Tuesday, 23 January 2007.
The Committee met at half-past three.
[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]
Further Education and Training Bill [HL]
If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 1 [Minimum membership of the Council]:
1: Clause 1 , page 1, line 6, leave out “for “12” substitute “10”” and insert “for “not less than 12 and not more than 16” substitute “not less than 14 and not more than 18””
The noble Baroness said: We are very grateful to the Minister for all his correspondence and to the Bill team for all the time that they have spent with us explaining the Government’s intentions in the Bill. It has been very helpful. We are also very grateful for the time of the Minister in another place, Bill Rammell, who has spent quite a number of meetings discussing with us certain aspects of this very non-controversial Bill—I do not know what Hansard will make of that; it was meant to be ironic.
Amendment No. 1 is intended to probe the Government about why it is necessary to reduce the number of council members. It is vital, following reorganisation, that the Learning and Skills Council remains open and accountable and gets away from any possible accusation of being totally centralised. That is why we think that a membership of 10 would be too small. Such a small number gives very little opportunity to ensure that the regions, learning providers, employers, unions and, most importantly, learners are all represented. We have suggested 14 to 18 as the possible number of council members, but we are open to persuasion about the actual number.
Our amendment probes the Government about why they feel it necessary to legislate for a reduction not just from the previous number of members on the Learning and Skills Council but from the number of members on its predecessor, the Further Education Funding Council, which had no fewer than 12 and no more than 15 members. Can the noble Lord advise us? I beg to move.
I agree with the noble Baroness. I understand why a chairman would be interested in having fewer members: you get a more effective discussion. But there is more to it than that; the discussion needs to be fully informed. I share the noble Baroness’s concerns about the need for broad participation in a body with immense responsibilities and funding powers. All stakeholders should be engaged. For example, in view of the specialised diplomas that will be such a big part of the Government’s thinking for the 14-to-19 age group, local authorities will be key players because they are the 14-to-16 providers and they therefore need to be on the council. I also agree with the noble Baroness that the students—the beneficiaries—and others must be represented.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in thanking the Minister for keeping us, as always, very well informed; the Bill team for their help; the honourable Member Bill Rammell, who was very helpful; and all the people who have briefed us. Their help has been enormously welcome. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response to the questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. However, we should perhaps put on record that in general we support the Government’s encouragement of a small and streamlined Learning and Skills Council.
I was rather hoping that the noble Baroness would go on to give my answer for me; alas, she has left me to give the explanation. First, I thank both noble Baronesses for their kind opening remarks. As ever, my policy in dealing with Bills is to deluge noble Lords with as much relevant paper as possible in the hope that that will dissuade them from bringing matters to the Committee. But I appear to have failed comprehensively on that.
We all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. It is vital that the LSC has a strong, efficient and flexible council which secures strong engagement of employers and all other stakeholders engaged in the further education and training sectors. Clause 1 provides the scope for the council to operate with fewer members, if that is considered appropriate, while remaining balanced and diverse. It is part of our move to streamline the whole Learning and Skills Council in line with our commitments in the White Paper.
We believe that it is right to have the scope to operate with fewer members, but, to put that in perspective, the proposal is for the national Learning and Skills Council to have between 10 and 16 members. Currently, its membership is between 12 and 16, so we are not talking about seismic changes. By way of comparison, under the relevant statute, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority—which has huge responsibilities, including a good deal of responsibilities for development of the 14-to-19 age group diplomas that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned—has between eight and 13 members, so it operates within a smaller parameter than the Learning and Skills Council. The new Ofsted board serving the enlarged Ofsted, which includes responsibility for all children’s services under the Education and Inspections Act, recently enacted by your Lordships, operates with a board of between five and 10 members. That is potentially half the size of the minimum set out under this Bill, so we believe that it accords with best practice. It will not compromise the capacity of the LSC to operate effectively, but of course it is without prejudice for the need for the council to consult fully all stakeholders in developing all its policies. We take it for granted that the membership, at whatever level between 10 and 16 members, will operate on that basis.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but there will already be an enormous amount of streamlining of the number of committees and meetings following the reorganisation that we are debating. We will remove 148 local councils, so if the Minister is after streamlining, he will already get that. The Ofsted board is different because it does not necessarily need the regional input that the Learning and Skills Council needs. It is particularly important to allow scope for that regional input. Will there be an opportunity for the board to co-opt additional members?
I thank the Minister. We will have to think about whether we want to bring this matter back. We feel strongly that it is very important that this senior body at the pinnacle of the iceberg of the organisation should be appropriately representative. I am still uncomfortable that, although it can co-opt advisers, it may not be able to have more than 10 people on the board with decision-making power, which advisers do not have. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed to.
2: After Clause 1 , insert the following new Clause—
“Role of the Council
Omit sections 2 to 5 of LSA 2000 (main duties and powers).”
The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment to explore the extent of the power that the LSC has over further education colleges. There is an amendment in my name to probe the planned reorganisation of the LSC, so I should like to concentrate here on the relationship between the LSC as a whole and FE colleges. The Minister has assured us that the Government have committed to increasing the status of further education colleges. We believe that that means trusting them with enough independence to develop their own focus and methods.
We hear a lot in your Lordships’ House about the need for flexibility in giving Ministers the power to make regulations. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Further education colleges cannot be expected to respond to local demand for certain skills or courses, or develop their own unique ethos or approach, while being micromanaged by the Learning and Skills Council. At Second Reading, the Minister accepted Sir Andrew Foster’s arguments that the further education system was overregulated. It is certainly overcomplicated, a network of ill defined and competing agencies all with their own agendas. The LSC is the predominant member of this rather large family, and it has the lion’s share of the power and influence over further education colleges. It is therefore extremely regrettable that it is not only an unelected body but unaccountable to students and colleges. I hope—although I am not holding my breath—that the Minister will be able to reassure me that the LSC’s control over colleges will be light-touch and will allow colleges to develop their own ethos and focus. I beg to move.
I am devastated that the noble Baroness is not holding her breath for my reply to her amendment. I always thought that she looked forward to my responses much more eagerly than is clearly the case. The noble Baroness asked a very general question about whether we support the capacity of colleges to develop their own ethos and mission. We strongly support the capacity of colleges to meet local needs. They are incorporated colleges and to that extent they operate independently. There is a necessary degree of regulation and oversight, and they have to operate within their allocated budget. Subject to that and to their demonstrating good value for money and satisfying inspectors of their quality, they have huge scope to develop their own independent ethos.
The regulatory burden on them will be reduced by the fact that the number of Learning and Skills Councils will be substantially reduced, therefore fewer people will be engaged in the task of regulation. I hope that in general terms I can meet the noble Baroness’s concerns. The further education White Paper clearly sets out the scope of colleges to develop their own individual ethos and mission. It is entirely up to them, for example, how far they seek to engage, subject to quality concerns, in developing sub-degree provision, the nature of their relationship with 14-to-19 partnerships, and how they develop their role in respect of adult skills, basic skills, and so on.
As far as I could see, the amendment would remove the Learning and Skills Council entirely, which, I assume, is not what the noble Baroness intended. I thought that she was proposing that everything would then be done personally by the Secretary of State. My right honourable friend is a man of many parts, but to take the decisions about the individual funding of 1,800 school sixth forms, 385 colleges and 1,000 work-based learning providers, all providing education and training to 5.5 million post-16 learners, is probably slightly beyond him, although he has all their interests personally at heart. I give those figures simply to make the point about the scope of the Learning and Skills Council’s activities. It has responsibility, with an £11 billion budget, for a huge diversity and volume of learning and training. Although we would all like bureaucracy to be minimised, given the scale of the responsibilities and the size of the budget of the council, we cannot dispense with a structure such as that which is set out in the Bill. I hope the noble Baroness will not seek to impose all those duties personally on the Secretary of State.
I have a general point to make. I appreciate the Minister’s point about not getting rid of the whole council, but the Bill is expanding its role both as a regulatory body and as a service provider to colleges, and it strikes me that there is a potential conflict of interest there. I am unsure how that potential conflict can be resolved when one body does both.
I think that I need to address the particular areas of service provision that the noble Lord has in mind. If he would like to elucidate those later in our proceedings, I would be happy to respond case by case, but it is difficult for me to respond in general.
I thank the Minister for his reply, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her support and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for his intervention. I have tabled further amendments on the powers of intervention of the Learning and Skills Council, so I will not say very much in reply to the Minister now other than that there is concern that this body is unelected and that powers are moving from the Secretary of State, who is ultimately answerable to the electorate, into the hands of a body that is not answerable to any electorate. Although this body will be much slimmed down, which we welcome, it has increasing powers and a huge bearing on the lives of many people. We are worried about it, but I shall touch on that later. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
3: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Main Duties of the Council
(1) LSA 2000 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 2(1)(a) omit the words “but have not attained the age of 19”.
(3) Omit section 3.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment seeks to amend Sections 2 and 3 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. A very clear distinction is drawn in Section 2(1)(a) of that Act between the education and training of those aged between 16 and 19, who are above compulsory school age but who have not reached 19, and those over 19. According to that Act, the LSC must provide those aged 16 to 19 with proper facilities for their education and training, whereas the LSC’s duty to those over 19 is to provide only reasonable facilities.
When the Learning and Skills Act was originally debated in this House in February and March 2000, we had a very lengthy discussion about the distinction between what was proper and what was reasonable. It became clear in that debate that “proper” implied that those aged 16 to 19 had an entitlement to full- or part-time education and training if they wanted it, whereas “reasonable” provision meant that there was no such entitlement, and that it would be provided at the discretion of the Learning and Skills Council and only so far as resources permitted.
Moreover, the Government made it quite clear that the priority was the 16-to-19 age group, and that, given any pressures on its budget, the LSC should give it precedence. Indeed, that is what we have been seeing in the past few years. Although the participation of the 16-to-19 age group has been well below the 85 per cent target that the Government set in 2000, nevertheless it has been increasing and the instruction through the LSC to FE colleges has been unambiguous. Extra funding for the younger age group means less money for adult courses. Indeed, at present, every place for a 17 year-old is bought at the expense of 10 part-time places for adults.
In our original discussion of the Bill, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, who were led then by Lady Blatch, argued that the Government should be more flexible. Following the recommendation of the National Skills Task Force, which had reported just before the Bill was considered in the House—in the same way as the Leitch report has come just before we consider this Bill—and the earlier report on further education by a group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for the Government, we argued in particular that the Government should consider raising the entitlement to full- or part-time education to 25. The Government resisted that proposal then and have done so whenever we have made it subsequently. Indeed, I made the same proposal only last summer during our discussions on the Education and Inspections Bill. They argue that it is much better to leave the issue to the discretion of the LSC rather than to expand entitlement.
We choose to raise this issue again because times move on. We now have the report on skills from the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, a new target that 90 per cent of the workforce will be qualified up to at least level 2, compared to the 70 per cent today, and a Government committed to raising the school leaving age to 18, which makes the 16 to 19 entitlement pretty irrelevant. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, proposes that all funding for adult skills should be channelled through employers, through the Train to Gain programme, or to employees through a reintroduced individual learning account, which means that the student effectively carries the money rather than colleges being contracted by the LSC to provide particular courses.
We raise this amendment to probe how far government thinking is developing on these issues. We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury are very concerned to raise skill levels and have in effect already raised entitlement for under 25s to level 3, although—this reflects our discussions in the summer on the Education and Inspections Bill—they preferred to leave that as discretionary action rather than an entitlement. It shows the direction of the Government’s thinking. The Leitch report forcefully points out that, in 2020, 70 per cent of the workforce will have already completed their education. With an ageing population, adult entitlement to further education and training becomes a crucial factor. Can the Minister give us a view on these new developments? Is it really necessary to continue the distinction between “proper” and “reasonable”? I beg to move.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, we support the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, in viewing the continuing training of adults as important to both the British economy in the future and the personal development of potential students.
I wish to speak to the Question whether Clause 5 shall stand part. I do so in a probing sense to give the Minister a chance to set out the Government’s intentions behind the clause. There is suspicion among relevant organisations that the Government intend to dissolve these two committees, which we understand is not the case.
I also wish to take this opportunity to ask the Minister about adult learning. Listening to the many organisations involved in further education, it is clear that the Government are giving the greatest priority to young people under 25. This is understandable. As we have heard many times, the number of young people not in education, training or employment has risen by 29 per cent since 2001 and there are now 1.3 million people in this situation.
However, the Government must not allow adult education to suffer because of this. The LSC has predicted that over half a million adult places will be lost by next year, despite the increased funding of further education.
Adults need to be given opportunities to retrain and up-skill. Three million unskilled jobs will be lost between now and 2020, and the workers affected will need further education to move into the skilled jobs that will make up 75 per cent of our economy by 2012. Unless the Government are willing to consign a large number of adults in the future to long-term unemployment, they must maintain the availability of adult education in order to allow people to change careers at any point in their life and to remain in employment for longer. I hope that the Minister will explain to me how unskilled adults are expected to retrain if no suitable courses are available at their local college.
I have no doubt that the Government will attempt to interpret my support for meaningful adult education as a spending commitment. In answer to this, I point out the amount of time and money that the further education sector is expected to spend making up for the deficiencies of schools. Almost half our young people fail to get five GCSEs above grade C, and of the remaining 51 per cent many do not achieve those grades in maths or English.
The Government expect the further education sector to provide a complete education for those people whom the school system has failed, from basic skills right up to foundation degrees. Colleges are blamed for the unemployment of young people who have been effectively disengaged from education or training since childhood.
Of course people need to learn how to read and write, and adults who left school without those skills should have the opportunity to learn them later in life. But it is a mistake for the Government to continue to treat the further education sector as no more than a bandage for the school sector. Adult education is critical now and will become even more critical. There is no other way to give people job security for life in a market where fewer and fewer people have only one career. I hope the Minister will reassure me that there will be no further cuts to adult education and that it will be given its rightful priority.
I know that this matter concerns priorities and money. However, the Minister will be aware that there is widespread worry within the sector about the squeeze on adult education. In many sectors—my own, for example, is the museum sector—we are becoming increasingly dependent on people who have either chosen to retire or who have been retired early to do jobs that initially they did not necessarily have the complete skills to do. They get some retraining; they may take a course in further education; and they make an extremely valuable contribution, as indeed would be the case throughout the third sector. Bearing in mind issues of public expenditure, I believe that we will become increasingly dependent on the third sector. It would be very short-sighted not to ensure that education and training facilities are available to the people in that sector who wish to make a contribution.
I wish to underline that last point. The demography of our country is shifting significantly. As a consequence, unless there is significant immigration to the country, members of the community will need to work more years than currently they tend to do. I do not think simply of those who retire at the formal age of 60 or 65, as used to be, but of those who are retiring early in their 50s. The workforce will require the possibility of these people committing to the economy through undertaking new tasks, which will require new skills. This demographic shift means that we should keep flexible the capacity in the further education sector to provide for such needs.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I should stress that the number of funded adult places in further education has not declined, and that the real-terms funding for the sector as a whole, within which of course we have to prioritise needs, is up by 50 per cent from 1997. Although some adults are now expected to pay a large proportion of the costs, these courses are very heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. They cover a very wide range of vocational and skills areas, including those mentioned by the noble Viscount. We pay tribute to the work of colleges; this is and will continue to be an essential part of their role.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, used the rather—if I may say so—disparaging description of further education as a “bandage for the school sector”. A good deal of the work of further education, including in respect of 16 to 19 year-olds, is to build on the work of the school sector. It provides essential sixth-form courses, vocational training courses, and a whole array of courses which build on the success of pupils at schools. Only one part of the work of colleges is remedial, providing basic skills courses for those who have not attained level 2 by the age of 16. A great deal of the work of further education builds on that, including all those specialised diplomas referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. So it is important not to conflate everything and to get out of proportion the contribution further education makes for students who have not succeeded at school.
