Skip to main content

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (Consequential Amendments) (England and Wales) Order 2010

Volume 718: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (Consequential Amendments) (England and Wales) Order 2010.

Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

In opening the debate, I should like briefly to set out what this and the second order seek to do. The draft Local Education Authorities and Children’s Services Authorities (Integration of Functions) Order 2010 will bring primary legislation into line with current policy and practice, and thus I hope remove any scope for confusion. Since the Children Act 2004, the separate local authority departments responsible for education and for children’s social care have been integrated under a single director of children’s services. This renders the term “local education authority” obsolete in law. The order removes references to the term “local education authority” and to the term “children’s services authority”, which was introduced by the Children Act 2004. They are replaced with the single term “local authority”. This brings the terminology used in primary legislation into line with current policy and practice. I hope the Committee will agree that these changes, which have the support of the Local Government Association, are sensible.

As your Lordships will know, however, the term “local education authority” has a long history in primary legislation. In the vast majority of cases, replacing “local education authority” with “local authority” is straightforward, but in some cases this has not been possible. For example, some provisions in the Children Act 1989 would now read that “the local authority should consult the local authority”. The intention of the Act when originally passed was probably to ensure that staff in local authority education departments worked closely with their colleagues in local authority children’s social services. We have, of course, dealt with this through the Children Act 2004, which created the post of director of children’s services responsible for both. So where the effect would now be that the local authority is instructed to consult the local authority, we have repealed the relevant provision or made it clear that it applies only to consultation between different authorities.

In addition, there are several cases which refer to the functions of a local education authority. If the expression was just changed to the “functions of a local authority”, it might include everything a local authority does. To deal with this, we have introduced the concept of the “education functions of the local authority”. This mirrors the existing concept of the “social services functions of the local authority” and enables us to dispense with the term “local education authority” without changing the meaning of the original legislation. The bulk of the order deals with anomalies such as these. However, the intention is clear: to retain the original meaning by using terminology that is current and relatively accessible.

The second order that we are considering today is the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (Consequential Amendments) (England and Wales) Order 2010. This order is necessary and is a technical part of the parliamentary process that was set in train by the passage of the Act in November 2009. It made provision for the replacement of the Learning and Skills Council with two new systems that will drive forward pre-19 and post-19 education and skills. These changes will take effect from 1 April 2010, and the draft consequential amendments order will provide for the further consequential amendments to primary legislation not covered by the Act.

The draft consequential amendments order repeals all remaining references to the Learning and Skills Council for England set out in primary legislation and replaces them with references to the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency and local authorities, whichever is the appropriate body.

As noble Lords will be aware, the 2009 Act also creates a new sixth-form college sector, providing a mechanism for existing further education corporations to be redesignated as sixth-form college corporations and allowing the establishment of new sixth-form college corporations to run institutions that cater mainly for those of sixth-form age.

The consequential amendments order will make the necessary amendments to primary legislation that are consequential to these reforms. In particular, it will amend legislation to replace references to further education corporations with references to sixth-form college corporations or sixth-form colleges, where appropriate, and ensure that existing legislation recognises the new sixth-form college sector.

Finally, the order makes technical amendments to the Childcare Act 2006. These are needed to give full effect to Section 199 of the 2009 Act, which inserted provisions into the Childcare Act about inspection of children’s centres by Ofsted. The order amends the Childcare Act so that the definitions of the terms “prescribed” and “regulations” in the Act apply to the new regulation-making powers about children’s centre inspections.

I thank the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Merits Committee for considering these draft regulations. Subject to parliamentary approval, we intend to bring this order into force at the same time as the main provisions of the 2009 Act, on 1 April 2010. We intend the integration of functions order to come into force five weeks after it is signed, at the same time as another order amending subordinate legislation. That order is a negative resolution. I commend the order to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the orders. As its Explanatory Memorandum states, the draft Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (Consequential Amendments) (England and Wales) Order 2010, on which I shall focus my remarks, gives effect to the abolition of the Learning and Skills Council, as foreshadowed by the Act. The LSC was indeed a bureaucratic and inefficient organisation, but its replacement with no less than three new quangos—the YPLA, the SFA and now the NAS—does not, as we repeatedly said during the passage of the Bill, give us cause to expect a great rolling back of that bureaucracy.

