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Sector Skills Councils

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what research within the Sector Skills Development Agency has been undertaken which reviews the occupational synergy between the gas, water, electricity and telecommunications industries;

John Healey: Sector skills councils (SSCs) will be licensed in sectors where employers want one and the SSC standard is met. The licensing standard is contained in a development guide published in November 2001. A key criterion is for SSCs to have an employment base of economic or strategic significance. The Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) will begin work in April 2002 and therefore has not undertaken any reviews of industry sectors. My Department has not defined the "utilities sector" and is looking to employers to bring forward proposals for sectors that meet the licensing standard and make sense to their industries. A Business Adviser has been allocated to work closely with interested employers to develop their proposals. Any formal expression of interest by employers to form an SSC in the utilities sector will be considered by the SSDA.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will make a statement on the implementation of sector skills councils and the arrangements to secure comprehensive coverage of all industrial, commercial, public and voluntary sectors of employment. [37303]

John Healey: Following our announcement of Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) in October 2001 we have made good progress in implementing this important UK skills

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and productivity initiative. A development guide was published in November 2001 that sets out the licensing standard for an SSC. Five Trailblazer SSCs have been selected and will be licensed very shortly. The Chair of the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) has been appointed. Other key appointments will be made in the next few weeks. The SSDA will begin work in April 2002 and will consider further proposals from employers to form SSCs.

Sector coverage of the SSC network will depend on employers coming forward with proposals that meet the licensing standard. A fundamental principle is that SSCs will be licensed only in sectors where employers come forward to provide influential leadership to significantly improve skills and productivity performance. The SSDA will be responsible for ensuring that essential industry, business and occupational sector-related work is delivered in support of employers and individuals in sectors without an SSC.

Education and Youth Council

Mr. Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the outcome was of the Education and Youth Council held in Brussels on 14 February; what the Government's position was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [37298]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: I represented the UK at the Education and Youth Council on 14 February.

The Council adopted a detailed work programme, setting out priority areas in educational policy for exchanging good practice and co-operative working between member states. The priorities follow on from the report on "Concrete Future Objectives of Education and Training Systems" presented to the Stockholm European Council in March 2001. The detailed work programme was adopted with little debate, and will be presented to the Barcelona European Council in March 2002.

The Council received information from the Commission on: its communication to the Barcelona European Council 'The Lisbon Strategy—making change happen'; its newly-published action plan on skills and mobility; and its proposal to extend the TEMPUS programme to include countries that border the Mediterranean.

The Council discussed the Commission's communication on "Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning". The UK supported the communication's practical proposals, and its commitment to maintaining the focus on the goals agreed at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000. I stressed the need to ensure coherence between the various strands of European level work in this area in order to support member states effectively in developing their lifelong learning policies.

The Council debated the Commission's white paper "A new impetus for European Youth" and adopted conclusions that stress the need to include the youth dimension in national and European policies, the need to reach out and include young people, and the need to ensure that co-operation at European level is flexible and respects national diversity. The UK emphasised the need to clarify the processes for taking forward this work at European level. We recognise the benefits of learning from other countries in this area and the need to include

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and consult all young people, including the most disengaged, to ensure that relevant policies meet their needs and aspirations as far as possible.

A copy of the council minutes will be placed in the Library in due course.

Skills Shortages

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will provide a breakdown of skills shortages in each region of the UK. [37592]

John Healey: The collection of such data in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is a matter for the respective devolved administrations. The Employer Skills Survey 2001, commissioned by the Department shows that, on average, 3.6 per cent. of employers in England reported skills shortage vacancies 1 , whilst the figures for employers in each region were as follows:

Business Skills

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what training provision is made to meet the needs of small and medium enterprises. [37593]

John Healey: Much of the support for small and medium sized enterprises is provided through the Learning and Skills Council, which has an overall budget this year of 7.3 billion. Local LSCs will contract with small business service franchisees to provide advice to small and medium sized enterprises on workforce development services including support for Investors in People, access to Modern Apprenticeships and management development. In addition, the Department has provided the Learning and Skills Council with a specific workforce development budget of £48 million in the current financial year.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will take steps to incorporate entrepreneurship and business skills as an integral part of the curriculum from primary school through secondary, further and higher education. [37591]

John Healey: We are already taking steps to ensure that young people gain a knowledge and understanding of entrepreneurship and business skills.

Since assuming responsibility in April 2001, the Learning and Skills Council has, through education business links consortiums, formed partnerships with businesses and schools to help pupils gain key skills that prepare them for the world of work.

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Entrepreneurship and business skills are already promoted via a range of subjects in schools—including mathematics, science, design and technology, citizenship and personal, social and health education.

We recently published the Green Paper "14–19: extending opportunities and raising standards". Our proposals will deliver a range of high quality, high status academic, vocational/technical and mixed options, covering entrepreneurship and business skills among others.

The independent Review of Enterprise and the Economy in Education, chaired by Sir Howard Davies whose report was published on 14 February, made a series of recommendations about how to promote understanding of the economy and enterprise throughout the school and further education system. We are considering the recommendations within the broader outcome of the spending review process and our other priorities in the education system, not least the 14–19 Green Paper.

We announced in November 2001 that the Department would be providing £1 million over 2002–04 to put in place arrangements with the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Learning and Teaching Support Network for the embedding of work-related skills more widely in HE provision. Negotiations are at an early stage but the work will include the embedding of entrepreneurial skills as well as other generic and vocational skills.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will introduce company learning accounts alongside individual learning accounts. [37589]

John Healey: It is too early to say exactly what form a replacement ILA-style scheme will take or what other arrangements may be introduced alongside the new scheme. Representatives of companies both large and small are being interviewed as part of the current stakeholder consultation exercise, which will report in April.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will introduce fiscal incentives to encourage small businesses to invest in training. [37595]

John Healey: Fiscal incentives are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Chancellor announced in his pre-Budget report in November pilot activity to test how financial incentives can support employers and individuals to tackle the problem of poor basic skills and attainment to an initial level 2 qualification.

The pilots will test out provision of free tuition, offering compensation to employers for releasing employees for training. The pilots will use a grant-based system and employers will be asked to volunteer to take part.

Local Learning and Skills Councils will run the pilots and we expect to announce the pilot areas in April 2002, with learning opportunities beginning in September.

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