Perhaps I may pursue the point about those who have not succeeded. As the noble Baroness knows, over the past 10 years we have greatly reduced the proportion of students who have not succeeded, but while she and I would probably agree on much of what needs to take place in schools to see that standards rise—we are pursuing very vigorously those policies and the investment behind them—it is absolutely right that further education should offer second chances to those who have not succeeded, and we should not regard that as somehow peripheral or inessential. For as long as that remains the case—and for a certain proportion of the cohort it will always remain the case—it is only right that it, too, should be funded. Therefore the notion that it could be simply wished away by the performance of the school system is not a realistic assessment of where we are or are likely to be in the near future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked me whether our policy on the distinct duties in respect of those over and under the age of 19 was subject to change. It is not subject to change. It is important to recognise the differences in the training and education needs of young people aged between 16 and 19, who have not yet gone into employment or who are on approved training routes such as apprenticeships, and those aged 19 and over, who are already in employment and seeking to improve their skills to go further in their chosen jobs or to change jobs. In that respect our policy has not changed from that which she outlined earlier.
We have also established since 2000 with the new learning and skills sector the basis on which we expect adults to pay for their education and training. We believe it is essential that training should be available for all adults who require it, but it would be untenable for the public purse to have to pay for it all. There are some areas where we provide heavy subsidies and others, including basic skills, where it is free, but beyond that it is right that those who can afford to do so should make a contribution. The Government’s job is to ensure that there is an infrastructure in place for learning, but the costs need to be shared between the state, the individual and employers. It is therefore only realistic to establish that the basis on which they are shared differs for those who are adults as against under-19s.
The amendment would extend the remit of the LSC, forcing it to secure the same provision and facilities for all those over compulsory school age. It is likely that that would make it more difficult to secure the basic and broad provision which is specific to the 16-to-19 age group, setting them up for the rest of their lives in employment. We recognise that many adults need a second chance after the age of 19, and that they need to return to education and/or training to improve their employability and life chances, as set out in part in the Leitch report. Government funding for adults will therefore continue to be focused on those with the lowest skills and will prioritise longer courses to improve employability and to provide a platform for further development. The Government therefore should not be responsible for securing the same provision of facilities for education and training for everyone over the age of 16. That would imply that everyone over that age was entitled to the kind of high-resource, broad provision we currently offer to 16 to 19 year-olds, and we simply do not believe that to be a realistic proposition.
Clause 5 was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. We believe it right to remove the statutory requirement for the Learning and Skills Council to establish an adult learning committee and a young people’s learning committee, as it was required to do under the 2000 Act. Clause 5 gives the LSC the flexibility to respond more effectively to the needs of learners, both adults and young people, and those of employers and communities. However, paragraph 1(1)(b) of Schedule 3 to the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which gives the LSC the power to establish such committees “as it thinks fit” will remain part of the Act. I can assure the Committee that the LSC intends under this existing power to set up committees to establish a single group advising it on the needs of young learners, adults and the workforce as a whole.
We are seeking to strengthen the voice of learners, which is crucial in this regard. Clause 7 makes new provision for the LSC, in exercising its functions, to have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State about consultation with learners. In addition, the LSC is already working at a national level with the newly established national learner council. It is an integral part of the LSC’s business to listen and respond to the views of learners at all levels, but we do not believe it is necessary for it to have separate committees for young people and adults to fulfil that function. Clause 5 gives the council the flexibility it needs to exercise its role effectively in the context of the challenges it faces.
If I was being disparaging—I thought I was being more despairing—I can assure the Minister that that was towards the Government and certainly not towards further education colleges. We on these Benches are huge supporters of FE colleges.
The Minister talked of remedial work being only a small part of the work of colleges, but many to whom we have spoken in the sector tell of their frustration in trying to help their students to reach their full potential when more and more are joining them having achieved only level 1. However, I thank the Minister for his explanation about the different committees in Clause 5.
I thank the Minister for his response but I find it rather disappointing. I do not think that he answered my questions about how it is proposed that the Learning and Skills Council will adapt itself, given other proposals. For example, with the raising of the school leaving age, the first part of the Act becomes irrelevant, because it talks about those above the compulsory leaving age but below the age of 19. If the compulsory leaving age becomes 18, it will all need to be adapted. If the money is going directly to the individual and the firm, that will considerably change how the Learning and Skills Council will operate in the adult sector.
The Minister did not respond to those questions. I accept what he said, because there was an inevitability to it. I knew that that was the answer that we would get. Here was an opportunity for him to talk a little about the way things are likely to develop, but we have heard nothing on that.
When I spoke to Amendment No. 3, I had forgotten that it had been grouped with the Question whether Clause 5 will stand part. That change was made overnight and, although I had noted it, my papers had not caught up, so I did not speak to the clause-stand-part Question. I add our support to the probing by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, of the Government’s decision. Alone among those here, I think, except for the noble Baroness, Lady David, I was present at our debates on the Learning and Skills Bill in 2000. We had considerable debate about the wisdom of having two separate committees. At that point, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who was the Minister at the time, repeatedly assured us that the adult committee was there partly to safeguard adult services.
Adult services are not just services relating to learning, skills and employability but also adult leisure learning, which is an important part of the process. At the time of the Act, the pressures of competitiveness had driven adult leisure learning into a very small corner with ever decreasing subsidies, closure of many adult learning centres and increases in fees. For the general well-being of an ageing population, there is a strong case to be made for maintaining an active and vibrant adult learning programme. We know from good, robust research evidence that those adults who keep mentally and physically active not only live longer but live happier and more fulfilled lives. In promoting general well-being among the older people of this country, adult leisure classes are probably the most cost-effective measure for the Government to promote. Yet in town after town and county after county, such classes are being closed down, with both the LSC and county councils shutting them out of their budgets.
In all respects, therefore—both in training adults in skills for competitiveness and in providing for the greater happiness and well-being of older members of the community—it is a retrograde step to abolish the two statutory committees within the LSC with their responsibilities to look separately at, and safeguard the interests of, young people and adults.
The Minister gave us an answer similar to the one he gave to the first amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. Yes, it is convenient if the number of members of the committee is reduced to 10 because the current chairman of the Learning and Skills Council is anxious to have a smaller committee so that he can make it more efficient. Once again, he has said that we should not be tied down by statutory responsibilities to having an adult committee and a young persons’ committee, and that it is more convenient to be able to choose the committees at our will.
The original intention in the Learning and Skills Act was for the adult committee to safeguard adult services. We feel let down on that commitment, and that the Government are not living up to their promises. The clause is symptomatic of that.
Having said all that, unless anyone wants to intervene—
How did you know? As a sidelight on leisure learning, I happen to have been looking into languages. We have a problem. I learnt that there has been a marked reduction in leisure learning of languages. Those are attended by people not after certification but who want to learn. The funding is not there. That is a pity because such classes are attended by people who want to learn rather than those who have to learn.
I entirely take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about leisure and work, but I defy her to find the line between the two. As an adult, you can learn to be a potter and turn out to make very good studio pots. Is that leisure or is it work?
The noble Viscount makes a very good point. One interesting feature is that people who go into leisure learning often find a new career out of it.
I have made the views of our party known. The answers that we have had are not satisfactory and it is quite likely that we shall come back to this issue on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
4: After Clause 1 , insert the following new Clause—
“Area partnership learning and skills councils
After section 18 of LSA 2000 (supplementary functions) insert—
“18A Area partnership learning and skills councils
(1) The Council must establish, in consultation with its relevant partners and representatives of employers, trade unions, further education colleges and schools, committees (to be called area partnership learning and skills councils) in local or sub-regional areas, to perform the Council’s duties in relation to that area.
(2) For the purposes of this section, “relevant partners” has the same meaning as “responsible local authorities” and “partner authorities” in sections 78 and 79 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
(3) The term “local learning and skills area” in subsection (2) of section 3D is to be interpreted as the local or sub-regional area in subsection (1).””
The noble Baroness said: The amendment would require the LSC to establish local, subregional partnership groups which will work in co-operation and collaboration with local authorities and other local bodies to meet the needs of the local learning and skills market.
Irrespective of whether Clause 2, on the creation of the nine regional LSCs, will stand part, there is a considerable body of evidence emerging to show that what matter most are not the big, somewhat artificial regional groupings that the Government have created but subregional clusterings around cities and city regions and, in the shire counties, around large towns and their travel-to-work areas. For example, 78 per cent of journeys to work take less than 40 minutes; 70 per cent of house moves are within 20 miles. Industrial clusters and skills markets develop around those subregional hubs. Therefore, establishing the strategic labour market planning at a regional level misses the point unless it is firmly linked into local developments and thinking at subregional level.
Clause 4 picks that up in a different fashion and allows the LSC to establish area groupings of different shapes and sizes. The arrangements for the Greater London area are perhaps a precursor to giving other city regions a degree of autonomy in developing their own skills strategies.
By no means every part of the country falls into a city region; nor is autonomy likely to be granted in the short term. The proposed new clause would ensure that the LSC and its newly established regional partners worked with the pre-existing local authorities and partnerships that are already linking up to serve the needs of local labour markets. The new Local Government Bill, which has just been introduced into the House of Commons, establishes these new local area partnerships only to ignore them. It is clearly logical that the LSC, both nationally and regionally, should work in conjunction with local authorities and well established partnerships. This would ensure strong, effective, local collaboration and consultation between the LSC, further education institutions, local businesses and local councils to meet the needs of the local labour and skills markets.
The LSC has other duties. Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 requires it to take account of local area agreements and to work in co-operation with local authorities, and new Section 3D(2) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which was inserted into the Act by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, requires the LSC to work in co-operation with LEA plans and to deliver all the 14-to-19 entitlement curriculum in each LSC area unless the LSC determines that such provision would be uneconomic. It therefore becomes increasingly clear that the LSC needs to focus on delivering on its duties at local and sub-regional levels. These amendments are aimed at ensuring strong and effective local collaboration and consultation between the LSC, further education colleges and other trainers, local businesses and local authorities. The national and regional councils may involve themselves in the broader, strategic issues, but delivery needs to be focused on the sub-regional level. I beg to move.
In speaking to the second two amendments in the group, I refer back to the reference made by my noble friend Lady Morris to streamlining, which I think is another word for downsizing. A sound case has not been made for reducing the structure of the LSC from 57 councils to 10—the LSC itself and nine regional councils. We know very little about how the LSC will operate. How decentralised beyond regional centres will it be? How many offices will it have? How many of the present 750 non-executives will remain? Much else is unknown.
The amendment, which would keep 47 of the 57 councils, seeks an explanation of intended LSC resources. The prompt came from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, when she asked at Second Reading:
“Why do we have the Bill? The main reason seems to be to provide legislative cover for the reorganisation of the LSC which has already half been put into effect”.—[Official Report, 13/12/06; col. 1547.]
It is also significant that the Minister has not replied to questions about the 148 local partnerships.
The answer to the question whether the LSC is halfway through a reorganisation appears to be yes, because, although we know that reorganisation started in August 2005 with theme 7 of Learning and Skills–the Agenda for Change, the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lady Morris:
“We believe, based on our regulatory impact assessment, that these proposals”—
that is, the proposals in the Bill—
“will help us to save £40 million in the administrative costs imposed on the FE sector”.—[Official Report, 13/12/06; col. 1608.]
“Imposed” is a curious word to use about a public body responsible for £11 billion of public money dispersed to 2,600 providers. I thought that the LSC was in partnership with the sector.
We can follow the progress of the LSC’s reorganisation. If we take as a starting point the fact that virtually all the LSC’s administrative costs are people costs and directly people-related costs, we can read across with accuracy from numbers of staff to expenditure. In reporting on Agenda for Change, in the 2005-06 accounts published last July, the LSC gave as its objective a reduction in staff by 1,300, from around 4,550 at the peak to 3,250 by the end of 2006. It looks as though this objective will be met by this March year end. Thus, the opening position before the Bill is enacted will be that the LSC will have reduced its staff by one in four, and lowered its costs by about 25 per cent. In order to fund this major reduction, the LSC has made a provision for exceptional costs of £55.7 million. This prudent move makes it difficult to compare one year’s underlying expenditure with another. By no means all the provision has yet been used. It also reduces any savings made for some years. That point needs to be recognised, both for its own sake and because it is likely to recur.
What of the near future and the second half of reorganisation? On 11 January the Minister wrote that by:
“re-structuring both the executive and non-executive parts”—
presumably that refers to local councils—
“the LSC will release savings of up to £40 million a year”.
This planned additional saving means that a further 600 people will depart, requiring a £25-30 million provision for exceptional costs and bringing the LSC numbers down to 2,650. That drastic streamlining—numbers of staff down by 40 per cent—raises three questions. The first is a big question: what exactly is the Government’s policy towards the LSC? In December the Minister provided no great measure of certainty. There was no ringing endorsement and nothing about strength and independence. Instead, there is a sentence which reads:
“The Bill will enable further efficiencies to be secured in future”.—[Official Report, 13/12/06; col. 1542.]
Is that a prelude to following the Mayor of London, who appears to believe that while the LSC may administer the money, it should play no part in how it is spent? The regions could be encouraged to follow.
The second question is: does not a reduction of 40 per cent in staff entail a reduction in responsibilities? We might make this inference from what has been said in response to Foster and from our knowledge of the fragile relationships between the LSC and the sector. However, this Bill increases the LSC’s responsibilities. How does the Minister square that circle?
Finally, if the LSC’s responsibilities are to be equal to or greater than its present duties, it is plain that there has been a major management misjudgment. It was thought that 4,550 people were needed, but now it is only 2,650. What a disruption to the careers and lives of those who have to depart. They joined in good faith to do the jobs offered to them, but now they are not needed. We need to be told what has happened to these people, against whose departure there have been, to date, provisions of £55.7 million.
In summary, I repeat: I do not think that a sound case has been made for the restructuring proposals in this Bill.
At Second Reading I spoke in support of a move to the regions, but I share the concerns expressed about the need for the council to relate to local requirements. The argument for the new powers for FE colleges is their need to respond quickly to local needs. That is the case, but I cannot see a vision for the LSC to relate to here. This needs to be addressed.
Before I speak to the Question whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill, I should like to set the record straight. It seems that there was some misunderstanding at Second Reading. I mentioned that we understood why my much-lamented late friend Lady Blatch had said that the Bill was a recipe for disaster and excessive bureaucracy. Then, when my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said he did not think that regionalisation was the way forward, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, responded that there was a difference between myself and my noble friend. I said that there was not and thus sowed even more confusion. We agree absolutely that the way the 2000 Bill was constructed led to the confusion and bureaucracy mentioned by Lady Blatch and we share the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Baker that moving to regions may not be the answer the Government seek. However, we welcome anything that eases the burden on and cuts the costs of the educational sector. I have now probably caused even more confusion.
Members on these Benches are very glad to see that the Government appear to be trying to reduce the crushing weight of regulation, interference and micromanagement that has descended on both the private and the public spheres during their time in office. That is why we welcome any attempt on their part to reduce the amount of money intended for education being wasted on bureaucracy. It is unacceptable that £1.1 billion of the LSC’s annual budget of £10.5 billion fails to be spent on education or training matters, and I hope that this figure will fall considerably after these changes. However, I too am interested in the point made by my noble friend Lord Eccles about the sum of £55 million that has been earmarked to pay for the reorganisation. I should like to hear how that figure has been justified.
We feel that the initial construction of the LSC, with a prescribed number of local councils, was a mistake. I cannot help but think that if at the time the Government had trusted further education more, right from the start, we would have seen a responsive and flexible system of councils grow from the ground up. For instance, in some areas more local councils might have been needed, particularly in a large region with plenty of diversity like my own in the north-west. In other areas such as Cornwall, a more regional council might have been the answer. Instead we have another reorganisation from the top down. At least the Government are being consistent: one new LSC initiative every year.
