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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 472: debated on Thursday 21 February 2008

Innovation, Universities and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—

Higher Education (Internationalisation)

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Development on the globalisation of higher education. (187368)

I regularly speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Our higher education sector plays an important role in international development. Our universities attract students from more than 200 countries, helping them to acquire skills and knowledge that are of benefit to their home countries. Universities collaborate extensively with their counterparts overseas to deliver courses, to exchange staff and students, and to conduct world-class research. My Department's bilateral programmes with India, China and African countries complement DFID’s work.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that positive response. In Crawley we are working hard to acquire a university campus. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while universities benefit students at home, enabling students overseas to learn together and share experiences is a very good way of promoting education in the United Kingdom?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am well aware of her ambition to establish a university campus in Crawley. It is true that the internationalisation of higher education brings numerous benefits to our own students and also to students who come here to study, and who take their knowledge of education back to their countries along with, hopefully, a good impression of our country and our education system.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the work of the dedicated staff of the British Council who operate in a number of developing countries throughout the world, not only advertising our universities but helping to establish campuses in those countries? Will he also take the opportunity to praise the work of British Chevening Scholarships, a body that provides scholarships for people who might not otherwise be able to afford education in this country?

I am delighted to do so. I have met Chevening scholars in Bournemouth in the recent past. In my present post I have worked with the British Council in China, and have observed its role in helping British universities to offer British higher education in that country. In an earlier role I met British Council staff in Pakistan, where they were doing much to promote awareness of further and higher education in this country and to deliver English language courses in that country.

Small Businesses

2. What steps the Government are taking to assist the development of leadership and management skills in small businesses. (187369)

We have increased our commitment to our leadership and management programme through Train to Gain from £4 million this year to £30 million per year from next year. We aim to develop the capacity of small business managers to understand the skills needs of their businesses, and to use the publicly funded Train to Gain programme. We expect around 42,000 companies with between 10 and 250 employees and some 60,000 individual managers to participate in the leadership programme over the next three years, and we expect that to result in about 150,000 learners from those companies using Train to Gain.

There are many small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency and, indeed, in the wider Stoke-on-Trent area. Although I would love to mention them all, I suspect that that would both be unfair to those that I missed out and would incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend outline the practical steps that could enable the measures he has described to help small businesses and starter businesses, not just in my constituency but in the wider Potteries area?

I hope that a number of steps can be taken to promote the scheme, in addition, of course, to the steps that my hon. Friend himself might take. We hope that small and medium-sized enterprises will be approached by skills brokers operating at regional level to promote awareness of the scheme. In fact, we know that that is already happening. It will also be possible for training providers to approach companies directly.

The offer is a good one. Public investment in developing the skills and management experience of businesses will enable managers to understand how they can use Train to Gain funds to secure further public funding to raise the skill levels of their staff. This is a very good proposition for small businesses. It is tried and tested, we have expanded it dramatically, and I hope that all Members will help to promote it in their areas.

My right hon. Friend will know of the considerable growth in small businesses in my constituency, but there are crucial problems. People lack confidence in their ability to develop small firms, and in particular to cope with the volume of regulation. How can we devise courses that will teach them that they have the talent to deliver, and also that they are able to cope with all that regulation?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is actively dealing with the issue of regulation and the environment for small businesses by means of deregulation and other mechanisms, and that is an important part of the picture. My Department, meanwhile, has recognised that for business managers, understanding the skills needs of their businesses and the way in which investing in skills can improve productivity and profit is not simple or straightforward. We believe that, by investing public money in improving that understanding and those skills, we can help managers to run their businesses while also enabling them to unlock further public investment in their staff.

Skills Pledge

By December 2007, more than 950 companies covering almost 2.7 million employees had made a skills pledge to develop the skills of their employees, including basic skills such as literacy and numeracy and work towards relevant valuable qualifications to at least NVQ level 2, which is equivalent to five good GCSEs.

I thank the Minister for that reply. In Halifax, thousands of my constituents work in small and medium-sized businesses, which are vital to the economy. Can the Minister tell me how many people in Halifax have participated in the scheme, and what skills and benefits they have developed through that?