We set out during the debates on the Bill how we would have preferred this to be done, and I shall not dwell on that today, save to say that our proposals would have led to a much more effective and streamlined system. However, I have questions on four areas of the order. First, the Government claimed in their impact assessments during the passage of the Bill that their proposal to replace the LSC with the new quangos would be cost-neutral. Can the Minister therefore update us with the latest estimates in that regard? Is she still confident that the measure is cost-neutral? If so, does that remain the case when the additional burden falling on local authorities under the Bill is taken into account?

Secondly, I notice in the final sentence of section 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum the statement:

“This instrument provides for amendments to primary legislation, not already covered by the Act”.

Can the Minister kindly confirm to the Committee that such changes are none the less authorised by a catch-all section in the Act allowing consequential changes or is there something more that we should know about?

Thirdly—this relates to Part 2 of Schedule 1—we are concerned to ensure that the sixth-form colleges to which the Minister referred retain their autonomy and independence, that they can specialise and achieve excellence in specific subjects and that they continue to attract people from a wider area than purely within their local authority’s area. What assurance can the Minister give me on this?

Fourthly and finally, as she said, the order also makes changes to the Childcare Act 2006 to give effect to Section 199 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act. That section expands the powers of Ofsted to allow it to inspect children’s centres. Can the Minister assure the Committee that this exercise will be properly co-ordinated and is not just another layer of bureaucracy and that Ofsted is sufficiently expert to carry out this function?

My Lords, I support these orders. They are very helpful. I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. The Government have done well to bring the orders forward in the manner in which they have been presented. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for her painstaking introduction. It is the case that British industry will die unless Governments of all complexions continue to smooth the progress of apprenticeships and skills. The 2009 Act concerning apprenticeships and skills is of high importance.

Ministers deserve credit for their investment in and reform of the training industry. It is clear that this investment will help to support what remains of Britain’s industries, particularly manufacturing. If our nation is to retain its standing in the industrial first rank, investment in apprenticeships and skills is of paramount importance. I acknowledge the increasingly important roles in training played by colleges of further education, sixth forms and universities. There is a massive input by our companies and enterprises, large and small, in England and Wales.

Surely, this order concerning skills and apprenticeships will make the work of the interested parties in factories, offices, colleges and universities easier and even more successful. In another place, for more than 30 years, it was my duty to follow the fortunes of the skills industry, the aerospace industry and manufacturing generally, whether in debates, by Questions or by deputations. One of the biggest manufacturing industries in the United Kingdom is the aerospace industry. It earns billions of pounds, perhaps £7 billion a year now, in exports. In the aerospace industry in England and Wales, there is great investment in apprenticeships and skills. As a result, despite global downturns, there is much skilled employment and considerable prosperity, and I pay tribute in this field of employment to the now famous European company, Airbus UK. Its large plant at Filton, Bristol, has high standing and employs several thousand highly skilled employees, and it always invests in apprenticeships and skills. The newest Airbus project, an airliner—the A350—will use composite materials for wing manufacture in this country. It will therefore require even more skills and even more apprenticeships. The workforce will move into new technological territory with the use of composites. This is now the only way forward for the aerospace industry, and our universities and colleges are in the vanguard.

The corresponding Airbus plant in north-east Wales is in Flintshire in a town called Broughton. More than 6,000 highly skilled operatives on site produce the wings of the world’s high-class airliners such as the A320, the A330, the A340—the Airbus series overall—and, not least, the world’s largest airliner, the super-jumbo A380, a double-decker machine. There are more than 600 apprentices at this plant, including school leavers, mature entrants and graduates. The plant would not prosper without investment in apprenticeships and skills. Filton and Broughton Airbus airliners are showing world-class skills. They are outselling and outproducing the great competitors, such as the mighty Boeing company, out of sight, and are earning billions of pounds per year for our country. This is because of their long-term investment as industrial sites in apprenticeships and skills. The plant at Broughton pumps £7 million per week into the economies of Chester, Cheshire, the north-west, and north-east Wales, and is one of the greatest success stories in Britain’s recent manufacturing history—indeed, since World War Two ended—and the A380, the greatest airliner that is now flying, is arguably the biggest European engineering venture since the Channel Tunnel.

Finally, and consequently, I pay tribute to the retiring senior vice-president of manufacturing, Mr Brian Fleet, CBE, who is the leader of Airbus UK. He has quite brilliantly led a wonderful team in Bristol and in north Wales that is based on apprenticeships and skills. Indeed, he was an apprentice at the Broughton plant. His rise has been remarkable, and he is renowned throughout Europe as a plane-maker, a leader of apprentices and an investor in skills and training. At Filton and Broughton, Britain has a world-class, cutting-edge, profitable and successful aerospace venture that is based on high skills.