I seek reassurance that the move from local councils to regional councils working in conjunction with local partnerships will not merely add another layer of bureaucracy while simultaneously moving decision-making powers away from the local level, where it would be most effective. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain which duties will be handled by the regional councils rather than the local partnerships, or preferably—as we would like to see—by the colleges themselves. I would have thought that most decisions would be most effectively taken at the local or national level, especially on engagement with employers. Most businesses operate on a national or local level, not a regional one. How will colleges be able to respond flexibly to local demand for certain skills and target their courses to a local job market if they have to go for approval to a regional body, which may not understand their local requirements?
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and can hope only that this clause will not fall between two stools. Tackling bureaucratic waste and inefficiency is certainly to be welcomed and I hope that this can be achieved without sacrificing the flexibility that we were hoping for with the use of local councils.
Perhaps I may, first, correct the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who referred several times to there being 57 local learning and skills councils. I am glad to tell him that the number is 47. His amendment proposes 47 local LSCs, which is the status quo. I make that point because it sounds as though we may be converging rapidly. The number has come down from 57 to 47. I take it that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, now agrees with the move to the nine regional councils. So I see us converging all the time in agreement on the smaller number rather than the larger number. The noble Baroness remarked on the need to see more money going to the front line and less to bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is not necessarily a bad thing. The noble Viscount is right: a system has to be administered. But I think that he would also accept that we do not want needless administrative layers and structures. We believe that the statutory requirement for 47 is excessive and that we can release additional funds by taking the steps set out in the Bill. I take it that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, broadly agrees with that. If the discussions between the noble Baroness and her noble friend continue, on Report we might have reached one position. I am delighted that the noble Baroness is with us on the big issue of the reduction from 47 to nine.
In response to the noble Viscount, I want to make it clear that there is no lack of confidence on the Government’s part in respect of the Learning and Skills Council. Perhaps I may refer him to the Secretary of State’s grant letter to the Learning and Skills Council, dated 18 October 2006, which welcomes the council’s,
“Annual Statement of Priorities which is being published today”.
I will send the noble Lord a copy of the letter because it sets out the tasks allocated to the LSC. The Secretary of State says that he will,
“look to the Council to continue to drive forward progress in these vital areas and to respond effectively to the recommendations from the review on skills which will be published later this autumn”,
which is the Leitch report.
On administrative costs, the same letter sets the budget for 2007-08 at £219 million. I have to say to my noble friend Lady Morris that I am not quite sure where she gets her figures from, but I think that I am correct in saying that the administrative cost was something like £233 million in 2004-05 and £280 million in 2005-06. We do not know the figure for this year, but I guess that it will be back to about £235 million. In the letter from the Secretary of State of the day, the figure for the next year—in October, somewhat before Second Reading—was £219 million and something. My concern was not about costs. Of course, one welcomes being able to administer a non-departmental public body for less money rather than more. My concern was about the resources: if the staff are reduced drastically, you are reducing the only resource that the non-departmental public body has.
There are a lot of figures here. It would be best for me to write to the noble Viscount to set out the run of figures. I am told that between the first two years that he mentioned, the council took on additional responsibilities, which accounts for the increase. The only figure for administration in the Secretary of State’s letter of 18 October is £219,495,000. The letter does not refer to figures for the other years, but I will willingly establish those.
If there is to be a big reduction in administrative costs, the noble Viscount is quite right that the brunt of that will be borne by reductions in staff. It is not our view that a fixed quantity of staff is always needed to fulfil a set of functions. With technological improvements, changes in regulatory burdens—we have sought to reduce regulatory burdens and to enhance self-regulation in the sector—it is possible to provide a service of high quality and to fulfil the statutory responsibilities of the council with fewer staff. The provisions to which the noble Viscount referred are necessary to see that that reduction in staff is carried through in a fair and orderly way.
However, the reductions that we are talking about need to be taken in a longer view too. The current Learning and Skills Council was established only in 2001. Before then there was the Further Education Funding Council for England and, I think I am right in saying, 72 training and enterprise councils, each of which had its own staff. The Learning and Skills Council therefore came in with an accumulated staff, which it has sought to reduce—in the ways that the noble Viscount set out—from a very much higher level, in many respects duplicating bureaucracy between the Further Education Funding Council and the training and enterprise councils. The reductions that we are seeing at the moment are to some extent a continuation of a process of making the Learning and Skills Council more fit for purpose, not simply in the functions and staff it inherited recently but in those it inherited from the 72 training and enterprise councils and the Further Education Funding Council.
Taking that longer view, we believe that the reductions that we are carrying through are reasonable. We do not believe that it was a misjudgment to have more staff previously. To a substantial extent they were inherited from predecessor bodies. We have a duty to the public purse to see that that money is spent effectively and to reduce the staffing which is over and above that necessary to carry out the council’s functions.
I will certainly look at the point that the noble Viscount raised about whether we know the destination of those who have left the council. I suspect that we probably do not have data on where staff who have left have gone to, but if there is information available I shall let him know.
I have a feeling that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned the need for local flexibility and sub-national structures some time ago. I was desperately trying to remember whether it was mentioned under this group of amendments or the previous group and whether I had already dealt with it. She was concerned that we might be unduly centralising and regionalising, removing the capacity of the Learning and Skills Council to respond properly to local needs. In that regard I should stress the importance of the 150 or so local partnership teams, to which I referred at Second Reading. The noble Viscount said that I did not set out sufficiently fully what they will do, so I shall do so now.
These local partnership teams, of which there will be about one per local authority—we intend most of them to be coterminous with local authority boundaries precisely to enhance the interaction that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was seeking to promote—will have expert staff who understand local needs and can strengthen the Learning and Skills Council’s ability to contribute to wider social and economic objectives, including through stronger engagement with local authorities and children’s trusts. The local partnership director—each partnership will have its own director—will be fully accountable to the Learning and Skills Council’s area director, who in turn will be accountable to the Learning and Skills Council’s regional director. We believe that these local partnership teams will give the Learning and Skills Council flexible capacity to interact with local authorities and with other local partners within a strong and unified national framework.
In other amendments the noble Viscount seeks to elucidate the detail on the proposed regional councils. The detail of the new regional councils will be set out in regulations rather than in the Bill. We have agreed that the first set of regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution following Royal Assent. We have made a draft of these regulations available to the Committee. I made them available with the draft of a number of other regulations concerning the London board and other aspects of organisation. I am happy to deal with other issues when we come to those matters. Taking stock of this as a whole, we believe that it is appropriate to remove the requirement for 47 local learning and skills councils, and that streamlining the bureaucratic functions of the council is a gain to the sector. It involves less unnecessary expenditure on administration. The introduction of the new local partnership teams will ensure sufficient local responsiveness, to which we attach great importance.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his response. Before responding directly, I should like to make clear that the Liberal Democrats do not support the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, as we do not wish to return to the 47 local learning and skills councils. We have long argued that it would be preferable for the Learning and Skills Council to have a regional organisation. We see that regional organisation being concerned with the broader strategic issues, whereas delivery looks to the local labour markets and to the local partnerships with local authorities.
I am grateful to the Minister for expanding a little on the local partnership teams. They are extremely important and provide the key area of co-operation at that level. The one thing we are a little unhappy about is that there is no reference in the Bill to that linking together with local partnership teams. In the Local Government Act 2000, the Children Act 2004 and the Education and Inspections Act, which we passed last year, there is specific reference to co-operation between the LSC and other bodies. We on these Benches feel that the Bill would be enhanced if it made some mention of the need for the LSC at a regional level to co-operate with its local partners. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 2 [Regional councils]:
[Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]
7: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert “such that each council has between 12 and 20 members which must include—
(i) at least one governor and one principal representing further education colleges and one head teacher of a secondary school situated within the area of the regional learning and skills council; and (ii) representation from amongst elected members of those local education authorities falling within the area of the regional learning and skills council.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 8, which is in this group. Amendment No. 7 relates to the membership of regional councils. We want to ensure that all regional councils include representatives of learning providers by including a governor and a principal of a college and a secondary head to represent the interests of future learners, who, as we see in Clause 7, have to be consulted.
In the light of the abolition of the 148 local LSC officers, it is particularly important to ensure that power and responsibility are given—alongside employers and others—to representatives of those who lead the institutions where the learning takes place and to local authorities. Current best practice involves having such people on local LSC councils, so they have already demonstrated that they have an important contribution to make. I hope that the Government will agree that, with the current re-organisation, there is a need to give statutory force to that best practice.
It is also important to keep a strong link with local authorities in the areas covered and to have them properly represented. Therefore, we would like to see at least one elected representative on each council.
Amendment No. 8 removes the right of the Secretary of State or his representative to attend the meetings of regional councils. We see no need for that provision. The Secretary of State has plenty of opportunities to oversee the activities of councils under other provisions, and it smacks of micromanagement and centralisation to give the Secretary of State or his representative the right to attend every little meeting of the regional council. I beg to move.
We agree with the noble Baroness that it is vital that both the national and the regional learning and skills councils have an efficient and effective membership which secures the strong engagement of all key stakeholders. This requires the membership to be balanced and diverse to reflect the sector which it funds. I can confirm that we would expect all LSC regional councils to be business-led, drawing employers from the priority skills sectors in the region concerned. This will help ensure that the councils have a good understanding of the skills needs of the local communities they serve. Membership should include a further education college principal and one “other” provider, either a work-based learning provider, a voluntary community-sector provider or a school. We would also expect all LSC regional councils to include a representative from the regional development agency, a trade union member and a member of the local authority. One or more members must be able to bring a good understanding of higher education, and there would be two observer members, one from Jobcentre Plus and one from the government office. So most of the groups mentioned by the noble Baroness are covered by the requirements we intend to impose on the regional councils, on a non-statutory but none the less binding basis.
I reassure the Committee that all appointments will be open and fair, in line with the recommendations of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. We want the very best people to be appointed to the regional LSCs, and to ensure that all members serve the interests of the LSC as a whole rather than speaking on behalf of individual organisations. We intend that the recruitment process should bring about that end.
On Amendment No. 8, the provision is not about micromanaging the LSC; rather it is about working with it to deliver our shared goals, to advise on the Government’s priorities and their wider context, and to add value to the deliberations of the proposed regional councils. It allows regulations about regional councils to make provision entitling a representative of the Secretary of State to attend and participate in discussions, but not in decisions. In this respect it mirrors the current arrangements at national level, which are felt to work well. Meetings of the national council are always attended by an observer appointed by the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will also recall that we have proposed that the first set of regulations, including the provisions to be made under new Section 18A(3)(j), should be subject to affirmative resolution.
In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that I have met most of the points she raised.
I am grateful to the Minister for assuring me that these councils should include all those people we want to see represented. I hope that that turns out to be the case and I am sure that, in areas where it is not, people will turn to his words in Hansard to make sure that the situation is corrected.
I am also somewhat reassured by what the Minister said in response to Amendment No. 8: that the representative of the Secretary of State would be involved in discussions but not decisions. Having given certain powers and responsibilities to the regional councils, it would be crazy if the Secretary of State then wanted to keep stepping in to ensure they did exactly what he wanted. He would be setting out the criteria and the councils would be obliged to so act to ensure that those criteria are fulfilled. Being responsible people I am sure they will do that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]
9: Clause 2 , page 2, line 35, at end insert “which must include a duty to—
(i) promote high standards, (ii) ensure fair access to educational opportunity, (iii) promote the fulfilment of the educational potential by every person participating in courses funded by the Council, (iv) co-operate with any local authority as defined in section 1(a) of the Local Government Act 2000, any area of which is in the area of the regional learning and skills council, and (v) promote the well-being of all persons resident in the area of the regional learning and skills council;”
The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks additional functions to be given to the new regional LSCs. It is a probing amendment, not least because the principal legislation is rather bereft of declaratory objectives for the LSC, except in Section 4 of the 2000 Act, where the council is given duties to “encourage” individuals and employers to participate in education and training.
Perhaps at this point I might refer to the previous amendment. The point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is important. This Bill gives the Learning and Skills Council and, in particular, the regional learning and skills councils, considerable regulatory powers which were not in the original legislation, which is a shift of responsibilities. None of the issues arising refers to the degree to which regional councils are not responsible to any elected body. They are appointed by the Secretary of State to represent different communities in the region, but they are not elected. Whereas, originally, with many of those responsibilities—certainly the regulatory functions administered by the Secretary of State—the Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament, the regional councils are not answerable to any elected body, which raises issues of principle.
To go back to the additional functions for the regional councils in promoting standards and access, given that Clauses 13 and 14 allow the Learning and Skills Council to take over current Secretary of State powers, for example in relation to individual further education colleges, it is about time that the LSC had in statute some declaratory objectives. The additional functions are based on those currently found in legislation for local authorities. The Bill proposes:
“A regional council … must perform in relation to its area such of the Council’s duties as the Council specifies”.
Under Amendment No. 9 we want to add,
“which must include a duty to—
(i) promote high standards,
(ii) ensure fair access to educational opportunity,
(ii) promote the fulfilment of the educational potential by every person participating in courses funded by the Council”.
I shall leave proposed sub-paragraphs (iv) and (v) for a moment because they are slightly different issues.
Proposed sub-paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) come from new Section 13A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by Section 1 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, at Second Reading on the Education and Inspections Bill noted:
“Part 1 lays new fundamental duties on local authorities in respect of education, replacing their existing duty, dating back to 1944, which is simply to provide "sufficient" education in their localities. Clause 1”—
now Section 1 of the Act—
“instead requires them to promote the fulfilment of every child's educational potential and to ensure fair access to educational opportunity”.—[Official Report, 21/6/06; col. 756.]
Why should the LSC not have a duty to fulfil the educational potential of every adult learner?
It should be noted that the LSC, under Section 2 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, has a duty to secure “sufficient” facilities to meet the reasonable needs of 16 to 19 year-olds for education and training. However, at present, there is no duty to work towards fulfilling the educational potential of every person undertaking a course funded by the LSC. The duty for over 19 year-olds is only to ensure that “reasonable” facilities are available, which we have already discussed. We think that it is reasonable, given the wide-ranging duties imposed on local authorities in relation to children’s education, that a similar duty be imposed on the Learning and Skills Council for the education and training of over 16s.
Proposed sub-paragraphs (iv) and (v) of our amendment would add duties to,
“co-operate with any local authority as defined in section 1(a) of the Local Government Act 2000, any area of which is in the area of the regional learning and skills council”,
“promote the well-being of all persons resident in the area of the regional learning and skills council”.
On proposed sub-paragraph (v), Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 gives the purpose of co-operation as the improvement of the well-being of children. Why should not the learning and skills councils have a duty to promote the well-being of people in their area? Promoting the well-being of adults can be done through advancing learning. Learning enables adults to contribute more to society, to gain promotion at work and increased income and job security. It can improve people’s self-worth and mental health, and can make them more competent at dealing with the day-to-day difficulties of life that can cause them and their family harm and neglect if not tackled confidently.
The Bill repeals from the statute book the duty on the local learning and skills councils in Section 22(4)(c) to have regard to the community plans of local authorities in their area. The community plan, developed under Section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000, is where the local authority sets out its strategic plan to promote and improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of its area. Why has this provision been deleted from legislation? How will the new arrangements being put in place by the Bill ensure that the Learning and Skills Council and its regional arms take account of these plans?
As we have already mentioned, the Learning and Skills Council is on the whole bereft of declaratory duties, so it is hard to provide a framework to submit to regional councils directly based on legislation. Its overall purpose is set out in Sections 2 to 4 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. It was designed in 2000 to be a funding and planning body. The Government have higher ambitions for the council now and communicate their strategy in a detailed letter of targets from the Secretary of State to the Learning and Skills Council.