Thirty-nine organisations in the Yorkshire and Humber region have participated in the skills pledge, but my hon. Friend will be aware that large companies such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Royal Mail have also signed up to the pledge. The most essential programme in her constituency, as in others, is Train to Gain, with its more than £1 billion of investment over this comprehensive spending review period. That engagement of employers with a broker and local colleges in skilling up their work forces is what will produce results in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Does the Minister agree that, although it is fine for larger and leading organisations to commit to the skills pledge, it is equally important and yet a great deal more difficult to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to participate actively? Will he ensure that the minimum of bureaucracy is required, and does he acknowledge that the maximum of encouragement is expected from Government to ensure their participation, both in apprenticeships and other structured training programmes?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The first thing to say is that this endeavour cannot be just a national one; it has to be a local one, and there is certainly a role for local chambers of commerce across the country to pursue skills agendas in their areas. Secondly, we have ensured through the Train to Gain programme that the absolute priority is hard-to-reach companies, and that includes companies that have not invested in skills in the previous period. Through that, and our plan for growth where we recognised and introduced changes to make this as simple as possible, we can ensure that small companies are able to access the relevant money to upskill their work force.

As someone who went through a craft apprenticeship training scheme where education and training were available up to and including degree level, I am aware that this is very costly for smaller employers. Has my hon. Friend any plans to extend finance to SMEs in particular?

My hon. Friend raises a good point, and he will be pleased to know that in our recently published apprenticeship review we discussed piloting direct payments to ensure that small businesses are able to engage in the apprenticeship programme.

University Applications

4. What discussions he has had with representatives of universities on encouraging applications from students from all backgrounds. (187371)

This Government remain fully committed to increasing and widening participation in higher education. To remain competitive, our economy needs more graduates, and it is right that those benefiting from higher education should come from all walks of life. I have had many discussions on this important matter, which in essence is about ensuring that talent does not go to waste and our nation does not lose out as a result.

Is the Minister aware that parts of West Lancashire are among the most deprived in the country? Public transport links are not good throughout the constituency and are particularly poor from places such as Skelmersdale. That disadvantages young people who want to attend either the university within the constituency or those on our borders. Given that the odds can be stacked against young people from low-income families, does the Minister not agree that we must provide as much support as possible to improve young people’s access to higher education and the career opportunities that that will give them in later life?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate her on the work that she does on this issue. I believe that we should provide as much support as possible for the potential students in her constituency to whom she refers. That is why we brought back non-repayable grants and why, from this September, we are significantly expanding the proportion of students who will be eligible for such grants. Even with the mechanisms already in place, I hope that she would join me in welcoming the fact that in her constituency entry to part-time and full-time undergraduate courses has increased by 40 per cent. in the past 10 years.

We are all glad about the Government’s commitment to higher education for all. Will the Minister pay particular attention to one group of people—the sons and daughters of Gurkha soldiers? Last year, Gurkha soldiers were given equal status to British soldiers in every respect—pay and conditions, home leave and so forth—save for the fact that their children are not yet given home-student status. I understand that the Department is working on this matter with the Ministry of Defence. Will the Minister commit himself to giving home-student status to Gurkha soldiers’ children, and will he tell us how the negotiations with the Ministry of Defence are progressing?

I am highly aware of this issue. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not make a cast-iron commitment on the Floor of the House today, but I have discussed the matter in detail with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence. We are examining the issue and I hope that we will be able to say something about it shortly.

My hon. Friend will know that the university of Bolton has a fine record of attracting people from all walks of life. However, he also knows that there is a high drop-out rate across the country—the university of Bolton is included in that. What more can we do to help to retain students who are attracted to universities and help them to stay in the courses that they have opted to study?

This is extremely important, although it is necessary to put it into context. We have some of the lowest drop-out rates in the advanced world. The recent Public Accounts Committee report included two tables. If we look at the one that includes both those students who transfer to another university and those who achieve a different higher education qualification, we get a more realistic picture. It shows that non-completion rates have reduced consistently since 1998.

The Higher Education Minister must accept that the proportion of students from poorer backgrounds accepted to universities has not increased as he would have wanted. Does he accept that debt aversion is a problem? Whether or not he accepts that, does he agree that there is a need for proper research into the reasons why there are not more applications from students from poorer backgrounds? Will he commission that proper research so that we can have evidence-based policy?

