State has announced this afternoon. Does he agree that one of the most disgraceful aspects of further education since incorporation has been its lack of accountability? For example, the Further Education Funding Council and the Department have been unwilling to intervene in some absolute scandals—and many of them have come to light in the past few years. Will the Secretary of State explain how he intends to make further education more accountable and to whom it will be accountable?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. In chapter 3, from paragraph 34 onwards—which my hon. Friend has obviously not had time to examine thoroughly—I spell out a new, accountable system. I also do that in the same chapter in the early paragraphs about learning partnerships. The development of a local learning forum and the accountability of both the providers and the local learning and skills council—which will have to present a report, detail what they have been doing and answer for the decisions that they have taken—will be very important. It will be linked to the changes that we are making to the governance of further education, the new audit arrangements and the new inspection scheme. Together, they will form a powerful package and will ensure that we root out corruption and lack of probity and lift standards.

I have had some extremely difficult constituency cases involving post-16 children with severe learning difficulties who have had great problems finding appropriate training opportunities. How will the proposals that the Secretary of State announced today benefit those disabled young people? He puts proper emphasis on the role of technology colleges. Will he explain to the headmaster of Lytham St. Annes technology college in my constituency why, on the day the Secretary of State has made this announcement, that headmaster is facing a funding restriction on the second phase of the moneys that he needs to complete his technology status position? Could the Secretary of State also provide an explanation to Mr. Reg Chapman, the principal of Blackpool and Fylde college, who wrote to me recently to say that national pay agreements exceed in percentage terms the rate at which his resources are increasing? The Secretary of State has properly emphasised FE colleges; what is his message to Mr. Chapman today?

I shall try to answer all three of the right hon. Gentleman's questions. On the last question, we announced a record increase in further education funding—an unprecedented 8.2 per cent. increase—in this year's Budget. My answer to his middle question is no, I cannot. I have no idea about that technology college. However, I will write to him about that matter. As to his first question, he is right: there is a very real problem both in the transition from school to post-16 education for children with special educational needs and with the failure to transfer the statement. We must solve that problem and create a new emphasis, through the funding arrangements, to make that possible.

The prospect of greater clarity, coherence and co-ordination of post-16 arrangements is long overdue and very welcome, as is the promise of a large input from local employers into the learning and skills councils. Can my right hon. Friend reassure other local agencies with a detailed knowledge of local labour markets and skills needs—I am thinking of training and enterprise councils, councils and the Employment Service—that their views will be taken into account by the councils as they plan and contract for the services?

All those engaged in the learning partnerships will be crucial to making the measure work, and their voices will be heard. The training and enterprise councils will obviously be merged into the new structure, as will the Further Education Funding Council. However, those who have given of their time and energy will be key to ensuring that there is the continuity that my hon. Friend seeks in terms of both economic development and labour market needs and concentrating and focusing on what has been lost in recent years: the skills needs of tomorrow.

Given the importance of schools in delivering post-16 education, and in view of the statistics that the Secretary of State released last week in order to name and shame local education authorities, does he not now regret the emphasis that he placed on local education authorities in his School Standards and Framework Act 1998? Does he now regret placing back under LEA control so many schools that had escaped the dead hand of local education authority supervision?

First, the question has no bearing whatsoever on the White Paper. Secondly, I had an interesting experience this time last week, and it was not the local authorities saying that they loved the School Standards and Framework Act, under which I was acting. The hon. Gentleman should go back to the drawing board and do a little more homework.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, which the sixth-form college in my constituency will broadly welcome. It is appropriate to warn Opposition Members that if they were listening, instead of reading the odd item in the newspaper, they would appreciate that almost every provider of post-16 education is saying, with the same affirmative voice, "Well done. This is just what we wanted."

There has been a disparity of almost 30 per cent. between post-16 provision in schools and in colleges. That needs to be addressed. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when he thinks the same level of funding will be available for all post 16-year-olds? Will he advise us whether the careers service will be incorporated into the new body, and whether that body will be able to tackle post-19 education to fulfil lifelong learning?

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, the careers service will form the core of the new service for young people. Of course, that will also dovetail and develop with the adult guidance service—this relates to the question asked by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—so that we have a seamless provision for people across the board. I welcome my hon. Friend's question. I cannot say how long it will take to equalise funding for particular courses, but I can guarantee that it will be done as quickly as possible, given the negotiations that I shall, no doubt, be having with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the months and years to come.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) urged the Secretary of State to seek to preserve the best and improve the rest. He will know that school sixth forms in my constituency deliver some of the best post-16 education in the country. Will he reassure them that he bears no malice to school sixth forms by guaranteeing that capital and revenue funding will remain available for the expansion of existing sixth forms in schools and for the establishment of new sixth forms in schools on exactly the same terms as it will be available for the expansion of further education colleges?