The 2006-07 letter is converted into priorities by the Learning and Skills Council. The most recent priorities are: first, to raise the quality and improve choice of learning opportunities for all young people to equip them with the skills for employment, further or higher learning, and wider social and community engagement; secondly, to raise the skills of the nation, giving employers and individuals the skills they need to improve productivity, employability and social cohesion; thirdly, to raise the performance of a world-class system that is responsive, provides choice and is valued and recognised for excellence; and, fourthly, to increase our contribution to economic development locally and regionally through partnership working.
In total, those priorities are probably not so different from those in Amendment No. 9, except that they have not received direct parliamentary scrutiny. Would it not be better if legislation set out the strategic objectives of the Learning and Skills Council rather than it being done in private by letter from the Secretary of State to the council? I beg to move.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the thrust of this amendment, particularly proposed sub-paragraph (iv), which refers to local authorities. At Second Reading, the Minister said:
“Within a new regional infrastructure, the LSC will operate more effective local partnerships with businesses, education providers and other stakeholders”.—[Official Report, 13/12/06; col. 1538.]
That assertion is questionable. Today we have heard about 150 partnership teams but not where they will be located. Under other stakeholders, local authorities are strangely not mentioned. It does not seem possible to tackle local issues without the intimate involvement of local authorities. I hope that, in whatever way is most appropriate, local authority agreements and other aspects of the relationship between the LSC and local authorities will appear in the Bill.
I see the point of such a body having a declared set of objectives, and proposed sub-paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) seem absolutely right and centre course. I see also the point of having a duty to co-operate with local authorities, in view of all that we have said about the importance of bedding down in the community. However, proposed sub-paragraph (v) is a step too far. A duty to promote the well-being of all persons creates a rather broad set of responsibilities, which might provoke claims to the right to have one’s well-being promoted by the council. One’s well-being might require rather different attentions, on top of which, other bodies might take it as a reason to say, “Well, if the LSC is doing this, we do not need to do it”. With that reservation, I see the point of the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has made part of my speech for me. We think the amendment is, as the Treasury put it, an uncosted, substantial extension of the duties of the Learning and Skills Council. As so often happens in these discussions, by the end of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I thought that we were almost in the same place. She quoted approvingly from the targets set in the annual statement of priorities of the Learning and Skills Council and the Secretary of State’s grant letter, which gives rise to that statement of priorities. I took her to be saying that she thought we were in broadly the right place in the priorities set for the Learning and Skills Council.
We are talking, really, then about her issue on robust declaratory ambitions. Perhaps I can meet her concerns. She will know as well as me, because she took part in the deliberations on the Learning and Skills Act 2000, that that Act has robust, declaratory ambitions. Section 3 says:
“The Council must secure the provision of reasonable facilities for … education … suitable to the requirements of persons who have attained the age of 19 … training suitable to the requirements of such persons … organised leisure-time occupation connected with such education, and … organised leisure-time occupation connected with such training”.
Section 4 becomes even more declaratory. It says:
“The Council must … encourage individuals to undergo post-16 education and training … encourage employers to participate in the provision of post-16 education and training … encourage employers to contribute to the costs of post-16 education and training”.
A good part of the declaratory ambition that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that she wished to see is there in respect of education and training. So there is no lack of declaratory ambition; it is in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, and those provisions remain in force as amended by the Bill.
The wide-ranging amendment would go beyond that remit and impose new declaratory ambitions, including the very wide-ranging one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, to,
“promote the well-being of all persons resident in the area of the regional learning and skills council”,
which we do not believe to be an appropriate statutory duty to place on a learning and skills commissioning and funding body. Furthermore, this aspect would cut across the existing role of local authorities, which already have a power to promote the well-being of all persons in their area, including social, environmental and economic well-being.
We agree with the objective of quality set out by the noble Baroness. Through this Bill, the LSC will have the powers that it needs to intervene where providers cannot demonstrate that shortcomings are being addressed promptly and effectively. In addition, the Quality Improvement Agency will work with providers, including those performing poorly, to raise their standards and increase their capacity and capability. Its national improvement strategy, which will be published shortly, will offer a wide range of products and services to promote high standards, including the support of improvement advisers for institutions that are subject to intervention by the Learning and Skills Council.
We have strong arrangements in place for achieving fair access to learning, which is also in the amendment, particularly through access to learner support funds. For example, education maintenance allowances (EMAs), which are a significant new programme costing £407 million a year, are a big promoter of access to learning. The take-up of EMAs continues to rise, with payments made to more than 450,000 young people so far this academic year. As the noble Baroness knows, EMAs did not even exist until this Government established them. That £407 million is additional expenditure. This is a vital part of ensuring that young people from all socio-economic groups have an equal opportunity to access learning. Through the Learning and Skills Council, we are also continuing to support vulnerable adults on income-related benefits, who will continue to receive fee remission.
A good part of the amendment is already met either in the existing declaratory duties imposed by the Learning and Skills Act 2000 or by the statement of priorities that animate the work of the council. I regret that we do not feel able to extend to the council a duty to promote the well-being of all persons resident in the area of the regional learning and skills councils.
I thank the Minister for his response. Sub-paragraph (v) really extends from Section 10 of the Children Act, part of the purpose of which is to promote the well-being of all children in the area. We took directly from that and thought that it might be appropriate. There is a sense in which it is right to think of further education colleges as having an open door and saying to everyone in an area, “Come inside and talk about your educational needs, and we will see if we can help you”. That philosophy adheres in some further education colleges, and it is very exciting when applied. An enormous number of people in the community have educational needs and shy away from talking about them and realising their potential. Where you can fulfil that potential, well-being is immensely increased. However, I accept that the provision would be a blank cheque.
I argue that the terms of the current Learning and Skills Act, which we are amending in this Bill, are not really declaratory. In the first place, the Minister spoke about how the council must secure the provision of reasonable facilities for education, training and organised leisure time. That is fine, but the Act goes on to define it:
“Facilities are reasonable if (taking account of the Council’s resources) the facilities are of such a quantity and quality that the Council can reasonably be expected to secure their provision”.
It becomes, if I might say so, tautological and pretty meaningless, and it has no great vision.
The ideas in the first part of the amendment came directly from the Education and Inspections Act. We spent the best part of three or four days talking about the issue when that Bill was going through this House. They embody a bit of our vision of what we want to achieve from education, but they apply to those at the age of compulsory education. It is appropriate that the Learning and Skills Council is the means by which education for those over the compulsory school leaving age is delivered. Would it not be nice to have a little bit of vision written into the Bill? For the moment, we are not going to get any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
10: Clause 2 , page 2, line 46, leave out “financial year” and insert “funding period”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 15, 16 and 17. The purpose of Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 15, 16 and 17 is to allow the regional councils to plan financially over a period greater than one year. No organisation can plan properly over such a short period. Indeed, schools now have their budgets available over a three-year period, so we believe it is essential for the national council to allow the budgets of regional councils to be worked over the same sort of funding period. We have suggested in Amendment No. 17 that the period should be no less than two years, but we believe that three years, as for schools, would be reasonable.
Amendment No. 12 is somewhat different; it requires the proportion of the budget that must be spent on learners with special needs to be determined. It would be far too easy to neglect the needs of special learners when responding to all the local needs and budgetary pressures. The amendment is intended to protect them. That group are more likely to need the services of a further education college, given that their disability or special need may have meant that they have lost time during their compulsory schooling or that they have been slower than children who do not have their disability in achieving the qualifications of which they are capable.
Further education is of particular value to that group of learners, and provision for that learning should be mandatory. It should be quite clear that the amount considered appropriate for that group is laid out and that the regional council must stick to it and spend it appropriately. We are not trying to tell the regional councils how to spend that money—they must do that, depending on their local knowledge—but the amount of money that needs to be spent on that special group of learners ought to be ring-fenced. I beg to move.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 and 15 to 17 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, accord with the Government’s desire to give increased flexibility and certainty over the funding which the Learning and Skills Council and other government-funded bodies receive. She rightly makes the point that it is much better to be able to plan over a two- or three-year period than over a single financial year.
We have sought to ensure multi-year planning through the spending review process. As she knows, each successive spending review covers a three-year funding period. The current Comprehensive Spending Review outcome covering the three years from 2008-09 will be announced later this year. That is expected to give the Learning and Skills Council and its partners significant certainty about the funding available over that funding period. I hope that that will meet the objective that the noble Baroness sought.
However, we cannot support the amendments because there is a risk that they could give the LSC a funding period which would extend across the boundaries of two spending reviews. By anticipating a spending review settlement, that would be in breach of the arrangements in place with the Treasury.
The noble Baroness made important remarks on Amendment No. 12 with respect to people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. I echo her remarks about the very high priority that those groups of learners have and the highest quality provision that they deserve. To ensure that those learners are given high priority, the Secretary of State has informed the Learning and Skills Council through his grant letter that he expects it to continue to prioritise its investment in provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, while working with the sector to improve the cost-effectiveness of provision.
The Learning and Skills Council has reflected that explicitly in its annual statement of priorities. On page 22, in the section specifically devoted to learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, it states:
“Public funding for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities is substantial—in 2004/05 nearly £1.5 billion supported 640,000 learners. These learners remain a priority. We will continue this investment and expect each institution to maintain the proportion of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities in their overall learner numbers. Institutions should discuss any major planned changes in provision for this cohort with their local partnership teams”.
That goes a long way to securing the ring-fencing that the noble Baroness sought. The quality of provision must be maintained, and if major planned changes are proposed, they need to be discussed with the local partnership teams. I will also quote from page 19 of the annual statement of priorities, which states that partners must,
“continue to prioritise provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities”.
It goes on to list other functions, but it particularly highlights the importance of provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.
Furthermore, by autumn 2007 the Learning and Skills Council will have a detailed needs analysis for provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. That will enable the Learning and Skills Council to plan better and to allocate resources on the basis of actual need. Making it a requirement that guidance from the council to regional councils must state proportions of a regional council’s budget to be spent in this area therefore becomes unnecessary. That would also diminish the Learning and Skills Council’s ability to match resources to need, which will not be spread evenly around the regions. The LSC must have the flexibility to allocate resources to meet need, but the priority for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, which the noble Baroness set out, is one that we entirely share.
I thank the Minister for his reply. On the first group of amendments, he was concerned that what we have suggested would roll over from one spending review to the next, but there must be some form of words acceptable to the Treasury that would give that roll-over funding provision for a three-year budgetary process. I have no doubt that that would be helpful to the regional learning and skills councils in their own planning. It cannot be right that they just fall off a cliff at the end of a spending review period.
On Amendment No. 12, I am somewhat reassured by what the noble Lord said in his reply, but stated priorities are not quite the same as having something in the Bill. We would have expected, if our amendment were agreed to, that the national Learning and Skills Council would take advice from the regional councils on their needs in relation to learners with special needs before deciding on the proportion of the budget that should be spent on them. We are very aware that for some of these learners, learning costs are higher. It is a little more expensive sometimes if special equipment has to be provided. We are aware that transport to a place of learning can be a major barrier to some learners with special needs, particularly physical disabilities. It is very important that an appropriate amount of money is made available for that and that it is given priority. Certainly, we have some reassurance in the Minister’s words, but we will have to consult those who represent learners with special needs before deciding whether to bring this back on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.]
13: Clause 2 , page 3, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) In preparing the guidance, the Council must take account of any strategy prepared by any local authority under section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000, if the area of the authority falls within the area of the regional council.”
The noble Baroness said: It seems to be a double act between my noble friend Lady Walmsley and me at the moment. I will speak to Amendments Nos. 14, 20 and 21, which seek to reinforce the duty of the regional learning and skills councils to work in co-operation with the relevant local authority partners. Amendment No. 13 seeks to reinstate the idea of learning and skills councils working in line with the broad strategy developed by local authorities. At present, Section 22(4)(c) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 requires that, in developing its plan for the following financial year, the local learning and skills council should have regard, first, to any guidance issued under the previous section, secondly, to the strategy of any RDA and, thirdly, to,
“any strategy prepared by any relevant local authority under section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (strategies for promoting well-being)”.
The Bill no longer talks about plans, but about guidance for the regional councils as to how they should set priorities. The amendment suggests that given that local authorities have a duty to prepare plans relating to well-being, it is only reasonable that regional LSCs should have to have regard to those strategies. Clause 3 effectively repeals Sections 19 to 24 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, so the relevant section I quoted from will be repealed. Further, local learning and skills councils will no longer exist as they are to be replaced by regional bodies.
Amendment No. 14 is in a similar vein, but this time in relation to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill currently before the House of Commons. Under Clause 82 of that Bill local authorities are required to put in place local area agreements, and again it is both reasonable and logical for the regional LSC to be required to have regard to those agreements.
Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 relate to Clause 4, which inserts a new section in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 enabling the LSC to work with city region councils which develop their own labour market strategies, as in the case of London, which is covered by new Section 24B being added by Clause 4. Amendment No. 20 asks that any such strategy being developed on an area basis should take account of local area agreements and/or local improvement targets agreed between local authorities within the area concerned. Likewise, Amendment No. 21 relates to consultation being carried out when formulating strategies and asks that consultation should include both responsible local authorities and partner local authorities where responsibilities are shared with partner boroughs or districts.
The current wording of Clause 4 allows the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to appoint new strategic bodies apparently without having to have any regard to existing economic development, skills or further education plans and partnerships. Therefore, in line with current local government legislative proposals, the amendment suggests that the Secretary of State should ensure that these new strategy-making bodies have a duty to adhere to existing and developing strategies within local area agreements. If this is not the case, there is a danger that conflicting strategies could emerge, leading to confusion at the local level. These amendments therefore seek to prevent such confusion from arising. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 41 in this group is intended to ensure that local authorities remain involved in decisions affecting children and young people who fall under their responsibility. Clause 17 gives the LSC the power to intervene, sack, replace or direct the governing body of a college, sack members of staff and direct the college to collaborate with other organisations. These powers are very widely drawn and will have a great influence on all students in FE colleges. With such powers being given to an unelected body, does not the Minister feel that some consultation with local authorities would be sensible before they are used?
I support the approach taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. She said in the course of her remarks that conflicts may arise. I would like to alter that to say, “conflicts will arise”. Given the way that the clause has been drawn it is absolutely certain to lead to conflict, and there is a fundamental reason for that: there are national issues and there are local issues, but it is very hard to find a regional issue.
If noble Lords look for regional issues, they will find that they become either national or local; they do not remain regional. I would extend that assertion, which I would be perfectly prepared to speak about at length, but I will not do so now, to cover London. It does not make any sense to say that London stops at London. If you opened a really fine new factory in the south-east, plenty of people who need skills would commute from London to work in that factory. England, perhaps to the Government’s regret, is not amenable to regionalisation. It is too coherent a society; and thank God for that. I feel very strongly that the confusion that we are likely to get into with this Bill is that it is putting in a structure the middle bit of which will not work.
I shall first deal with Amendment No. 41, where I can meet most of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on partnership working with local authorities, which is an important issue. The intervention powers, which are extensive, will not be taken lightly. Given the performance of colleges, we expect action to be taken very rarely. The Learning and Skills Council, where it seeks to invoke those powers, will want to take account of the views of many different local stakeholders. It may well be that by engaging stakeholders to work with the governing body of an institution at risk of failure at an early stage, the LSC will avoid the need to implement any of the most serious measures available to it under the provisions of proposed new Section 56A. Moreover, governing bodies generally include members who have been nominated by local authorities.
In those rare cases where action is taken under proposed new Section 56A, the LSC will have as its principal concern the interests of the learners, employers and wider community in the area served by the institution. In that context, consultation is important. It is appropriately addressed in the intervention policy required under proposed new Section 56B. The LSC guidance document, Identifying and Managing Underperformance, states that any policy published will be the subject of consultation with the sector. By taking this approach, a much broader requirement to consult local partners will be built into the policy and the emerging operating procedures to which it gives rise.