We have discussed this in the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills, and we regularly conduct research into these issues. There has been an increase in the proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups applying to and being accepted by universities. I want that to be higher, which is why we have a host of policies in train to achieve that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in celebrating last week’s figures on applications to study at university next year. They show a significant overall increase of more than 7 per cent. and an increase in the proportion of applications from lower socio-economic groups.

Is the Minister aware that both Oxford and Cambridge still take one third of their students from 100 so-called elite schools—80 per cent. in the private school sector and just 20 per cent. in the state school sector? Both those universities are failing to meet their abysmally low widening participation rate targets of 9 per cent. What more can he do to drag those two universities kicking and screaming into the 21st century by widening their participation rates?

I understand the genuine concern on the issue. It is acknowledged by the vice-chancellors and senior management teams at both institutions. Those institutions have made progress in broadening their access, but, as with all institutions, there is much more to do. One of the most effective ways of achieving that progress is by having much stronger school-university partnerships, involving institutions across the country, including Oxford and Cambridge.

Members of Universities UK are well aware of the need to broaden access to universities and they are making every effort, but does the Minister accept that one of the best ways to encourage all people from all backgrounds to go to university is to teach the proper subjects in schools to give children a chance to do so? The number of 18-year-olds with a decent A-level is some 25 per cent., so the target of 50 per cent. is heroic. Why are more students not taught the individual sciences of maths, physics, biology and chemistry, rather than a general science that eliminates them from our best universities?

I know from many discussions with the hon. Gentleman and from his background that he takes these issues very seriously. One key change being made by the Department for Children, Schools and Families is to ensure that triple science is more widely available from the coming academic year. That will help with the issues that he raises. We have made progress, but we need to do more.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in towns such as Keighley a growing number of young women from the Asian community are doing really well at A-level and going on to university every year? I am so proud of that and I hope that it will continue. However, is he also aware that once they get to university they are often bullied by young men about their style of dress and their general conduct? Can he ask vice-chancellors to be protectors of those women, so that they can conduct their lives as they wish?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue and I know that she has taken a particular interest from a constituency perspective. It is critical that all students from all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities come together on campus. The institution then has a responsibility not only to ensure that all students are protected, but that they are integrated within the student community.

We discovered last week that the Government are spending some £211,000 for every disadvantaged student they get into university. We now know that at least a fifth of those students are leaving within a year, despite the Government spending a further £800 million to tackle drop-out rates. We also know that student debt will shortly reach £21 billion. Can the Minister tell me which one of those financial failures gives the taxpayer best value for money?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his claim that a fifth of students leave university within a year and I ask him to go back to the figures and look at what he is saying. The figures can be made to add up for the claim that £200,000 is spent for every widening-participation student, but only if the total money spent on widening access for all less well-off and disabled students is divided by the total number of additional full-time students from lower socio-economic groups. However, that excludes part-timers, mature students and those students from better-off backgrounds whom we nevertheless want to encourage to apply to all universities, especially the selective universities. The hon. Gentleman needs to address that point.

As for so-called student debt, I understand that the Conservatives are still committed to a real rate of interest for repayments on student loans. We should have a comment from them on whether that is still the case, because it would do nothing to help students.

I know that my hon. Friend visited the very good North Warwickshire and Hinckley technical college in Nuneaton recently. When he has talks with the professors at universities, will he ask them to recognise fully the wonderful diplomas that will be rolled out in the tertiary sector? Very good work is being done, but if it does not create a route to university for some students, it will have failed.

I very much welcomed the opportunity to visit the college in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I agree that the development of the specialised diplomas is one of the most significant educational changes that we have seen in a generation. For it to succeed, we need all universities to recognise them as an admission qualification for higher education. All the indications from universities are that that is happening, and I welcome that.

A young person whose parents have had degree-level education or who come from a professional background is more than four times more likely to access higher education than someone whose parents have a manual occupation and have not been educated to degree level. Given that, does the Minister not think that some of the widening-participation budget that is allocated for retention, which has already been mentioned, might actually be more appropriately spent by universities on targeted outreach work for individuals from schools that traditionally do not access higher education?

Our commitment to widening participation, as well as the investment that we have put into that area, is clear and strong. However, we need to keep under review the way in which that money is spent. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to target those schools and communities where access is lowest to ensure that everything possible is done to ensure that people fulfil their talents. That should include the provision of information, advice and guidance.