The orders are to be welcomed. Surely, they will enhance British manufacturing via skills. Mr Fleet’s management and union teams have collaborated brilliantly to rise to every challenge in engineering, and they are helping Britain to keep her lead in employment in the aerospace industry. The apprenticeship and skills order is an England and Wales order and I would therefore appreciate a few words from the Minister concerning its impact on Wales in the knowledge that the Governments in London and Cardiff always collaborate.

My Lords, I am sure that my fellow residents of north-east Wales will be fascinated to read the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jones, in the local newspaper.

To return to the order, I want to clarify that I intend to speak first to the apprenticeships order, which appears first on the Order Paper, although the Minister spoke to it second. It is relatively uncontroversial but, like the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, I want to ask her about the promise that was made when the Bill, now an Act, went through Parliament, that when we moved from the LSC to the alphabet soup of the YPLA, the SFA, the NAS and the CESF—and maybe others that I have forgotten—the change would be cost-neutral and there would not be recruitment of many more staff to carry out their functions. Will the Government assure us today that they are still on track to deliver that at no increased cost?

On the local education authorities order, as the Minister said, it is mainly a matter of terminology. On a matter relating to the terminology, though, it is important that children’s services directors have the appropriate expertise in both education and children’s social services. Many local authorities have chosen to have a deputy with expertise in each of those areas, and I wonder how the Government are keeping an eye on that to ensure that local authorities have that expertise at the very top level in the line of management of the children’s services director. I am concerned that those two senior directors or deputy directors should talk to each other and have the opportunity to communicate. We cannot assume that they do, even though they may be in the same local authority building.

I am particularly concerned about children in custody in another authority and about children with disabilities who perhaps have been placed in special provision in a different authority but for whom the local authority still has responsibility. It is important that aspects of their care and education are worked on together in a cohesive way by each local authority. There is very little to say otherwise about these orders.

My Lords, I welcome the orders. I know that they cover England and Wales, but I want to mention that in my native city of Glasgow there is an excellent project taking place with the building services department—or City Building, as it is now called—where pupils as young as 14 are allowed to come from local schools into workshops and participate in pre-apprentice training. This has had a positive effect in the schools. The head teachers tell me that it has helped with discipline; when young boys or girls are behaving badly, they can be told that they are not going to go to City Building if they misbehave. They like the idea of being in a grown-up environment and learning from craftsmen and craftswomen in a way that is almost like mentoring. If they show promise, then by the time they are ready to leave school at 16, they can be offered apprenticeships as electricians, plasterers, bricklayers and carpenters. All these are trades that mean that these young people, once they become journeymen, can move easily into self-employment. Perhaps we can look at this for local authorities south of the border. It is an excellent scheme and has been very successful.

I hope we do not lose sight of the fact that many young men and women leave school and, perhaps because they did not get much guidance from their parents or because of economic circumstances, then go into unskilled jobs. As time goes on and they reach their mid-20s or even later, they regret the fact that they do not have a trade or an apprenticeship in order to learn one. These are adults who have been in other areas of work, but find that because they are unskilled, they have great difficulty finding employment. If they are willing to make the sacrifice to become adult apprentices, we should give them every encouragement. After all, if people in their 20s or 30s want to go to university, we encourage them to do that, so why do we not support them if they want to become engineers, welders or metalworkers by taking up the kind of apprenticeship that I served? However, I must say that the catering industry is very good about taking on adult apprentices, so I hope that the engineering and building industries would also be willing to do so if they were given the right encouragement by the Government.

It is a great thing that the Government are getting involved in ensuring that people can serve apprenticeships. They are an investment in young people’s futures because they will have a skill within four or five years of leaving school. They can be self-sufficient, raise a family and become a credit to the community.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate on the merits of these statutory instruments, and I hope that I can respond to many of the questions that have been put. I shall start by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Martin. I would like to call him “my noble friend”, but he sits on the Cross Benches in the tradition of former Speakers of the House of Commons. We listened with great interest to his comments about the experience of City Building in Glasgow, and on the importance of adult apprenticeships and the contribution they can make. We all appreciate the difficulties faced by those who leave school without the qualifications that they find they want later in life, and we need to respond to the real challenges posed by a globalised economy through promoting the improvement of skills in our workforce. It is important that we get it right for young people, but we must not leave behind adults who want to upskill. That is why my noble friend Lord Young is deeply committed to promoting apprenticeships across the age spectrum from initial training that is suitable for 14 year-olds right up to advanced apprenticeships. It might be helpful for us to write to the noble Lord setting out the Government’s work on apprenticeships and ensuring that the department is aware of the examples that he has helpfully explained to us.