The second aspect of the amendment is to make it a requirement that any notice that may be issued to an institution should also be copied to the relevant local authority. I undertake that, as members of the LSC’s regional boards, local authorities will automatically receive a copy of any such notification. However, such a routine administrative procedure is again more appropriately covered by the LSC’s policy document than in the Bill.
Under proposed new Section 56B(3), the LSC must have regard to any guidance given to it by the Secretary of State in relation to the preparation and publication of the intervention policy and the need to keep it under review. I assure the Committee that the Secretary of State will ask the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that, in developing its intervention policy, it will involve all relevant stakeholders, including the relevant local authority. I hope that I have met most of the concerns of the noble Baroness about the amendment.
In respect of Amendment No. 13, which invites us to consider the importance of arrangements for promoting well-being, local authorities already have the power to do anything that is likely to promote the well-being of all persons in their area, which includes social, environmental and economic well-being. Moreover, the LSC plans to work much more closely with its local partners through the 150 new Learning and Skills Council local partnership teams, which I referred to earlier. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked about the geographical areas that the teams would cover. We now have available a draft list of those areas, and I will write to him and other Members of the Committee to set those out.
When I write to the noble Viscount setting out the geographical areas that we expect the 150 local partnership teams to cover, I will also set out the arrangements that we expect for bringing those teams into being and how they will operate.
We are concerned about the amendment’s detailed specifications of how co-operation between the 150 new LSC local partnership teams should happen, which we believe would be excessively onerous and complex. With the move to regional councils, the requirement for the LSC national council, when preparing guidance for a regional council, to take account of any strategy prepared by any local authority in that regional council area would in London, for example, call for the consideration of more than 30 strategies. We believe that the better way forward is to utilise the LSC’s establishment of its new local partnership teams. These teams will be able to address issues of this kind in a local and flexible manner, working with local authorities individually and in a way that reflects particular local circumstances.
Amendment No. 14 is unnecessary, as the LSC and local authorities already work closely together in partnership within the current non-statutory local area agreement arrangements. We want the LSC to have the capacity, structure and flexibility needed to work with partners at local, regional and national levels, and we do not want to impose unnecessary additional bureaucracy and complexity on the LSC to secure something that it is already doing and planning to develop further.
On Amendments Nos. 20 and 21, we agree that bodies formulating strategies should have regard to matters raised by bodies and organisations when strategies are being formulated. Again, however, we believe that to specify these matters in the Bill would introduce an unnecessary level of detail. If it were agreed that specific provision should be made in the Bill for any guidance and directions given to strategy bodies to contain provision for such bodies to have regard to local area agreements and local improvement targets, an equally strong argument could be made for the inclusion of several other types of local or national agreement, for instance sector skills councils and sector agreements. It would not improve the Bill to overburden it with such detail, and to specify some matters but not others would be unhelpful, although we intend these matters to be addressed in directions and guidance once the Local Government Bill becomes law. That Bill will cover most of the areas mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
The local authority will always be notified. I take it that it therefore has the right to express its views, so to that extent it is consulted. It would be notified by virtue of the fact that local authorities are represented on the boards of the institutions. I think I can answer the noble Baroness’s point, but I do not want to commit myself absolutely to consultation, because it may have connotations well beyond notification.
I thank the Minister for his response to the amendments to which I spoke.
The issue really boils down to the point that I made earlier. We recognise the importance of the local partnership teams and the role that they will play. We are pleased that they are there, and we very much hope that they will be active participants in developing local strategies for learning and skills. But the one thing lacking in the Bill is that there is no mention either of local partnership teams or of the need to consult and work in partnership with local authorities. We mentioned that in relation to earlier amendments and it arises again here. Although we agree that the amendments may not be necessary and may be too prescriptive, a broad reference to the need for co-operation between the regional councils and local authorities would enhance the Bill. I am sure that we will come back to these issues at a later stage. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 14 to 17 not moved.]
Clause 2 agreed to.
18: After Clause 2 , insert the following new Clause—
“Sector Skills Council
After section 17 of LSA 2000 (use of information by Council) insert—
“17A Sector Skills Council
The Council must have regard to the Sector Skills Council when preparing guidance or publishing a plan relating to the needs of employers regarding education and training of their employees and potential employees.””
The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment which I hope will give us an opportunity to explore the role of employers in the provision of further education. I have spoken already today about the baffling complexity of the further education sector and the difficulty of establishing exactly who is responsible for what. This is certainly true when it comes to finding a clear, constructive role for employers. I would like to emphasise the importance of this role and to establish whether sector skills councils are being used to their full potential in providing it.
The involvement of employers is crucial to the long-term success of further education. We do not live in a command economy and the Government are not equipped to decide how many plumbers should be trained next year. Nor is the LSC staffed by skilled workers who know what a plumbers’ course needs to teach. Without significant business input, we risk detaching further education completely from the real world. Instead, we should be searching for ways in which businesses can make a positive and significant contribution to further education. Business involvement at the highest strategy level is necessary for ensuring that course content is accurate, up to date and, above all, relevant. Its involvement at the local college level in the provision of apprenticeships and practical experience adds enormously to the value of a vocational course. The current situation, where 50 per cent of apprentices in a Merseyside career guidance programme have not had any contact with an employer, is one which benefits neither students, who miss out on an essential part of their vocational education, nor business, which must then employ those who are not fully prepared for the job.
The amendment deals only with the sector skills councils, but there are many other ways of involving employers. I have not tabled amendments on them because I believe that it would be entirely wrong for the Government or even the LSC to pronounce on which interactions should be approved and which not. The sector skills councils need to be given clear powers to do what they can to allow this potential to be fulfilled. Employers need to be given a clear voice at the highest level, while colleges need to be given the freedom to explore options at the most local level. I beg to move.
I should like to point out that the role to be played by the sector skills councils in both the development of specialised diplomas and subsequently in whatever may emerge from the Leitch report is considerable—no doubt, central. There is a real question to be asked about whether employers are able to meet the expectations that will be placed on them. The noble Baroness may not know that at the moment many colleges find it impossible to secure practical work placements for apprenticeships. More students put themselves forward for apprenticeships these days than there are work placements available. It is extremely difficult to find employers who are prepared to take them on.
Similarly, time and again if we look at the history of 120 years of reports about skills in this country, expectations have been put on employers and I regret to say that time and again employers have not lived up to them. I hope that we shall see a change of mood on the part of employers. The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, suggested that there should be a voluntary agreement on their part that they will seek to ensure that every employee gains a level 2 qualification. We are a long way from that and I hope that they can live up to those expectations.
I entirely endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness about the importance of the sector skills councils. Sector skills councils have an increasingly important role to play in capturing and articulating employer demand for investment in skills. They are strategic, employer-led bodies responsible for identifying priorities for investing in the skills of the sector workforce, and, to take up the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, encouraging further engagement by employers within each sector in taking their training responsibilities seriously.
Currently, sector skills agreements provide the framework for sector skills councils to work with employers in their sectors with key delivery agencies such as the learning and skills councils, regional skills partnerships, awarding bodies and the Government to address priority skills issues in their sectors, including the development of specialised diplomas, which we are seeking to introduce nationwide for 14-to-19 year-olds. The agreements are a key mechanism for articulating skills demand and underpin the move to a more demand-led system of education and training, as set out in our skills strategy.
The role of sector skills councils in capturing and articulating employers’ views was stressed recently in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch. Engaging with employers in their sector to stimulate increased demand for investment in skills and influencing how public funding is spent is our central ambition for the sector skills councils. We want to emphasise the importance of working closely with sector skills councils, but we do not think it appropriate to place a specific requirement on the LSC to have regard simply to sector bodies. There are other partners that the LSC will want to consult at national, sub-national and local level. In taking forward priorities, the LSC will want to have regard to regional skills partnerships, local authorities, the Connections service and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, among other bodies.
Furthermore, sector skills councils are already involved in a range of actions to improve learning supply in their sector without specific reference to them in the Learning and Skills Act 2000. These actions vary from sector to sector but include: developing sector qualifications strategies; leading the diploma development partnerships; designing the new lines of learning for the specialised diplomas for 14 to 19-year-olds; developing foundation degree sectoral frameworks; involvement in all aspects of the design of national skills academies and the delivery of the training which the academies will provide; and leading adult apprenticeship pilots in four sectors—construction, engineering, health and information technologies.
Giving sector skills councils a greater role over qualification reform and development, including determining which qualifications should attract public funding, will, we believe, give employers a real opportunity and responsibility for ensuring that qualifications for their sector are economically valuable. The department and the LSC’s consultation on demand-led systems sets out the key role of sector skills councils in the development of those qualification plans.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, will accept that we see sector skills councils as vital to our strategy for skills. We pay tribute to the enormous work by employers to develop the work of the councils. However, as far as possible, we want to avoid including particular organisations or groups of organisations in the Bill, therefore avoiding unnecessary detail. With the assurances that I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will be satisfied.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply and agree with him that greater use of sector skills councils could address many of the problems mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. If we free colleges up a bit more, they could be far more innovative. We already have a scheme where graduates go into teaching before they go on to their chosen profession. Perhaps employers could spend some time learning what it is like to teach in colleges. I do not know; I simply think that there might be other ways of engaging the business sector. There is no doubt that businesses make an enormous contribution, not only in financial input or expertise but in enthusiasm and experience. The Minister said that sector skills councils played a vital part, but we still feel that they are underutilised and have much more to offer. For that to happen, perhaps we will have to wait for another further education Bill or a new Government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 [Abolition of local councils]:
On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?
I have listened as carefully as I could to everything that has been said. I must admit to having been carried away in a flood of words from time to time, and I remain uncertain that a sound case has been made for the disappearance of the 47 councils. It may indeed have been a mistake to make this particular decentralised structure statutory in 2000, only six years ago, but there it is until Parliament changes it. Another decentralised structure is now needed, not only on paper but in fact, and I am grateful for the Minister’s offer to write to me about the 150 local partnership teams. After all, the further away you are from your partner, the more difficult it is to establish a successful partnership, unless of course mutual tolerance amounting to indifference is your objective.
There are two further points to make. The Minister has said that regionalisation is a response to the Foster report, which concluded that the sector was overbureaucratic and overregulated. The more centralised an organisation is and the further away from the action it is, the more bureaucratic matters become. The closer people working in partnership are, the more likely it is that they will be able to handle the necessary procedures with a lighter and more certain touch. Pulling resources back into fewer offices and larger regions will increase bureaucracy not diminish it.
As to overregulation, we know that there is a good deal of frustration in the sector and that the department seems to go along with that dissatisfaction. The strategy is to reduce regulation. We will have to wait and see how and whether the strategy is implemented. The Bill in fact adds to the Secretary of State’s powers, and adds duties to the LSC’s lists. We need a more detailed explanation of how the LSC will operate once the Bill is enacted. It would be a mistake simply to accept the disappearance of the 47 councils.
The noble Viscount said that there had been a flood of words, most of which, I have to say, were from me in defending the first three clauses, including the changes made in Clause 3. I do not have a great deal to add to what I said earlier, which I believe sufficiently justified the steps that we have taken. We believe we gave a satisfactory response to the call made by Sir Andrew Foster in his report, which the noble Viscount will have seen, for a simplification of regulation and administration in the sector. That call mirrors other calls from a wide variety of people, including business leaders who called for a reduction in the Learning and Skills Council’s own bureaucracy and a move towards a more streamlined structure. It also follows our White Paper commitment to make the Learning and Skills Council more streamlined and responsive. Again, the White Paper set out the arguments for that at great length.
Although I know that the noble Viscount, unusually, does not welcome the reductions in costs that we have set out, which come from a reduction in bureaucracy and staffing, I believe that they are widely welcomed in the sector. The sector as a whole believes that administrative overheads have been reduced so far and will be reduced further with the additional £40 million that we hope to save through the Bill. It believes that that is a welcome step forward. We believe that that is a significant justification for the measures in the opening clauses, particularly given that the move towards a regional structure for learning and skills councils is taking place alongside the creation of 150 local partnership teams, which will give us the advantages of local responsiveness on the part of the council and more local responsiveness from the 47 local learning and skills councils than has been possible, while having a more streamlined national and regional organisation for the performance of the statutory functions of the council.
These proposals will provide the LSC with much greater flexibility to work with local partners. They will reduce bureaucracy and increase local responsiveness. That is our justification for the measures, but I will be happy to engage with the noble Viscount further when he has had a chance to study the flood of words more fully.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 [Strategies for functions of Council]:
19: Clause 4, page 3, line 37, leave out “directions and”
The noble Viscount said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 22, 24 and 25, for which I am sure the Minister will be grateful.
Directions are a power subject to no parliamentary procedure. They therefore need the most careful scrutiny when included in a Bill, as there is no way back in the way that there is with statutory instruments. The only other line of defence against the arbitrary use of powers by the Executive is practice. The textbooks say that, in practice, directions are for administrative matters, for example accounting procedures, and for matters of last resort. These authorities also say that directions are not used for the control of policy or for decisions on routine matters of management. These restraints are important because, in the rare event that a direction was issued as a matter of last resort, the body concerned must comply or have a duty to comply. “Must comply” or “a duty to comply” goes to the heart of any non-departmental public body’s independence, and if it is not independent why have it in the first place?
In new Sections 24A and 24B in Clause 4, no situation of last resort is contemplated. Instead, proposals advanced by the Secretary of State would be by way of an order in the course of policy development, which would be discussed between the bodies concerned. The dialogue could be expected to reach a conclusion satisfactory to the parties. There would be no need for compulsion; guidance would be sufficient. For these reasons, the proposed powers of direction should be left out. I beg to move.
I have a lot of sympathy with my noble friend’s amendments, and I hope that the Minister will reassure us that these powers will be used only for high-level strategy rather than for the detailed day-to-day management that further education has had to suffer so far. FE colleges need consistency and long-term stability to develop their own way forward, and this is incompatible with a succession of directions from the centre.
Having seen similar provisions in other legislation, I think I am right in saying that they have been only in conjunction with a constraint to require the body to comply with national policy. Although I may have grumbled about that from time to time in a discussion on devolution, one can at least see the logic. There seems to be no such constraint in these provisions.
I hope that I can address the concern raised by the noble Viscount, which was echoed by the two noble Baronesses. We believe that it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to give directions and guidance to a body specified in an order made under Clause 4, and for the body to be established by regulations to be made also under Clause 4. The duty to comply with any directions is higher than the duty to have regard to any guidance, the former allowing greater control over the formulation and review of a strategy. We consider that both will be appropriate in the case of a body specified by an order to be made under new Section 24A or the body established for London.
It will be vital that any strategy produced by a body thus specified, or the London Skills and Employment Board in Greater London, is based on wide and full consultation with relevant organisations and interests. That is why new Sections 24A(4)(e) and 24B(4)(e) specifically refer to consultation as one of the issues to be covered in directions and guidance. We expect directions to specify matters with which the body must comply in carrying out that consultation—for instance, the sort of organisations to be consulted or the need to have regard to the Government’s code of practice on consultation. Draft directions and guidance for the London Skills and Employment Board have been made available to the Committee. These set out the key organisations and interests that the board must consult in formulating its strategy. We believe that they are appropriate, although I would always welcome comments from Members of the Committee.
In respect of the reasonableness and scrutiny of directions, the Secretary of State must always act reasonably as a matter of public law when giving directions. He is subject to challenge by way of judicial review if he does not do so. On the basis of that elucidation and those assurances, I hope that the noble Viscount will be satisfied.
Before the noble Viscount responds, I cannot help observing that the Secretary of State may give directions on the consultation which the body is to carry out, but there does not seem to be any indication of what consultations the Secretary of State should carry out before giving such directions. Have I misunderstood that?
