Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 580-599)

JOHN HEALEY, MP

WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002

Ms Munn

  580. Minister, you have already mentioned when we were talking about basic skills issues that that brings up people within prison, and we have known for many years the kind of educational background, skills and abilities that are often found among people in prison. We have also known for a long time issues about the inability to access work because the lack of skills is a key part of the recidivism. Is there currently a joint vision between the Home Office and the DfES on where prison education is going?
  (John Healey) There certainly is a joint vision beginning to emerge. It is early days in the degree of the new working arrangements that we have got. Members of the Committee will be aware that funding for prison education now comes via the DfES for the first time this year.

Chairman

  581. And the inspectorate arrangements.
  (John Healey) And the inspectorate arrangements are like those for any other part of the post-16 learning, principally led by adult learning especially, that is correct. That gives us a very direct stake for the first time. The impact of the direct input from the education and learning point of view will be seen next year and in successive years. Jointly Beverley Hughes and I are responsible for the Prison Service Learning Unit that has been set up. At the moment we are finalising together the work plans and programmes that we want to see happening in prison education. Aligned with that there is an increase in the resources which also for the first time are ring fenced within the Prison Service so that education funding cannot be diverted elsewhere. It is £56 million this year and by 2003/2004 it will be £68 million which is quite a significant increase.

Ms Munn

  582. I accept that it is early days, but my experience in working with one particular prison previously was that the priority that is given to education over other aspects of the prison regime, whether that is discipline issues which clearly have to be maintained, is often down to particular prison governors and the way they approach that. Have you had discussions with the Home Office about the importance of developing a culture within the Prison Service which values education for prisoners specifically because it is so crucial to this issue of recidivism?
  (John Healey) Yes, those discussions are going on. You are right to point to it. It is key, not just providing it but being able to do so in a context where education is seen as part of the proper system in prison. It is also the case, however, that for many of those in prison education is not something that they readily want to embrace. In my view part of the challenge we have in embedding education more firmly in the prison system will be to embed learning in some of the other activities that prisoners are more keen to do, such as the gyms, the workshops and the catering. Particularly on the basic skills side, if we can embed some of the learning in those sorts of activities rather than simply as some prefab classroom that is a separate part of the prison and therefore requires a step which is taking up education from the prisoner's point of view, we have a much greater chance of having the sort of impact we need to have.

Chairman

  583. Could not basic skills be emphasised by even being part of the sentence or a condition of parole—"If you do not get your GCSEs you do not get out of prison"?
  (John Healey) We had quite a fierce debate in the House in the summer about setting up the legal grounds for a pilot that would allow us to make it a requirement as part of the job seeking system. That is a step I had not considered, I must say.

  Chairman: When you think that the Home Secretary recently sent to every Member of Parliament data pointing out that 50 per cent of crime is carried out by 100,000 people, targeting 100,000 people with basic skills and giving them the opportunity of a job might be a very valuable investment.

Mr Turner

  584. We have got the Home Office, the individual governors, the DfES and the Prison Service. Who does what?
  (John Healey) The Home Office with DfES are responsible for policy that we want to pursue and developments we want to see within the Prison Service. DfES is largely responsible for the funding stream to support those developments. The Prison Service is a crucial part of helping us make that happen and Martin Narey is a very strong advocate of this approach and this element of prison life. Of course individual governors are going to be quite critical in terms of what they want to see or are prepared to allow to happen within their establishments. Where they are good and they are keen on education it is a great deal easier of course than where they are not.

