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Learning and Skills Council

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

I last met Mark Haysom, the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, on 12 December. Ministers in my Department regularly meet the LSC chief executive as part of the overall accountability and performance framework.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s reply. As he will know, the predecessor of the Learning and Skills Council was the training and enterprise council. In North Yorkshire there were good relations between businesses and the local TEC. I now find that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned, the Learning and Skills Council tends to be invisible to local businesses. What plans does the Secretary of State have to encourage the LSC to engage positively with local businesses to sell the skills and business training that it offers?

A number of different measures are being taken forward. First, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State announced over the Christmas recess that LSC funding for small and medium-sized enterprises for management training and training to understand their skills needs will increase from £4 million to £30 million. That gives the LSC a vastly increased budget with which to offer a practical and useful service to those businesses that want to understand their skills needs.

Secondly, as our response to the Leitch report made clear, we are keen to encourage the development of local employment and skills boards, as is the LSC, which will bring together training providers and employers locally to create a forum in which to discuss with the LSC how its funding is used in that area. We want that bottom-up influence on the use of LSC funding to grow in the years to come, because I acknowledge that, in the process of driving up standards in education—for example, through the improvement in the completion of apprenticeships, which is one of the LSC’s real achievements—the LSC has at times been felt to be insensitive to local needs. We recognise that, and so does the chief executive of the LSC. I hope that in the years ahead the hon. Lady will see the sort of flexibility that she is looking for.

The answer is that the Government need a mechanism to distribute the record sums of funding to deliver adult education. The amount of funding going to adult skills over the next three years will increase by 17 per cent. That will cover everything from basic numeracy and literacy to level 2 and level 3 qualifications and Train to Gain. The question for the Government is always whether every one of those decisions should be taken directly by Ministers or somebody working directly for them.

Well, my hon. Friend expresses the view that that should always be the case, but I think that there are strong advantages in keeping some distance between the practical day-to-day decisions taken locally and Ministers. Two Opposition Members have today talked about the need to ensure that funding is available locally. Some degree of separation between Ministers and those funding decisions is desirable. That separation should not be total, nor should the arrangements always be exactly the same as they are today; however, I am not sure that we would be better served by simply having such a huge sum of money administered by Departments and Ministers.