I do not have to hand the list of bodies to be consulted. As I say, these are draft regulations and I would welcome any comments that the noble Baroness may have. Of course, the Secretary of State is not himself consulting directly; he is requiring others to consult in the development of their strategies.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Having raised a similar subject on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House, I am familiar with the argument put forward by the Minister. I regret to say that I am not convinced by it, so I give advance notice that I am likely to return to this matter at a later stage.
Perhaps I may come back to this issue for the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. One of the draft regulations that I circulated to the Committee is the draft directions and guidance to the London strategy-making body under Clause 4. Paragraph 8 lists the bodies which the board must consult when formulating its strategy. They are: the Learning and Skills Council, the London Development Agency, Jobcentre Plus, the London Skills Commission, the London borough councils and the Corporation of London, the Greater London Authority, FE colleges in Greater London, employer organisations, trade unions, voluntary bodies—some or all of whose activities benefit the whole or part of Greater London—bodies which represent the different racial, ethnic or national groups in Greater London, bodies which represent the interests of different religious groups in Greater London, bodies which represent the interests of persons carrying on business in Greater London and any other organisations or individuals whom the Mayor of London and board consider likely to be affected by the strategy and appropriate to consult.
That seems an entirely reasonable list of consultees. If the noble Baroness has particular concerns about it, she can regard this Committee as a consultation. I will welcome her views and the Secretary of State will take full account of them. We are talking here about the direction that the board must consult those bodies.
23: Clause 4 , page 4, line 16, leave out “may” and insert “shall”
The noble Baroness said: As we know, Clause 4, line 16, of the Bill makes provision that:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the establishment of a body for the purposes of discharging the functions set out in subsection (2)”.
The object of my amendment is to change “may” to “shall”. I want to explain exactly why I have tabled it.
The effect of the provisions is that the Secretary of State would provide in regulations for the Mayor to chair and appoint a body which would formulate a strategy for certain functions of the LSC within the Greater London area. Those functions would be specified as the provision of education—other than higher education—and training of the 19-plus population.
I think that everybody agrees that there is a need for change. Indeed, the Bill has been generally welcomed throughout London and by the Mayor himself. London faces significant and unique skills and employment challenges. A high percentage of London residents are qualified to degree level—31 per cent compared to the national average of 26 per cent. However, 25 per cent of the population are not qualified to basic employability level, the equivalent of at least five good GCSEs, and 14 per cent have no qualifications whatever.
Moreover, London has the highest unemployment rate in the country, at 7.5 per cent, and an employment rate 5 per cent below the national average. A number of factors lie behind this high unemployment and low employment rate. Skill levels are only one dimension, but a key one. There is also a very high level of child poverty, which is again dependent on the high unemployment rate. These major challenges need to be addressed at a London-wide level, reflecting the significant differences in skills and employment between the capital and the rest of the UK. As a Londoner with a background in the trade union movement, these issues are of considerable personal concern to me.
The Mayor argued in response to the Government’s review of powers of the GLA that responsibility for skills should be devolved in London to the Mayor. That apparently has been agreed, with the apparent proviso that it is discretionary rather than a continuing, permanent commitment. London business, the boroughs, the London Assembly and other stakeholders also support some devolution of skills powers in London to the Mayor. Three-quarters of responses on skills to the Government’s review favoured the Mayor having a stronger role in skills.
In July 2006 the Government asked the Mayor to establish an employer-led London Skills and Employment Board. This held its first meeting on 6 December 2006, drawing together some of the capital’s leading representatives from business, education and other areas. The new board is the first of its kind in England and represents a step-change in employment and skills policy in London. It will develop a strategy that specifically addresses the needs both of the London economy and of Londoners. This is similar to the proposals by Leitch and represents an important step towards developing a demand-led approach to skills development and training.
The Mayor welcomes the establishment of the new board and is committed to making it a success. But I understand that he is concerned that the clauses in the Bill underpinning it are put in temporary terms; in other words, it is a case of “may” rather than “shall”. In order to secure the long-term position of the new arrangements I have put down this amendment, which would remove the discretionary element and impose on the Secretary of State an obligation to establish an advisory body to formulate a strategy for specified functions. In this way the benefits of the proposal put forward in the Bill will be assured.
It is important for the board and its strategy to be given a permanent basis in London, to ensure the highest level of business engagement with the board and to enable the new arrangements to develop long-term strategic plans for the capital without risk of being disbanded by a new Secretary of State at any time. The amendment would help deliver on this commitment while working within the broad terms for the board agreed between the Government and the Mayor.
I commend the amendment to the Committee. I hope that the Government will see the point of it and will agree that it is worth having a situation in which it is clear that these provisions are permanent and cannot be removed at the discretion of a future Secretary of State. I beg to move.
As the noble Baroness indicated, the support for such a change goes wider than the current Mayor. I refer to what one might consider a slight oddity—the argument that the inclusion of the word “shall” would make the regulations permanent when, of course, a future Government could change the primary legislation. However, the measure would be a recognition of the importance of the devolution package in London.
The current Mayor is a controversial figure, but any mayor might be subject to the Government wondering how they could pull back on devolution. For that reason I support what the noble Baroness said. I recognise that the Government are already some way down this road. The Minister has circulated some details on that. The board has already been appointed and has met. The Minister also referred to directions.
I do not want to repeat the points that I made at Second Reading—which the noble Baroness made very strongly—about the importance of London’s government being involved in skills and training. The issues link closely with other areas of the Mayor’s responsibility. It makes perfect sense that the Mayor should have such responsibilities. As I say, I and others would be happy to see the arrangements go further than they do here. I understand the difficulty that the Minister will be in. The noble Baroness is a greater veteran than I of the may/shall argument. I cannot recall that one has ever won it, but that does not devalue the argument.
The Minister said in his letter to my noble friend Lady Walmsley that regulations establishing the board,
“and directions and guidance given to it, under powers provided in the Bill, will put the Board’s work on a firm statutory footing”.
I emphasise those last three words. If the Minister could say more about permanence, that would be extremely helpful.
I associate myself with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden and with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
London is unique. It has special factors in terms of skills. There is no doubt that some of the problems associated with unemployment in London relate to the mismatch of skills with the requirements of business. The issues of the creation of skills and the demand for skills from business have been divided up across the capital. That is one of the failures of the existing system. There is clearly a need to bring together all those obligations under one body, which would involve both London’s government and the business community in London. We cannot say that London is a series of completely separate labour markets because obviously it is not. There will be different focuses in different parts of the capital but essentially there is a substantial movement of the workforce across London. Therefore, this matter clearly should be addressed on a London-wide basis. One of the problems has been the mismatch between skills offered in London, primarily to young people, and the skills required for the available jobs.
I, too, have fallen foul of the may/shall debate on various occasions in your Lordships’ House. I anticipate that we shall cover the same ground yet again on this occasion. But my worry is that we have suffered too long from quick fixes when trying to deal with the issues of skills in London. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about a future Government being able to change primary legislation. However, that is a little more complicated than a Secretary of State saying that a Government will no longer exercise the option of having such a London-wide body. For that reason I believe that the change should be made to require the Secretary of State to create this body and provide the necessary support.
There is now real commitment and enthusiasm from business to try to make the new structures and arrangements work. If we could confirm in statute that these arrangements are expected to remain and that they will not be removed just on the whim of a future Secretary of State, that would be helpful in dealing with some of the underlying problems of the skills mismatch in London.
I support this amendment. I shall not repeat the arguments that we have just heard, which I support, but I wish to make three other points. First, London is an immensely complex place. There is a need to deal with that complexity across different sections of the capital other than on a piecemeal basis. Secondly, the importance of the London economy to the rest of the country means that we must do everything that we can to ensure that the education and skills base in London is as strong as possible. On the third point, which I find easier to make than some, London is larger both in population and impact than parts of the devolved administrations in the United Kingdom, or, indeed, some of the countries within the European Union.
I too support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, the effectiveness of London affects the effectiveness of the whole nation because so much is centralised there. Also it has a regional industry of immense importance—the City of London, which has distinctive needs. The question I put to the Minister is: why is there doubt such that he is saying “may” rather than having a decision to put to the Committee?
My noble friend Lady Turner and other noble Lords spoke eloquently about the importance of the London Skills and Employment Board and the need for its work to be put on a permanent footing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the first meeting of the non-statutory London Skills and Employment Board took place on 6 December. I am told that it got off to a very successful start. It represents that wide diversity of important employment and economic generators and public sector institutions in London which need to be fully engaged in developing a skills agenda for London. It is chaired by the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and its vice-chair is Harvey McGrath, the chair of the Man Group, one of our largest hedge fund groups. I believe that many of us never thought that we would live to see a partnership forged by Mayor Livingstone and the chairman of the Man Group. It is a symbol of the unity of purpose which is now evident across London in the need to meet skills priorities. The board’s membership is drawn from a wide variety of public and private sector institutions, including FE colleges, trade unions and the chief executive of NHS London. It brings together all those key partners.
The Bill will require a future Secretary of State, as a matter of public law, to consider exercising his discretion to use the power set out in new Section 24B. However, as noble Lords will know, this Government do not allow pettifogging legalities to stand in the way of a desirable objective. Therefore, if my noble friend wishes to table her amendment again on Report, we will give it very sympathetic consideration.
I thank everybody who contributed to this short debate. I think that everybody acknowledged the importance of London, its economy and its employment prospects, including my noble friend the Minister. I thank him very much for his offer to accept the amendment. I shall certainly bring it back on Report, when I hope that it will be accepted. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.]
26: Clause 4 , page 4, line 40, at end insert—
“(6A) In preparing the strategy, the body established under this section shall consult the Assembly and must have regard to any comments submitted by the Assembly.
(6B) The body established under this section must prepare a written statement in response to any comments it receives under subsection (6A) above.
(6C) The statement must—
(a) identify which of the comments submitted by the Assembly are accepted by the body for implementation in the strategy, and (b) set out the reasons why any comments so submitted are not accepted.”
The noble Baroness said: I say to the Minister, in response to his comment about an alliance between the Mayor and big business, “be very afraid”.
I preface my remarks on the amendment by assuring the Committee, if it was not already clear, that the assembly—I again declare an interest as a member of the London Assembly—fully supports the executive role that the Mayor of London is being given in the matter that we are discussing. This and my subsequent two amendments are brought forward because I see the other side of the coin of executive responsibility as being good public scrutiny. The assembly’s role is that of scrutiny.
Nearly seven years on from the formation of the Greater London Authority, my views about the need for openness, transparency, inclusiveness and the enhancement of engagement with key partners, as the Minister just called them, are, if anything, stronger. It is important that new arrangements and new powers introduced for the Mayor of London should mesh well with the existing governance arrangements. I am speaking to Amendment No. 26, but the two subsequent amendments are also intended to safeguard against an unaccountable operation.
Amendment No. 26 would ensure that the new body must consult the London Assembly. The Minister referred to the draft regulations. He included the assembly in the list of consultees. This amendment goes further, but possibly not further than the draft regulations. I regret that I am not sure about that. It goes as far as the Greater London Authority Bill, which is being considered in another place, and would make the role of the assembly consistent with its role vis-à-vis other statutory strategies under the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Not only would the Mayor of London be required to consult the assembly but to pay attention to what the assembly has to say and to articulate his response to the assembly. All five groups on the London Assembly were unanimous in calling for this amendment.
The assembly’s position is very particular. It is different from those of the other consultees who were listed by the Minister because it has the express role of holding the Mayor of London to account. Its role is not simply one of listening to what the Mayor has to say but of requiring feedback and bringing matters up at a later date and not treating them as done and dusted. An amendment such as this would be entirely consistent with the good practice that the assembly seeks.
The other distinction between the London body and bodies in other parts of the country is, of course, that London has its strategic government, layer or sphere. That difference is appropriately recognised in an amendment such as this. I beg to move.
In drawing together the complexities that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who is no longer in his place, and other noble Lords mentioned in the last debate on the importance of London and its economy, it will be vital that the new board consults widely and not only with the assembly, as in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
Many who welcome the establishment of the board, including the City of London, have reservations about how neighbouring boroughs in the centre of London will collaborate under the Mayor’s planned approach, and I wonder whether the Minister could comment.
I hope that I addressed these points when I read out the draft regulations, which include the Corporation of London as one of the bodies that must be consulted when formulating the strategy. As I said earlier, the London assembly is also included. The assembly’s views will clearly be key in formulating the strategy. The draft directions and guidance also make it clear that the strategy must include a summary of the main issues raised during the consultation and how they have been addressed. That addresses the other point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
I hope that the points made have been addressed, but I will be happy to engage further with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, if she so wishes after she has studied my remarks in Hansard and read the draft directions and guidance.
27: Clause 4, page 5, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) provision requiring the Mayor to appoint to the body such person or persons in such number or numbers as the Mayor may think fit who are members of the Assembly or members of the London borough councils or members of the Common Council of the City of London.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment relates to the membership of the board and the appointments made by the mayor, and would give him considerable flexibility. He would not be required to appoint any of the members of the assembly, members of London boroughs, or members of the Common Council of the City of London. That picks up the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has just made. He would, however, have to address his mind to the desirability of this. The membership announced towards the end of last year—I do not criticise any of the individuals—is not as wide-ranging as one would have hoped. I commented on this at Second Reading. Small businesses, even small and medium-sized enterprises, are hardly represented, if at all; nor are local authorities.
The London boroughs are important partners in the delivery of skills provision. The direct involvement that membership of the board would give is entirely sensible, in addition to its consultative status. Assembly members lead local strategic thinking. As I have said, they have a function with regard to all the mayor’s strategies, and elected members—elections are important—represent the diverse views of constituencies, geographical and otherwise. They would enhance the voice of the public on this body.
Again, the assembly wants this amendment. You might say that we would, wouldn’t we, but I hope that we do not consider these matters entirely personally and narrowly. The Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green groups on the assembly all supported the call for political representatives on the board.
I shall add a personal note that may be repeated several times when we debate the Greater London Authority Bill. The public find it counter-intuitive—that is not my phrase, but it is a good one—that assembly members, having been elected at the same time and with the same mandate as the Mayor of London, have such a narrow and difficult role. They think that we are there to control the Mayor of London in a way that we cannot. I do not seek to do so, but I do seek representation on the board. I beg to move.
I was glad to hear the supportive remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about the membership of the London Skills and Employment Board. As she knows, the arrangements for appointing the board are set out in the draft regulations, which say that the Mayor of London shall appoint the other members of the board—that is, besides himself—with the approval of the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State has sent a letter to the Mayor of London setting out the groups that we believe it would be appropriate to be represented. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of that letter to hand, but I undertake to send it to the noble Baroness and circulate it to the Committee so that she can come back to me if she still has concerns. However, although we want there to be consultation on the formulation of the strategy that the board follows, we believe it is right that the Mayor of London should be able to appoint the members, and we do not think it necessary to require the Mayor of London to appoint one or more representatives from the assembly, the boroughs or the Common Council to the membership.
When the noble Baroness has seen the letter that the Secretary of State has sent, I will be happy to discuss it further with her. There may be a difference of opinion between us on whether there should be a requirement to appoint members of those bodies, but I believe that we are at one on the need for a broad and diverse membership that reflects the range of organisations that need to be fully engaged in the development of a skills and employment strategy for London. As she said, the membership of the non-statutory board, as it is at the moment, meets that requirement.
I look forward to receiving the letter. There may well be a difference of view between us. As I said, although I had no quarrel with individual members of the board, I felt that it was not sufficiently representative. I am aware there was quite some toing and froing with regard to the appointments, but presumably the Secretary of State does not see the desirability of appointing any borough councillors—not to hold a majority but to represent a point of view—or assembly members or members from the City. Given that those are not included in the first tranche of appointments, I assume that that is not in the Secretary of State’s mind, but I am grateful to the Minister for his offer that we have a further word about it when I have seen the letter. I look forward to seeing that. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
28: Clause 4, page 5, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) provision for securing the admission, so far as practicable, of the public (including the press) to all meetings of the body subject to such provisions as the Secretary of State may determine to enable the body to exclude the public by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted; ( ) provision for securing public access to copies of the body’s agenda items, reports and minutes, subject to such provisions as the Secretary of State may determine to enable the body to restrict such access on the grounds that an agenda item, report or minute contains material of a confidential nature.”