  585. That does not sound to me as if you have got the levers absolutely in place yet. I have got three prisons. Parkhurst has a splendid record on sports education, for example, but it seems to me that lifers benefit from full sentence planning; most other prisoners do not. They feel, and so do governors sometimes, that they are moved around more or less at random at the whim of the Prison Service and they can be halfway through a particular course of education (if they are lucky enough to get on one) and they go to a prison where that course is not available. Will you ensure that effective sentence planning takes place for every prisoner commencing with a baseline assessment of their educational needs and perhaps extending through a learning plan with clear outcomes into post-release follow-up?
  (John Healey) If I may say so, those are extremely perceptive points and questions. We do not yet have any levers in place. In a sense I think we are really taking the first steps in this field with the strategy that DfES wants to see pursued. It is called sentence planning. It is clearly easier to deal with those prisoners you know you are going to have in one place for a long time. To pick up the Chairman's point, where you have a relatively small group of people who repeatedly commit a large number of the crimes in this country they tend to serve short-time sentences. That makes the challenge of assessing them on entry and providing some support very much more difficult if their stay in an institution is relatively short, particularly if they have spent some time on remand before they get there in the first place. Part of what you might call levers or arrangements that we are now looking at putting in place to try and deal with this group is that we are trying different assessment procedures as part of the basic skills analysis of prisoners when they come in on entry. What we have to do is to ensure that any learning that we can get started on the inside is in some way continued in a similar way on the outside so that the links with the Probation Service on release and the learning provision outside on release is crucial. Secondly, the sort of advice and individuals who deal with a prisoner through their career moving in and out of custody are such that they are seeing different people all the time. One of the Cabinet special sub-groups on re-offending is very concerned to see whether we might not be able to tackle in some way this question of having somebody who might act as a single case mentor or case manager who might be able to follow an individual offender right the way through each stage of the system inside and out. If that is the case that can play a big part in helping us with the learning challenge and, on the other side, if we can improve the basic skills in particular of many of these offenders it will make it easier for them to get work, which will make it easier for them to avoid re-offending as we know from evidence and experience.

  586. Would it help if governors as well as the whole Prison Service had hard targets to improve the basic skills of their inmates? Secondly, do you have clear targets for the Prison Service, and what are they?
  (John Healey) The Prison Service itself has targets for Level 2 learning at present. We are looking as part of our planning for the next few years, because they do not yet have targets for basic skills, at to what degree Prison Service targets as a whole, aggregate targets, could usefully or reasonably be disaggregated down to establishment level. It is a very important suggestion and, if I may say so, I will take that as a small contribution to the discussions we are having.

Paul Holmes

  587. In December some members of the Select Committee met with the Lattice Foundation. One of the interesting projects they talked to us about was one where the gas industry are short of people they can train as fitters, and yet if you train as a fitter you have got virtually a guaranteed job and a good wage. They went along to a prison and worked with some young offenders who trained while in prison and at the end of it they could move out into jobs rather than re-offend because they cannot earn anything. The gas industry are happy; they are getting the trained workers. The Prison Service are happy because it does not cost them anything, and of course the prisoners are happy because they are getting a worthwhile job out of it. Are you aware of that sort of project and is it an area in terms of prison education which you could look to expanding?
  (John Healey) Yes, I am aware of it. In terms of expansion within the prison system I am not certain to what degree we could do that from other sectors but it is worth pursuing. It is very much a sector based initiative, dealing with gas fitters. The national training organisation responsible for that sector was heavily involved in that. What I am aiming to put in place with the new sector skills network, sector skills councils with an underpinning agency, is much more powerful bodies that can develop precisely those sorts of industry and sector specific skills initiatives.

Mr Pollard

  588. As a magistrate some time ago I was at a young offenders centre and the prison governor there was telling me that 70 per cent of his guests could not read and write and his objective was to be able to get them to write a letter home and to read the response—a big job of work to do there. Following on from my colleague, Paul Holmes, are you aware of the FAST programme where Ford at Feltham have a Ka in the prison and they run an apprenticeship scheme where 20 young men are doing apprenticeships now and when they get to the end of their time in the young offender's institution will go and work at Ford approved garages and continue their apprenticeship to the end? Ford did have a difficulty in getting a Ka into the prison in the first instance because the first time they did it three of the guests decided that they would go for a ride outside, and so before it could go in the Ka had to be disabled. I think they have got over that problem. I just wondered whether you were aware of that scheme and perhaps other schemes like gardening or catering that could be included so that people could learn a real skill and it would be good for our economy certainly but, more importantly, good for the individual who would have the self-respect that normally goes along with that?
  (John Healey) No, I was not aware of that particular scheme at Feltham with Ford. I would hope, given the level of literacy and numeracy of his guests, that with the car maintenance and tuition they are building in reading, writing and maths as well, doing very much what I said earlier they need to do, which is not to treat education as something separate but to build it in and embed it into some of the other things that the guests might want to do during their stay.