I made it absolutely clear that we intend to expand all sectors of the post-16 arena. We want to do so on the basis of need and demand. If there is a demand for additional sixth-form places, we will meet it and we shall do so on the basis of the commitments that we have already made. I want to put on record once again that this is not an ideological decision. For the past two years, we have been making decisions on the basis of meeting that need. Sixty per cent. of youngsters between 16 and 19 in full-time education are not in sixth forms, but 40 per cent. are, and that 40 per cent. matter as much to us as they do to Opposition Members.

My right hon. Friend will know that this statement could represent a new beginning for this sector of education. He will be aware, as I am, that any judgment made will be on the basis of the quality of education and training delivered to young people. Does he know that many employers will be thankful for his announcement because for a long time they have been putting their energy and work into training and enterprise councils, and then having all their efforts dashed by the diktat from a Department run by the previous Administration that pushed them into cheap, quick, low-value training? This new beginning will be based on the quality that we shall provide in the coming years.

While recognising the very many flaws in the present system and the waste and inefficiency, my right hon. Friend also recognised in his comments the good practice that exists in some areas and in some pockets. I am thinking especially of Hertfordshire training and enterprise council, which covers my constituency and those of a number of my hon. Friends. Will my right hon. Friend comment on how good practice will be secured by the developments in the White Paper?

We wish to build on excellence wherever it is. Some excellent work is going on through training and enterprise councils. We wish to ensure that we secure it and build on it. I shall say exactly that at the TEC national council conference tomorrow.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially what he said about locating the councils at sub-regional level, which makes a great deal of sense. I welcome what he said about the need for national targets, but I put it to him that it is vital that the new structure is flexible, building on the partnerships that already exist in many areas, linking with the Small Business Service and, crucially, with the regional development agency network. Will he say a little more about how the new structure will show such flexibility?

It will be possible to have flexibility within the new structure, enabling the learning and skills councils at local level, with the national training organisations and the regional development agencies, to plan what is right for their region and their sectors, so that there is much greater synergy between what is required locally and what is deliverable in terms of the funding tariffs, the contracting system and the available funds. This is a real opportunity for people to get it right in their locality.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. He will be aware that the Conservatives never really understood the apprenticeship scheme, which is why they destroyed it in the 1980s. Will he ensure that the national learning and skills council promotes the national apprenticeship scheme as an alternative career structure and that, at the same time, opportunities are extended to join the national apprenticeship scheme?

Wholeheartedly I can. The Small Business Service will also help promote to small businesses that have not necessarily become aware of the opportunity of modern apprenticeships this high-level, high-quality opportunity to give young people real skills and hands-on experience for the future.

Given the enormous contribution made by further education colleges, such as the North Hertfordshire college in Stevenage, to their local communities, will some of their representatives be given the opportunity to serve on the new sub-regional skills bodies?

The answer is yes. The local learning partnerships will obviously engage a range of providers and other interests, but they will also have representation on the local learning and skills council. It will, however, be driven by the needs of learners and employers rather than of providers, and we must get that balance right.

I welcome the statement as a great step forward for training and education, but will it help the post-16 kids who leave school with no qualifications and usually drift into crime and drugs and have no prospect of a job?

I honestly think that we shall be judged in future on whether we have made any inroads into helping those young people. Therefore, we need to come together, whatever differences there may be, to build on those interesting and challenging experiments in the voluntary sector, and on the new start initiatives, which are starting to work, so that we can reach out to those young people where they are and draw them in on terms that engage them again, not only with learning but with the community and society around them.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will warmly welcome his announcement today, not least because, essentially, he has brought education and training together, in keeping with the spirit that led to the creation of a single Department for Education and Employment by the previous Government? If I may say so, that is why I think that the remarks of the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) were so wide of the mark.

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend a specific question about the new arrangements. Is he able to give an assurance that the support which training and enterprise councils and the Further Education Funding Council now give to trade unions to help them promote learning in the workplace will continue to be provided by the new learning and skills councils?

First, I welcome my hon. Friend to questions on my statement. I knew that he was going to give me a hard time in his new role.

There has been enormous co-operation in the development of work force learning and in the part that trade unions are playing. I spell out clearly in the White Paper that we want to build on bargaining for skills, on employee development programmes and on the excellent work that has been done through the union learning fund. Employers have welcomed this as a key role for agreement with trade unions. It is the future in terms of developing learning representatives in the workplace and in focusing on what benefits both the individual and his employer, which is high productivity, high added value and jobs for the future.

Order. I am afraid we must now move on. There will be other opportunities to return to this subject.