The noble Baroness said: This is the last of my amendments on the subject. It is, however, a very serious one. It would provide for openness and transparency, which I mentioned in our debates on a couple of earlier amendments, by requiring provision for the public conduct of business and public access to agendas and minutes, obviously with exemptions for confidential business. This is a matter of principle, but it is also a practical matter. The more that business is done behind closed doors, the harder it is to keep the trust and confidence of the public and of those concerned. I try to avoid the word “stakeholders”, but I always find myself using it.
Public access is a fundamental element of open governance. Without it, it is that much harder for stakeholders to engage with the body, and it makes scrutiny considerably harder. As I know from sad experience, one finds oneself reduced to having rather petty arguments about access and publication instead of the real, substantial issues. I beg to move.
Our objective is that the board’s strategy should be produced on the basis of wide consultation, engaging closely with the needs and views of London and of Londoners.
In practice, we endorse the view of the noble Baroness that this should mean an open approach to the board’s work. Our expectation is that the board and the mayor would indeed want to allow public access to meetings and relevant papers as set out in the amendment, but there will be times when that is not appropriate. The second paragraph of the amendment recognises that the body should be able.
“to restrict such access on the grounds that an agenda item, report or minute contains material of a confidential nature”.
However, our preferred approach is not to specify this practice in the Bill, rather to make sure that the mayor and others involved with the board are able to exercise their judgments. On the basis of our expectation that the mayor and the board would ensure reasonable public access to meetings and to relevant papers, we do not think that this is an appropriate issue to include in the Bill.
It occurs to me that if we are going to have directions given by the Secretary of State, directions on this issue might be very appropriate. Perhaps that is something that I should consider because I am afraid—let us not personalise this—one cannot be wholly confident that every mayor, board and chair will be so utterly reasonable as to hold every possible meeting in public. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 [Duty in relation to diversity and choice]:
29: Clause 6, page 6, line 17, at end insert “of course and place of learning except where this would involve disproportionate expenditure”
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 29 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 31. The difference between the two amendments is that the first refers to learners aged 16 to 19 and the second refers to learners who are over the age of 19. The amendments seek to clarify what is meant in Clause 6 by the words “diversity” and “choice”. The clause places a duty on the Learning and Skills Council to act with a view to promote diversity in education and training and increase opportunities for individuals to exercise choice. That duty applies both to 16 to 19 year-olds and to adults.
The amendments are designed to clarify exactly what is meant by “choice” and to ensure that the LSC does not focus solely on institutional structures when fulfilling this new duty, but also takes into account the need to ensure that there is sufficient choice of courses, qualifications and types of place in which to learn.
There is widespread agreement about the need to improve the choices available to young people and to ensure that more of them progress to university or to productive employment, but there are differences on how that can be best achieved. Under the terms of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 any school which wants to establish or expand a sixth form has to apply to the local authority for approval. It is important to highlight the decision-making process on sixth-form provision because all post-16 education is funded not by local authorities but by learning and skills councils. Local authorities approve new sixth-form education but have no accompanying responsibility to fund it. So we have a disconnect between decision-making and funding.
Many local authorities want the majority or even all the schools in their area to have sixth forms. Indeed, the Government have made this easier under the terms of the five-year plan where there is a presumption in favour of it. Having a sixth form is often a matter of status and makes a school more attractive to students.
Clause 6 makes the situation even more complicated by adding a new duty for the LSC to provide diversity and choice in the education and training available for students aged between 16 and 19 as well as for adults. Under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 it is for the LEA to determine which 16 to 19 provision should be approved. That makes it difficult for the LSC, which has a duty to provide diversity and choice in the 16 to 19 provision, when it cannot decide what is provided and where. So there are concerns about the new duty being placed on the LSC, particularly when it is not accompanied by any definition of the word “choice”. There is a danger that the LSC may choose to define “choice” solely as being about institutions, but there is an argument that a local area solely made up of further education, tertiary and sixth-form colleges can provide more choice in terms of courses and qualifications at all levels than one made up entirely of school sixth forms. On the other hand, some people take the alternative view.
We are concerned that any new provision—college or school sixth form—should offer different provision to local youngsters from what is already available and play an important role in offering the widest possible choice of qualifications and courses. However, that is not always the case and the opening of new school sixth forms could, in fact, endanger the future of some courses at other post-16 providers, and in some extreme cases a whole institution’s future. Indeed, Stockport College expressed those concerns to me some time ago. So we need to be sure that when a new sixth form is proposed, it will actually provide choice and the necessary high quality education, but of course not at disproportionate cost.
We have put the word “disproportionate” in our amendment because it must be noted that there are considerable variations in funding levels for 16 to 18 year-olds depending on where and what they are studying. The Government accepted in 2005 that there was a 13 per cent gap in funding between a student in a school sixth form and a college offering the same type of course—a matter about which we on these Benches have often complained. The Government have pledged to reduce this gap and are now consulting on proposals for a common 16 to 18 funding system. But the existence of funding variations reinforces the need to consider value for money. So, while we wait for that gap to be closed, including a duty on the LSC to avoid disproportionate expenditure will make it easier for it to balance its new duty to improve choice and diversity for some learners with its duty to all learners to use public funds equitably and reasonably. I beg to move.
I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that Clause 6 intends the word “choice” to cover a wide range of learning permutations. We expect “choice” to be interpreted in an all-encompassing way and to include, for example, the form of study, the range of courses available and the timing of study as well as, but not restricted to, the type of course and the place or institution in which that learning takes place.
We wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness on the suggestion that such choice should not lead to disproportionate expenditure. However, such a caveat should not apply only to the exercise of choice by learners, but needs to apply to every aspect of the Learning and Skills Council’s funding duties. For that reason Section 2(3)(e) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which is not amended by this Bill, clearly states that the council in performing all its duties must,
“make the best use of the Council’s resources and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure”.
I hope the objectives that the noble Baroness seeks to achieve are met in terms of a wide definition of choice, including choice within institutions and not simply choice between institutions, and the need to avoid disproportionate expenditure.
30: Clause 6 , page 6, line 17, at end insert—
“(dc) act with a view to secure sufficient and effective provision for disabled persons;”
The noble Baroness said: The amendments are fairly self-explanatory. They are the amendments suggested by the Disability Rights Commission mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Low, in his excellent speech at Second Reading. In that speech, he rightly called attention to a sector of the public which is all too often passed over and ignored. He cited figures which highlight the problem. At 16, a disabled person is twice as likely to be in no employment, education or training as their nondisabled peers. At 19 years old, 27 per cent are not in any training or employment. In his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Low, the Minister reassured him that the LSC would indeed consult with disability groups and that guidance would encourage participation by disabled people. The DfES disability equality scheme also lays out past action and future plans to include disabled people at all levels. We accept that and that is fine. I am glad the Minister responded so fully to the concerns of the noble Lord.
However, after consultation with the Disability Rights Commission, we feel that there would still be value in including those commitments in the Bill. Initiatives come and go, political priorities change and what one Minister may promote may not be at the top of the list of priorities for another. Many of us have seen the recent advertisements on public transport showing disabled people's difficulties in finding employment. The most moving is the face of a young man with Down’s syndrome with the caption:
“You have just looked at him for longer than any employer”.
That is a poignant reminder of the obstacles disabled people must still overcome before they are given the opportunities many of us take for granted. Disabled people have a huge amount to offer society. Their inclusion not only gives them personal opportunities for development that further education is all about, but also enriches the institutions of which they are a part and enhances the experience of other students.
I hope that the Minister will seriously consider these amendments and include them in the Bill, knowing, as I do, his commitment through his work on disability. Giving disabled people full access to further education should not be an initiative promoted in response to a short-term skills crisis but a long-term policy enforced in primary legislation. I beg to move.
Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Low has had to leave, but I know that he wanted to speak on Clause 6 stand part. Perhaps I may add a brief word in favour of the amendments. They give me an opportunity to ask whether the provision would include transport where necessary. I was rather cheered by the extracts that the Minister read from the LSC’s annual statement of priorities in relation to Amendment No. 12 in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. However splendid and numerous the courses for adult disabled learners may be, they will be of little use if disabled learners cannot get to them.
I look forward to the Minister's reply and I hope that it will be encouraging. As he is aware, because he offered to meet us, the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, and I, together with officials from Skill—I do not think that there is any need to declare that I am the president of Skill as I am not giving its views, although I am sure that they will be very useful at the meeting—are shortly to meet the Minister’s officials to discuss the whole issue.
I will not say too much because the Minister is already aware from my comments earlier about the ring-fencing of funding for disabled people and people with special learning needs of the importance of transport in enabling such people to have as full access as anyone else to all the further education courses that they may need. I am not sure that we need the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but I hope that we will get some reassurances on the point about transport.
Before the Minister speaks, perhaps I may intervene briefly. I thank the Minister very much for his very full and careful response to me at Second Reading and subsequently in the letter that he was kind enough to send me. The assurances he gave me at Second Reading and in his letter are very helpful, but I want the Minister to make absolutely clear that in contrasting local mainstream provision and national residential provision he is absolutely confident that national residential provision includes specialist provision. That must be clear, because I think that most of the national residential provision is specialist provision. It would just be very helpful to have the Minister’s confirmation on that point.
I do not think that the noble Baroness needs to apologise; the noble Lord, Lord Low, came in while she was speaking, so she could not be expected to have seen him appear behind her. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Low, the assurance that he was seeking about the national colleges.
I entirely endorse the sentiments behind the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and we share entirely her objectives. However, we believe that the statutory provisions are sufficient at the moment and that they cover the concerns she raised. They are so robust that they are certainly not at the whim of a change of Minister.
Sections 2, 3, 13 and 15 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 make it clear that the Learning and Skills Council has to consider the needs of disabled people when carrying out its main functions. The LSC must have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people. When considering how best to secure the provision of further education and training, it must take account of the different abilities and aptitudes of different people, which includes disabled people.
Furthermore, in the recently published national strategy for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, the LSC declared its intention to improve the quality and sufficiency of the provision for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. I said more about that in my earlier remarks.
The duties of the LSC under the Disability Discrimination Act and Sections 13 and 14 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 are also relevant to the issue of consultation with disabled learners and potential learners raised by Amendments Nos. 34 and 35. FE institutions also have duties under the Disability Discrimination Act.
Through its consultation with partner bodies, surveys of learners and with the input from learner panels, the LSC will seek and obtain the views and active participation of the full range of learners and the different modes of learning. That will include disabled learners. The LSC is in the process of setting up a separate national learner panel for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. It may help if I write to Members of the Committee to set out the arrangements that we intend for that.
The LSC will publish its own guidance for all FE providers on developing learner involvement strategies, which will include examples of good practice on learner consultation, including meeting the needs of learners and potential learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.
Drafts of the statutory guidance—to which the LSC will be under a duty to have regard, and to which FE institutions must have regard—have been made available to the Committee. We believe that this guidance is sufficiently explicit in meeting the needs of disabled learners that further provisions in the Bill are not required. Through consultation and surveys, and with the input from learner forums, the institution will seek and obtain the views and active participation of the full range of learners and potential learners, and that is to include disabled learners.
In respect of transport, a point raised in the discussion, local authorities have a duty to ensure that transport provision is made for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities to attend FE institutions up to the age of 19, or up to 21 if they started the course before their 19th birthday. Guidance also recommends that local authorities should continue to make provision for transport for all learners with learning difficulties and disabilities up to the age of 25. I hope that meets the points which have been raised in the debate.
I thank the Minister for his reply and for reading from the statement of priorities. Everyone involved talks about a plethora of initiatives, and what is exciting and new tends to attract more funding and is more focused. Earlier we had a debate in which the Minister conceded the point and changed a “may” to a “must” because we were told that perhaps it was not robust enough in guidelines and secondary legislation, and therefore should be in the Bill. We think this is too important to be set out anywhere other than in primary legislation. However, for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 not moved.]
Clause 6 [Duty in relation to diversity and choice]:
On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
In the absence of my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who is unable to be here today, I wish to oppose Clause 6. As the Minister is aware, it was the hope that amendments would be moved from the Bench of Bishops to ensure that the duties of the LSC and colleges included securing provision for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development—SMSC in its shortened form—of young people in further education colleges on the same basis as those in schools. At the very minimum, we had hoped to ensure that the entitlement of all 16 to 19 year-olds to provision for their spiritual and moral welfare was extended to and guaranteed for those in FE colleges.
I shall not repeat in full the arguments put so eloquently by colleagues on the Bench of Bishops in earlier debates, but the anomaly I am addressing now is due, I realise, more to historical circumstances than to any intention on the part of governments to exclude young people studying in colleges from this important area of educational provision. At the time when much of the legislation governing further education was introduced, the majority of students were apprentices receiving day release technical training in colleges, but as we all know that is far from being the case today. Some 43 per cent of the age cohort of 16 to 19 year-olds are in colleges, and the vast majority of those are on full-time courses. They are young adults, just as sixth-formers are young adults, and subject to exactly the same pressures as sixth-formers. Indeed, because of the different social and ethnic profile of FE students from those in schools, they are likely to be under more pressure as a result of deprived or disadvantaged backgrounds, and they are also more likely to be from different ethnic or faith backgrounds, which may mean that there are added community or intergenerational pressures.
The present lack of entitlement is, in my view, selling these young people short. As a questioner to the Secretary of State put it at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference last November, “Don’t FE students have souls?”. I believe they do, and I think that many noble Lords will agree. After discussions with many interested parties, including FE college principals, the National Ecumenical Agency in Further Education and the Faiths in FE Forum, as well as with the Government advisers on this Bill, my Episcopal colleagues developed amendments in two alternative forms in order to offer options which would keep as close as possible to the spirit of the Bill and the White Paper that preceded it.
Our first option was to make it a duty on the governing bodies of colleges to ensure that provision for students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development was made. The other option focused on the entitlement of FE students to SMSC and on the role of governing bodies in securing this entitlement. When it came to tabling such amendments, the advice given was that this Bill is a technical measure effecting certain changes to the structure and funding of FE, the LSC and colleges, and that such amendments would fall outside the scope of the Bill.
That is a pity. The Bill is surely designed to put into effect the provisions of the White Paper, which referred to students’ faith needs. Our proposed amendments were designed to ensure that students’ faith needs are met, including their broader spiritual and moral needs. The extension of SMSC to FE is also incidentally supported by the British Humanist Association, as well as leaders of other faiths. The Minister’s officials helpfully made available to us the draft statutory guidance relating to the duty of consultation under the Bill, which refers to students’ spiritual and faith needs. However, that reference is made only in the context of pastoral provision. Effective provision for students’ spiritual and moral development should influence the whole learning and skills experience of students in colleges. It is therefore essential that there is some statutory underpinning for this entitlement.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to look very seriously at this question and to explore the possibility of amendments along the lines of those we have suggested. If the proposed addition after Clause 5 is not acceptable, perhaps an amendment to Clause 6 on diversity of provision, or to Clause 7 on consultation, would be considered. The truth is that we would welcome the Minister’s guidance on all these matters.
Recent speculation about the Government’s future intentions for education policy has focused on the possible raising of the effective leaving age for compulsory education and training to 18. For certain students, often from less privileged backgrounds, to continue to be deprived of care for spiritual and moral development in such circumstances would be more than an anomaly; it would be a scandal. I hope that the Government’s concern, as expressed by the Minister in his speech at Second Reading, for the SMSC needs of FE students, can find practical expression in the framework of what my colleagues and I believe is in almost all other respects an excellent and ground-breaking Bill.