  Chairman: We have had a bit of fun on that topic, but this Committee takes deadly seriously the 18th century conditions and environment in which many prisoners are kept int this country still today, deprived of education and access. Education must be really taken seriously and we would like to see a real vision transforming what happens to prisoners educationally whilst they are prisoners. Indeed this Committee is discussing looking in more depth at prison education. I was Shadow Home Affairs Minister for four years and visited many prisons and am still appalled by the way we treat them. If you track back the people in prison they will tell you that their educational experience is very much about the deficiencies of the educational sector. However, we now wish to move on and I want to ask you to concentrate your mind on TECs and LSCs. I am going to ask my colleague Jeff to come in on this.

Jeff Ennis

  589. How has the transition gone, Minister, from the TECs to establishing LSCs? Have there been any teething troubles?
  (John Healey) There are two parts to that: how has the wind-up of the TECs gone and how has the establishment of the LSCs gone. Given that this was such a large transition from 72 TECs into a network of 47 LSCs, plus other functions of course that the LSCs have taken on in addition to that, I think it has gone very well. One of the first sessions I had when I became Minister in July was up in Norfolk. I sat down with a team looking at this and I was very impressed at how good a grip they had on it and how smoothly that has gone. I am pretty pleased with both aspects of that. I think it is still early days for the Learning Skills Councils but in a very short time most of them a) have established good relationships with the main providers in their areas, b) are beginning to establish a profile with employers in their area, and c) are in my judgement at a very critical point of their first year, which is that they are all at present, having done some consultation, confirming basically their business plans for the next year or two. That will be I think the telling point in terms of the degree to which they are going to be able to plan, fund and then shape the learning provision in their areas that is required for their areas. In some ways the degree of variation that we get in those plans will be quite an important yardstick for us in assessing how well the LSCs are beginning to establish themselves.

  590. It is the Committee's understanding that one of the main teething areas has been the cost of harmonising the IT and accounting databases for all the different forms of TECs and now the LSCs. Have you got a figure on the actual cost that has been involved in harmonising the systems?
  (John Healey) It is certainly true to say that one of the operational difficulties in the new learning skills network has been with their IT, and if the Committee would like a particular analysis or note on that I would be very happy to provide it. That can include, if it is the Committee's wish, what costings we are able to provide on that. In practical terms it has made it more difficult for the learning skills' national and local networks to set themselves up from day one.

  Chairman: That would be very useful.

Jeff Ennis

  591. Turning now to the specific and to the South Yorkshire Learning Skills Council, as I am sure you are aware that has been established in a very posh new office in Sheffield. Given the fact that we have already talked about the high levels of adult literacy and numeracy problems, given the fact that the former coalfield areas in South Yorkshire have got some of the highest levels of adult numeracy and literacy problems, would it not have been a better signal from the Department to establish the new LSC office for South Yorkshire say in the Dearne Valley or perhaps in Barnsley East & Mexborough or even Wentworth constituency?
  (John Healey) In all honesty I have no idea what the process was for determining where the South Yorkshire Learning Skills Council should be headquartered.

Chairman

  592. They did not get everything wrong, Minister. They have got a very good Chairman who is a great friend of mine.
  (John Healey) You have essentially pre-empted the one point I was going to make. I know there are concerns which Mr Ennis has expressed about other parts of South Yorkshire, but then I believe the composition of the board, and you have drawn attention to the Chairman in particular, is such that there are some pretty strong voices from the former coalfields areas elsewhere in South Yorkshire on that board, and I would expect them to—

Jeff Ennis

  593. I am referring to the signal it sends out to the people in South Yorkshire, particularly the ones who do experience adult literacy and numeracy problems, that everything is centring on Sheffield and not in the areas where it is needed most.
  (John Healey) Certainly it is true that some people see it that way.

  Mr Turner: Not only in Yorkshire. It is exactly the same in my area.