Adult Apprenticeships

We recently announced that, for the first time, funding will be targeted specifically at expanding apprenticeships for adults aged over 25. That will mean 30,000 such apprenticeships costing £90 million over the next three years.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he take this opportunity to tell the House what can be done to support not only adult apprenticeships but all apprenticeships in Scotland in the same way as they are supported by the Government in England?

My hon. Friend will know that that is a devolved matter. I have been in discussion with my counterpart in Scotland and I know that they have not sought to make progress on modern apprenticeships in the way that we have most recently on this side of the border. It is a devolved matter and I know that it is the subject of great debate in Scotland.

In a previous Question Time, the Secretary of State admitted that there was a 40 per cent. drop-out rate for apprenticeships. Does the Minister not agree that that is an extraordinarily high figure and does not justify the huge investment from the Government? What is his Department doing to tackle that unacceptable situation?

I think that I said to the hon. Lady that completion rates for apprenticeships were currently at 63 per cent. I ought to remind her that completion rates in 1997 were 25 per cent., that there was no inspection and that investment in further education colleges in resources for apprenticeships was nil. The Government recently published their apprenticeship review precisely in order to ensure that quality improves and that more young people are able to take up apprenticeships and complete them.

In assessing how this welcome programme can involve women, will my hon. Friend look in particular at the recent Select Committee report “Jobs for the girls”, which considered the impact of occupational job segregation on the worrying continuing gender pay gap and the waste of skills in the economy? Will he particularly look at the issues included on how to encourage women over 25 to have the confidence to go into non-traditional jobs, on how the drop-out rate is partly the result of low pay—

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and for the way in which she continues to champion issues of equality in relation to apprenticeships, particularly for women. I hope that she will be pleased by the recent announcement on apprenticeships, as more money will improve prospects for women. I hope, too, that she will welcome the last chapter of the apprenticeship review, which deals with those equality issues. One thing that it highlights is the need for critical mass pilots to get a number of women in a cohort into a particular sector. In my early weeks in this post, I was pleased to visit Kier construction in Islington, where they were working with women and upskilling them in the construction industry. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that women feel more confident about coming into such sectors at an older age than they might have done when they were aged 16 to 18. That is why the pilots are so important.

I am pleased that since 2003-04 we have seen the doubling of completion rates for apprenticeships at both level 2 and level 3, but will the Minister tell us what he will do, first, to make sure that retention and completion rates are higher and, secondly, to disincentivise employers who train people to a particular level but then drop the apprenticeship because the people are economically useful to the company, because that is one of the huge barriers to young people completing their apprenticeship?

On the issue of drop-out, we do everything we can to raise completion rates and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s acknowledgement in the House this morning, but it is important not to say that young people have “dropped out” of an apprenticeship—they have completed a part of their apprenticeship and often go on to other occupations and valuable work that is right for them. One of the things that we have been keen to do is to ensure that there are programme-led apprenticeships, perhaps for young people who are not ready for an apprenticeship. We are absolutely committed to ensuring the quality of apprenticeships, but such young people can work in college, based around the sector, in preparation for an apprenticeship. We believe that that is absolutely key to driving up standards and completion rates. It is also important to acknowledge that in the end this is employment, and the whole thrust of the review is to incentivise employers to recognise the contribution they need to make to their local community so that we are all investing in our young people.

My hon. Friend may be aware that BRUSH, a group of companies in my constituency, is for the first time taking on apprentices in the engineering sector that was decimated in the 1980s and is now re-growing. However, the group has reached the stage of having to put up billboards around the town to attract people to apply for those posts, as people feel, because of the state that engineering has been in for the past decade or so, that there is a problem with its future. What is my hon. Friend doing in his Department to ensure that we promote engineering and the fact that it has a bright future? BRUSH has full books and a healthy future in front of it, so we need to promote the benefits of engineering to young people, because it is the foundation of everything we do in the UK.

My hon. Friend is right, which is why we have included in the apprenticeship review a requirement for schools to ensure that there is appropriate careers information about available apprenticeships. In relation to engineering, he will be pleased that SEMTA—the Science, Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies Alliance, the sector skills council—has identified careers information and work with schools as a clear priority in its sector skills agreement.

