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Vocational Training

Volume 508: debated on Wednesday 24 March 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what representations she has received on the introduction of a local student, local provider approach to residential training centres; and what recent assessment she has made of the likely effect of the introduction of this approach on (a) the employment prospects of participants with a disability and (b) the level of funding provided for residential training centres. (323003)

Residential training college providers were first informed in January 2009 that their current contracts are due to finish in 2011, and that future contracts will be awarded following an open competition.

Department officials have engaged with existing and potential providers on numerous occasions to discuss the future provision. We are also actively considering how best to engage customers (service users) as we progress this work.

We know from evaluation undertaken in 2006 that residential courses tend to exclude some customers, including those who have caring responsibilities. The new contracting arrangements seek to ensure that appropriate support will be available locally to a broader range of customers including women, ethnic minority groups and those who are unable to travel long distances.

Currently coverage is uneven; there is no provision in Scotland, Wales and the North West of England. The new contracts offer an important opportunity to provide a better geographical coverage, which will be an important aim of the open competition. It will also help ensure that potential customers of this expensive provision are not disadvantaged because of where they live. We want to use this opportunity to increase the focus on employment, seeing more people helped into work, as well as obtaining better value for money.

Following open competition and a broadening of the supplier base, we anticipate that more customers will be able to access this provision locally, which in turn will enable a significant reduction in the unit cost.

The Department is responsible for ensuring it achieves the best value for money for any provision it contracts for. This is done through its Commissioning Strategy and by using open competition to procure any new provision. We recognise that the existing residential training providers funding may be affected by the open competition but, in the same way as other potential providers, they will be able to submit a bid to deliver the provision if they wish to do so. We have given current residential training providers over two years notice so that they can plan ahead.