I also tried but failed to get the Public Bill Office to accept an amendment. It was not in exactly the same terms as the right reverend Prelate’s amendment, nor was there any connivence between us in the matter, as I did not know that he was trying to do so. I intended to introduce an object clause before Clause 1 and was frustrated in that objective by the Public Bill Office. I thank the noble Lord for sending me the Keeling schedules, which unfortunately arrived only yesterday evening. It occurs to me that I might, at the next stage of the Bill, table an amendment requiring all FE colleges and the Department for Education and Skills to set homework at least three days before it is due to be handed in.
The problem with this Bill is that it has no mission statement. The Bill creates a powerful quango to control further education, and it gives the Secretary of State power to direct a great many things on what that quango shall and shall not do. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to the Bill being bereft of declaratory duties. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, pointed out in speaking to Amendment No. 19 that the Secretary of State seems to have unfettered powers, subject to no clear, stated parameters. That is my fundamental problem, because there is a danger of misunderstanding here.
Traditionally, further education has been employment-oriented by teaching skills for the job, providing mainly adult education and for those coming out of school at 16 and in need of further specific skills for employment. Now I understand that the Government’s vision for further education, and rightly so in my view, includes a new element: those young people aged from 14 to 19 who have rejected, fallen out of or have been excluded from the school system. They hope that these young people may be drawn back into mainstream education, citizenship and employment. That is a wholly desirable objective. It is, however, a significant development in the concept of further education.
My concern is that the Bill should ensure that the LSC and the Secretary of State provide adequately for the needs of young people who have fallen out of the school system, in particular those who have done so because of family dysfunction, which has left them inadequately prepared to cope with adult life because of lack of self-confidence, lack of social and communication skills or, to put it another way, a lack of emotional literacy and relationship skills. What the Bill does not do is to spell out the mission or objectives which should inform the policies of the LSC and the Secretary of State.
I believe that the Government’s objectives for the Bill are twofold; indeed, I hope they are. The first is to continue to help as many individuals as possible between the ages of 14 and 65 to obtain gainful employment. The second is to pick up young people over the age of 14 for whom the school is not well suited and to help them learn to cope with the challenges and opportunities of adult life, including, but not restricted to, gaining employment. That would include, for example, the challenges of becoming a good citizen and a good parent, so breaking the cycle of deprivation to which their families have been subject. This latter objective particularly concerns me because so many of these young people have needs which will not be adequately addressed by the traditional further education model.
As often as not, young people who fall out of the school system do so because they have not learnt within their families the emotional and relationship skills they need to cope with school. They are in the main deeply frustrated and angry at their own inability to succeed in a competitive society, and they are going to need help. It is crucially important that further education colleges should have facilities in the form of pastoral care and tutorial systems that support these young people in loco parentis, helping them to catch up on their socialisation and building their self-confidence, as well as learning specific skills. This may be their last chance.
I ask the Minister to agree to the inclusion in the Bill of a clear statement that further education institutions will have these duties. Following points I made at Second Reading the Minister was kind enough to write to me about all the things the Government are doing in respect of effective PSHE. I strongly commend the Government on what they are doing, but I think there remains a need to express clearly in this Bill the objectives of further education.
We support what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, have had to say on the provision of students’ faith needs. Many colleges already have chaplaincies, but we feel that this provision should be available to all students. Spiritual and moral care brings enormous benefits to a student body and is a long established part of higher education. The lack of statutory spiritual direction for FE colleges is an anomaly, and I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to the right reverend Prelate and will take on board these arguments.
I should like to say a few words in support of the arguments put forward by the right reverend Prelate. It is strange that where the Bill states that its purpose is to do this, that and the other—one of which is to make provision for institutions within the further education sector—it is not possible within the scope of this legislation to deal with the issues raised here. I agree that most of it is about financial and technical matters. But, as I read it, the purpose of the Bill should enable this to be covered. It is not a case of the faith groups versus the rest. At Second Reading, I was particularly impressed, and said so, that the humanists are on the list. This is not about religion, it is about the well-being of the whole human being. It would be a pity if this could not be considered because it is outside the scope of the Bill.
In response to the right reverend Prelate, we believe that further education colleges should take the moral and spiritual well-being of students seriously. Indeed, the great majority of them do, but we believe that it should be taken seriously by all colleges. However, we do not think that imposing a wide-ranging duty on the Learning and Skills Council or FE colleges is an appropriate way forward. Young people at college are young adults. Their needs are different to pre-16 learners. Because it is difficult to separate out the general duties of a school for pre- and post-16 learners, the general duty in the Education and Inspections Act in respect of schools applies to school sixth forms. But we do not believe that it is appropriate to impose this same duty on all post-16 institutions which do not have students below the age of 16. This issue is best addressed on a non-statutory basis. Indeed, it is being so addressed by all the partners engaged in the faith communities and further education.
A good deal is already happening in FE to encourage and support colleges meeting spiritual and faith needs. A range of guidance has been produced, including guidance to leaders in further education on their responsibilities and specific guidance on multi-faith chaplaincy services, an issue raised by the noble Baroness. In addition, the draft statutory guidance for colleges on consulting learners and employers reinforces this point. This supports Clause 21 and has been made available in advance to Members of the Committee. It includes a section on consulting learners about their faith and spiritual needs. We believe that strengthening the learner voice is a critical way of achieving our shared objectives in this area.
However, I should like to add an important rider to my response so far. As the right reverend Prelate may be aware, the National Ecumenical Agency in Further Education is carrying out a national review of opportunities for spiritual and moral development in the further education sector. It will review current provision, make an assessment of the needs of students in further education in relation to spiritual and moral development and will propose a framework for meeting these needs. We look forward to receiving the National Ecumenical Agency’s report later in the year and we will consider any further national initiatives or policy that are appropriate when we have considered that report. I should add that we would welcome the views of the right reverend Prelate, his fellow Bishops and other noble Lords when this report is available.
On a technical point, there is a difference between saying something is not necessary and something is not possible. The advice that has been given, apparently, is that it is not possible. The Minister is arguing that it is not necessary. Does he accept that none the less technically it would be possible to amend the Bill?
There is no way in which I would want off-the-cuff to address an issue on which I would need to take advice from the House authorities on whether it is possible. In my experience, if something is necessary, one way or another, we could find a way to do it, but it may not be possible in this Bill because we are told that the scope of the Bill would need to be enlarged. However, I will let the noble Lord know when we have taken advice.
I sought to respond to the noble Lord when I replied to the right reverend Prelate. I took his remarks to concern the spiritual and moral purpose of further education, the issue raised by the right reverend Prelate. However, if there are points which I did not cover, I would be happy to respond.
I am afraid that there are several points. I am more concerned about disadvantaged pupils being prepared for the challenges and opportunities of adult life, which is the second half of Section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988. While I shall not repeat all that I said, I shall briefly cover my remarks. Now that we are looking at 14 year-olds coming into further education because they have fallen out of the school system, I want to stress that nine times out of 10 the reason they have done so is because of problems within their families. They have not had the degree of socialisation they needed in order to be able to cope with the school system. If they come into further education, who is going to support them? Many of these young people do not have solid families behind them. They are alone. After going to class, they go back on to the street. This is a superb opportunity to help these young people and I want to see some provision made in the Bill to ensure that further education colleges will help them.
I take the points made by the noble Lord and I will reply to them more fully, but it should be made absolutely clear that in respect of 14 to 16 year-olds who may spend part of their time in a further education college, it is a requirement that they must still be based in a school. The school has responsibility for their pastoral care and they will not spend more than a minority of their time in an FE college. I should emphasise this because it is important to understand the relationship between FE colleges and students below the age of 16. FE colleges do not take responsibility for the pastoral care or organisation of that provision to 14 to 16 year-olds. That is not to say that they should not regard themselves as under duties to promote well-being, but the statutory responsibility of promoting the pastoral well-being of students of this age resides with the school, on whose roll these students will remain. The school is expected to exercise in full the duties in respect of these students.
That is a profound problem in the education service that we are seeking to address using the measures we have to tackle truancy to ensure that pupils attend school. But alas this is a social problem which would not be addressed any more by imposing these duties on FE colleges.
I thank the Minister for his reply. As always he shows great sympathy for the issues raised from the Bench of Bishops. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for their support and the points they contributed to the debate. I have to confess that I am slightly disappointed with what the Minister has said, but remain intrigued by the possibilities that have now arisen. I look forward to hearing the results of the little inquiry that will be going on within his team. Meanwhile, on behalf of my colleagues on the Bench of Bishops, I hope that the discussions will continue and I look forward to later debates when we can address these issues again. For the moment, I withdraw my opposition to the Question that this clause should stand part of the Bill.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 [Consultation by the Council]:
33: Clause 7 , page 6, line 30, after “receive” insert “part-time or full-time”
The noble Baroness said: Clause 7 concerns consultation procedures. Amendment No. 33 seeks to ensure that such consultation as takes place with students includes part-time as well as full-time students. As drafted, the clause does not specify this, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that there is no question of part-time students being ignored. But it is worth reminding the Committee that eight out of 10 students in further education colleges are adults, many of them studying part-time on day release or in the evening, and are therefore often a somewhat less visible presence in FE colleges than the young people on full-time day courses. Part-time students are an important constituency for further education and it is vital that they be consulted.
Amendment No. 35 adds a rider to this consultation process and leaves the door open for consultation with other groups besides students and employers, both of whom are specified in Clause 7. In particular, it is surely sensible also to consult those who deliver our system of further education; that is, the teachers and lecturers who form the backbone of the labour force in further education colleges. There has been a tendency to ignore the voice of those who are now pejoratively called “producer interests”. They not only are often the main deliverers of the service, but, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned, they also bear the brunt of the funding gap that exists between schools and colleges. Partly as a result of the funding gap, many of these teachers and lecturers face larger teaching loads and their salaries are often lower than those of their counterparts in schools.
However, there are two good reasons why they should be consulted about developments in further education. First, in schools, the Government have recognised that the quality of education will not improve unless there is a dialogue between the DfES, the employers and the teacher unions on raising standards. This dialogue has successfully delivered a mechanism for continuing professional development for teachers, which understands the many forms of training that can be adopted—not just going on courses. This contrasts with the approach in further education where the Government have proposed a blanket requirement for continuing professional development (CPD) of 30 hours a year without any regard to the experience, expertise or effectiveness of practice in that sector.
Secondly, the new specialist diplomas that will come on stream in 2008, which are the key to the Government’s drive to improve the skills base of the nation, will require further education teachers and lecturers to be able to adopt appropriate pedagogical practices to meet the needs and maturity levels of students in the 14 to 16 age range who they have not traditionally been teaching. Neither the Bill nor the Foster report mention pedagogy, but in this respect CPD will be vital.
A third group, the voluntary sector, merits some input into any consultation process. A significant amount of specialist post-16 education and training is delivered by voluntary organisations such as the WEA or is delivered with substantial advice and guidance from such organisations as the RNIB, Scope and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. This reflects the enormous range and circumstances of older learners. If they are excluded from consultations with the LSC, their expertise on these specialised subjects would be missed. In conclusion, these two amendments would extend the process of consultation to a number of groups which in other respects may be ignored by the Learning and Skills Council. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has mentioned three very important groups—part-time students, the very hard-working staff in our FE colleges and those in the voluntary sector who deliver so very much in this country. I cannot believe for one moment that they would not be consulted.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said, part-time students are the lifeblood of many colleges. Sections 2 and 3 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 make it clear that post-16 education and training includes full-time and part-time students. A draft of the statutory guidance which this clause proposes that the LSC must have regard to in consulting employers and learners has been made available to the Committee. This guidance is intended to cover both full-and part-time learners, but I am happy to look again at whether this should be made explicit in the guidance. In our view, it would be hard to interpret it in any way that did not include part-timers, but I will look again at that specific issue.
In addition to the statutory guidance, the LSC will publish its own guidance for all further education providers on developing learner involvement strategies. That will include examples of good practice on learner consultation. The LSC is also developing the framework for excellence, which will monitor the responsiveness of providers to learners and employers. Through its consultation with partner bodies, surveys of learners, and with the input from the learner panels, the LSC will seek and obtain the views and active participation of the full range of learners and the range of different modes of learning. That will include, in an absolutely central way, part-timers.
We have considerable sympathy with the intention behind Amendment No. 35, but we are not clear what it would add in practice. The Learning and Skills Council, in exercising its existing functions, already widely consults a number of organisations responsible for employment, development, education and skills, such as local authorities and regional development authorities, and we are keen to see that continue. Clause 7 is intended to ensure that those who benefit from our investment in learning have their voices heard in matters that affect them. This clause imposes an express duty on the LSC to have regard to guidance about it. However, beyond those chief categories of learners and employers, we feel that it should be for the LSC to decide whom to consult, having regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State. At the moment, we are not persuaded that putting further categories in the Bill would be appropriate.
I am not persuaded by that argument. I cannot see what harm is being done. As the noble Lord said, the Bill refers to “must have regard to”, so it is not imposing an obligation to consult those bodies, though they would have to take into account what the Minister says. I cannot quite see the logic of his argument.
The question is whether it is necessary. We regard the Learning and Skills Council as a competent body to decide which further categories it should consult, over and above those key, essential categories of learners and employers. As I said, I will happily reflect further on the remarks of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to see whether we think it is appropriate to make further changes.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I had expected him to say very firmly that part-time students were included in the category in proposed new subsection (1)(a). Amendment No. 35 does not specify this. I suggested that two groups that may be considered were employees—teachers and lecturers—on one hand, and voluntary organisations on the other. We were suggesting widening the terms of the consultation a little bit by adding,
“such other bodies as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
Perhaps the Minister is saying that he does not think the Secretary of State should lay down whom the LSC should consult; he thinks the LSC should decide for itself whom it consults. Nevertheless, Clause 7 refers to,
“guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State”,
and it might be that the Secretary of State wishes to remind the LSC that there are a number of partners and stakeholders in the process that might be consulted. It seems to me that it is a relatively innocuous amendment, and it might be one that the noble Lord would incorporate.
36: After Clause 9 , insert the following new Clause—
In section 25 of LSA 2000 (directions), in subsection (6), after “Directions” insert “with respect to powers conferred or duties imposed on the Council by or under this Act”.”
The noble Lord said: We have set out our expectation that, in the normal course of events, the Learning and Skills Council will be responsible deciding whether to establish or dissolve further education institutions. We believe that those activities sit firmly within the LSC’s planning activities. We have, however, included in the Bill provision for the Secretary of State to intervene and to direct the Learning and Skills Council regarding its powers and duties under Sections 16 and 27 to establish and dissolve further education corporations. We want to ensure that the Secretary of State retains a reserve power to act; and we would be rightly criticised if legislation were drafted leaving the Secretary of State powerless to act in cases as important as these.
However, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee raised concerns about the loss of parliamentary scrutiny as a result of the transfer of the Secretary of State's powers to establish and dissolve institutions to the Learning and Skills Council. In particular, the committee was concerned about the lack of constraint on the Secretary of State’s power to direct the Learning and Skills Council in the exercise of its order-making powers, with the LSC being obliged to comply with any such directions.
In response to those concerns, we have tabled the amendment. We now propose that Clause 16, which sets out broad powers to enable the Secretary of State to direct the LSC in relation to the establishment or dissolution of further education corporations, should not stand part of the Bill. Instead, we propose to use the Secretary of State's existing powers of direction set out in Section 25 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 as amended by this clause.
The amendment will ensure that only where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the Learning and Skills Council has acted or proposes to act unreasonably can he issue a direction to it in relation to the exercise of its powers under Sections 16 or 27 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Accordingly, the Secretary of State would be able to intervene by making a direction only where he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to do so. That is a significant change in the way in which the power is framed and is a direct response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I hope that the Committee will find it welcome. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clauses 10 to 12 agreed to.