My noble friend Lord Jones also shared with us his wealth of experience and perspective, particularly in manufacturing and the contribution of Airbus and the aerospace industry. Given his expertise and experience, it is very important that we take note of his contribution. I agree with him about the importance of the contribution of Airbus UK in Bristol and in Flintshire. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also has personal experience of its contribution. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord's remarks. I am sure that the senior vice-president, a former apprentice himself from Broughton, will also be interested to read his remarks.

I would say that although the detailed impact on Wales of the statutory instruments is slight, because much of education is devolved, there are minor changes that will affect Wales. For example, in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, there will be a slight amendment in paragraphs 91 and 73 of Schedule 1. So there is an impact on Wales, but the impact of government policy—investing in skills and working with the Assembly Government—is much greater.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked about the cost of the changes. I offer them the reassurance that we have seen a very clear value-for-money case in setting up the arrangements. We debated this in full when we considered the Act in Committee. As we know, there will be short-term costs in reducing the premises of the estate of the LSE, currently estimated at about £36.8 million, but they are still expected to be offset by savings in the medium term. There will also be one-off costs of £3 million to standardise the terms of transfer to local authorities, and £3 million for pensions. We have talked about all that in previous debates.

I reiterate that, over time, those changes are expected to generate net annual savings of £17 million from rationalisation of premises, IT, shared services and streamlined contracting and data collection processes. The new system is expected to be revenue-neutral for providers, with prudential savings through reduced bureaucracy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked for specific assurances on the question of staff numbers. I assure her that no additional staff are being recruited, other than to fill vacancies, which we would expect, in respect of functions that are transferring from the LSE to other bodies. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was very concerned that we do not create additional unnecessary administration. The Skills Funding Agency will work further to simplify systems—I know that the noble Lord is concerned about that—for example, for colleges and for training organisations, including through the single account management process and the approved college and training organisation register.

I know that we have discussed this before, but it will work co-operatively with the YPLA and local authorities to manage the interdependencies with pre-19 learning and with the Information Authority to improve data collection and dissemination through the further education data service. There is a clear focus on streamlining.

There will be a single commissioning dialogue for 14-to-19 learning. Providers currently have to engage with both the LSC and local authorities on 14-to-19 learning. In future, they will need to engage only with the lead commissioning authorities. That is a clear step forward.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, also asked about authority in the 2009 Act. The consequential amendments order is authorised by Section 265 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act. The Delegated Powers Committee would have looked at those delegations to ensure that they were appropriate. That is one reason why we are having a debate on an affirmative resolution. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was looking for a reiteration of the assurances that we gave in Committee on the independence of sixth-form colleges. He asked whether they would maintain their autonomy. I will reassure the noble Lord. The designation of sixth-form colleges as corporations will not change their independent status. They will remain incorporated colleges run by their college corporation, not by the local authority. They will remain responsible for all issues of staffing, premises, curriculum and finance. Local authorities will commission and fund 16-to-19 provision generally, and will performance-manage sixth-form colleges. However, noble Lords know that these sixth-form colleges are very high-performing institutions. The local authority's remit will not run beyond that performance management.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was also concerned about how Ofsted will go about inspecting children's centres. That is a matter for Ofsted. The statutory instruments are designed to ensure that the technical adjustments are made to the relevant powers so that Ofsted can make its inspections with the right regulations in place. The noble Lord is right: we want to ensure that Ofsted inspections are properly co-ordinated and that it has the appropriate expertise in place to undertake meaningful inspections. That is not something that we can achieve through legislation—Ofsted must achieve it through good management and leadership.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about the importance of co-ordination between education and children's services. That issue was behind the Children Act 2004. The question is one of leadership. The job of director of children’s services is a big one, and there are many extremely successful leaders in that role. We in the department have been particularly keen to promote the leaders of the future, and, through the National College for School Leadership, to encourage and promote the leadership skills that we want to see in key roles. With the establishment of children's trust boards and a more holistic approach to looking at the delivery of child-centred services, the requirement for people in these key positions to work together becomes even more acute. As the noble Baroness suggests, it is essential that they work together, and we are doing what we need to in order to ensure that they have the skills and leadership to do that.

I thank noble Lords for taking part in this short debate. It has allowed us to look at some of the important policy issues behind the legislation. I commend this consequential and technical order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.