I do not want to be excessively brutal with the Minister—[Hon. Members: “Go on.”] No, I know that he is desperately worried about being forced to repeat what he reluctantly acknowledged at the previous departmental question time, which is that the number of apprentices is falling at all levels. The Leitch report makes it clear that reskilling and upskilling adults who are already in the work force is vital to our economic future, so can the Minister tell us, ideally without more banter and bluff, why the number of adults not yet skilled to level 2, on all types of Learning and Skills Council-funded provision, including workplace training, has plummeted by 620,000—a staggering 42 per cent.—in the past two years?

It is becoming routine to have ding-dongs on this issue in the Chamber every few weeks. What the hon. Gentleman should concentrate on is the number of young people who have started an apprenticeship and the number who have completed one. The number of young people who started an apprenticeship this year is 180,000; the number who started an apprenticeship in 1997 was 65,000, so there has been tremendous progress. The number of young people who completed an apprenticeship this year was 103,000, and we have already discussed the poor completion rate when the hon. Gentleman was in power. Those are the figures. That is improvement and he should support the apprenticeship review to ensure that we take it even further forward.

IGCSEs and A-Levels

6. When he last met university vice-chancellors to discuss the value of IGCSE and A-level qualifications. (187373)

I meet many vice-chancellors to discuss issues of importance and interest to them, including reforms of our national qualification system. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, it is for higher education institutions to decide what use they make of all qualifications in their admissions procedures. The recent report undertaken by the 1994 group of universities shows a widespread welcome of the changes being made to A-levels to ensure that they provide the right level of stretch and challenge for those going on to higher education.

Does the Minister accept that universities regard IGCSEs as having more academic rigour than GCSEs? Can he explain to my 15-year-old son, who just got an A* in his IGCSE maths, why the Government regard that achievement as being of no value?

The qualification is not accredited. Let us look at the facts. IGCSEs are not compatible with the national curriculum. For example, the English language IGCSE does not include compulsory study of Shakespeare or any other author, unlike the GCSE, and an assessment of speaking and listening is optional, whereas it is compulsory for GCSE. Furthermore, there is no non-calculator paper in the maths IGCSE. Those are the concerns. The IGCSE is not an approved qualification for funding, and as it has not been accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, there is no regularised mechanism to ensure comparability with GCSEs.

In respect of the research-intensive universities, has the Minister considered the impact of the introduction of the A* grade at A-level? Specifically, does he think that the A* grade will increase or decrease the proportion of students from state schools in research-intensive universities?

We need to monitor that issue. The latest modelling shows a very marginal change, not the kind of change that my hon. Friend suggests, but I accept that as we move towards an A* qualification, we need to keep the issue under close review.

May I tell the Minister that he is living in cloud cuckoo land if he does not realise that public confidence in the quality and rigour of public examinations is falling, as evidenced this week by the announcement that students of modern foreign languages will no longer undergo an examination, merely a continual assessment by the teacher? Does he also appreciate that his Government’s failure to accept the IGCSE as a proper qualification, when the market clearly believes that it is one, merely adds to the lack of public confidence in the Government’s willingness to maintain standards in our public examinations?

There is a real and ongoing problem of Members of the House seeking to run down the qualifications gained by young people in this country. When the director-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s education branch examined our A-level system a couple of years ago, he identified that no similar qualification anywhere in the world was as rigorously and regularly tested. It is instructive that Opposition Members talk of the IGCSE, a qualification undertaken predominantly in independent schools. I urge them to concentrate on the needs and interests of the vast majority of children in their constituencies, who do not attend independent schools.

Astronomy Research

The UK has world-leading expertise in astronomy research, including expertise at Glasgow university in gravitational wave radiation. The Government are increasing the budget of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the main public funder of astronomy research in the UK, by 13.6 per cent. over the next three years. We have asked Research Councils UK, as part of its continuing oversight of the health of disciplines, to conduct a cross-council review of physics research, including astronomy. The review will be led by Bill Wakeham, vice-chancellor of the university of Southampton, and I expect the review panel to report to RCUK in the summer.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments about the good record of Glasgow university, but as he will be aware, its physics department is dependent on the STFC for more than 85 per cent. of its research budget. Does he agree that, pending the outcome of the Wakeham review, it would be premature to cut programmes—by up to 25 per cent. in the case of Glasgow? Instead, and not reaching for the stars, may I ask him to consider a transitional arrangement?