Paul Holmes

  594. Both Government Ministers and the Chief Executive of the LSC have said that the LSC's admin budget is better value than that of the predecessors who administered these funds and that they also want to reduce it further. The budget for the LSC is £7.1 billion of which £218 million in the next financial year is for admin. Of the £7.1 billion, £4.3 billion, which is about 60 per cent, is for colleges. When the FEFC administered that money previously they spent about £16 million on administration, so that is £16 million of administration costs against £4.3 billion. That would be about eight per cent of the LSC's admin budget. That leaves 92 per cent of the LSC's admin budget to cover the other 40 per cent of its total spending. Have you any comments on that sort of distribution and how it might alter in the future?
  (John Healey) The LSC is doing, even within the narrow perspective of further education, more and different things than the FEFC did, so I think that the direct comparison is not legitimate. Secondly, the LSC has taken on responsibilities not just of the FEFC but of the network of TECs, functions also from the Department and also functions from Government offices. In terms of melding the responsibilities and the admin functions of those 78 or so different bodies that is the context in which to examine the admin costs of the LSC, and the undertaking that David Blunket originally gave that the admin costs of the new LSC network would be a saving of £50 million on what existed before would be met.

  595. But even if for some reason it costs more to administer the college money than the £16 million that the FEFC used to have, it still leaves 85-90 per cent of the total admin budget going on only 40 per cent of the total expenditure of the LSC.
  (John Healey) Mr Holmes, I do not accept the figures that you are trying to calculate. You are not comparing like with like and I do not regard that as a legitimate exercise.

  596. John Harwood told us that he wanted to cut bureaucracy by 25 per cent in the future as part of this improved administration. Is that a 25 per cent cut in the flow of paperwork, is it in terms of cost? Is that cost in terms of premises or staff or is it all three of those things?
  (John Healey) You will have to ask John Harwood that. I do not know the answer to that. I do not know what the LSC will do on that front. What I can say though is that along with the LSC we are aware, particularly in the arguments that have been made from providers, including colleges, that the degree of separate funding streams and the degree of paperwork and bureaucracy that that brings is something that is cramping the ability of the sector to operate. From our point of view as the Department in relation to the LSC you will have heard the Secretary of State before Christmas announce, for instance, that the standards fund will be from April a single unified pot of money that will have no ring fenced elements to it. You will have heard her also announce that in terms of the DfES budget lines to the LSC we will be cutting those down from 45 to nine and we would expect that to give the signal and scope to the LSC to do similarly with their provider, so it is not sufficient simply to be cutting down the red tape between the Department and the Agency. We expect to see some of that having an impact on the front line of colleges and some of the teaching staff as well.

  597. On the transition from the TECs to the LSC, the TECs employed about 10,000 people and the LSC say that they employ 4,757 people. Do we know what happened to the other 5,000 during that transition?
  (John Healey) Can I suggest I cover that in the transition note I promised to let the Committee have which can deal with IT? It can give you give you a breakdown of the staffing elements of the transition as well.

Valerie Davey

  598. Another differential which your colleague Margaret Hodge mentioned, again in a letter to us, is that the TECs did not pay VAT and LSC does. Can you tell us why? The TECs were not liable in any account to VAT. One of the difficulties is the extra cost, we were told, to the LSC because they have to pay VAT and presumably they employ people to calculate it.
  (John Healey) I think, if I may say so, you are probably thinking of the question of funding for learning in school sixth forms being exempt from VAT whilst funding for other post-16 providers is not exempt from VAT. The reason for that is that with school sixth forms being funded via LEAs in the past the VAT legislation exempts them from paying VAT because part of the funding for local authorities is raised through local taxation. Margaret Hodge will have told the Committee in her letter that she has taken this up with the Treasury and we are looking for some decision and clarity on this because clearly it is complicating the sorts of moves that Mr Chaytor wants to see and that the LSC is trying to manage in terms of a common approach to funding and common levels of funding.

  599. I think "clarity" is the word and we would like to know, thank you very much.
  (John Healey) As soon as we have the clarity ourselves we will make sure you have that too.


 
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