I agree that a cut would be premature and it is not happening. Overall, the expected number of astronomy research grants in 2008-09 is 323, which is significantly more than the 247 that there were at the start of the comprehensive spending review period in 2005-06. In this financial year, including the impact of full economic costing, universities will have had a 67 per cent. increase in astronomy funding compared with 2005-06. That represents real investment in university research departments. I congratulate those at the university of Glasgow who undertake astronomy research. They are world class in their field.

I am disappointed to hear the Minister boasting once again about science funding and physics funding, because as a direct result of his decision on STFC funding last year, physicists are saying that there is a crisis. Astronomers, researchers and the Royal Astronomical Society also say that there is a crisis. Does he accept that there is a crisis, or does he think that they are all wrong?

I am aware of the number of representations that I have had from the astronomy community and the particle physics community as a result of the STFC’s settlement, but we should look at the facts. There will be no cuts to particle physics grants in the coming financial year. The research grants to astronomy are at their highest level for many years. We have seen a doubling in the science budget. We are spending over £500 million on physics a year, and that figure will go up over the next three years. So we have a sound track record of major investment in physics. Physics is one of the great strengths of the United Kingdom, and I am sure that the Wakeham review will want to take a broad look overall at the health of the discipline.


At the heart of our reforms will be the creation of a new national apprenticeships service to drive up the number of apprenticeship places and ensure that young people and adults get the opportunities to succeed.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the enormous welcome for the investment in my constituency, Calder Valley, which has many high-end engineering companies, but what can his Department do to encourage more young people, particularly girls, and women who have taken career breaks into reskilling through engineering apprenticeships?

My hon. Friend is right to say that in relation to women, there are two issues that are important for engineering. We should make the system flexible enough, and we should have enough advanced apprenticeships to ensure that women returning to work after having children can progress within the profession. I am grateful for the work that we have been able to do to fund WISE—the initiative within engineering to help women return to work—and for the increased places in advanced apprenticeship. The Science, Engineering and, Manufacturing Technologies Alliance and the sector skills councils that cover the range of engineering skills are doing a great deal of work to advertise to women and to ensure that those places are available for them to take up if they want to.

I welcome the importance that the Government attach to increasing the number of apprenticeships, but does the Minister agree that skilled engineers, tradesmen and technicians are in huge demand in the UK economy and that many of the current vacancies are being filled by immigrants? What new emphasis can the Government give to apprenticeships to attract young people in the United Kingdom to take up apprenticeships to fill the vacancies that are so important to the employers of this country?

The hon. Gentleman is right. In a strong economy, in which there has been growth in every quarter, young people in the marketplace compete with people who have arrived in this country from a number of places. That is why we initiated the apprenticeship review, which we published last month. The whole thrust of that is to make it easier for businesses to take on young apprentices and adults. One important thing in relation to engineering, given the size of some of the companies, is group training associations. Through them a small engineering company, perhaps low down in the supply chain, can cluster together with a training provider. There is then a hub and spoke model, in which there is someone to deal with the training and necessary bureaucracy, and the company can have the apprentice it needs.

Leitch Report

Last summer, the Government published “World Class Skills”, which sets out our plans for implementing the Leitch recommendations. To support that ambitious reform programme, total Government investment in adult skills will increase to £5.3 billion by 2010-11. That increase in investment will support more than 7 million learners in the period 2008-09 to 2010-11.

In Swansea, there is a wonderful flagship development called the SA1 project, in which small and medium-sized enterprises can relocate to an old dockland area. Many of those companies have fewer than 20 employees and they are reluctant to invest in skills and training because of time and financial pressures. Will the Secretary of State consider how we can invest in and support them by advising and guiding them on how they can invest in the training and skills agenda?

I am sure that my hon. Friend heard my earlier statement about investment in the leadership and management of small and medium-sized enterprises in England. That is precisely designed to ensure that the leadership of small companies understand their skills needs and are supported in using public money. We have shown that that model works in England and we are expanding it dramatically. I hope that the devolved Administrations, who bear responsibility for skills in their areas, will look at it and see what would be appropriate for their circumstances.