Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)

WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002

MR PETER LAUENER, MR MARK BEATSON, MR CHRIS RILEY AND MR ALAN RIDDELL

Mr Dismore

  260. What a surprise.
  (Mr Lauener) There is clearly some interest in this.

  Mr Goodman: There is certainly.

Mr Mitchell

  261. We are all on red alert.
  (Mr Lauener) It is slightly off the brief of today's meeting.

Mr Dismore

  262. You mentioned sixth forms first.
  (Mr Lauener) Yes.

Chairman

  263. Could you do a note?
  (Mr Lauener) If it would help the Committee I would be very happy to provide a note explaining the way the transfer was managed[13].

  264. Supposed to work.
  (Mr Lauener) I can send you some information.

  Mr Mitchell: Yes, please.

Mr Stewart

  265. In overall terms how satisfied are you with the co-ordination of the Employment Strategy of the Department for Work and Pensions?
  (Mr Lauener) The comments I made earlier in reply to the question from Mr Purnell I think illustrate that I think we have made good progress. We have got good working relationships. There are a number of areas in which the strategies in practice intercept. I have talked about the Basic Skills Strategy where quite a lot of detailed planning is being done to get a good crossover between basic skills and employability. Two others that I would highlight are the Childcare Strategy where there is an obvious crossover in the provision of childcare places and ensuring that helps people with children to get good quality affordable childcare so they can get jobs more easily and another one is on the Sector Skills Councils where we work very closely with the DWP and I think they have developed a strong sectoral approach which has been taken forward within New Deal. Again, I mentioned this in the memorandum as the "Ambition" programme. I think it has been an example of good departmental co-operation so that there is a good measure of joined-upness about the thinking in the two Departments.

  266. Could you tell us also how the local Learning and Skills Councils work together with Jobcentre Plus at local level? Do you have any systems to monitor actual performance?
  (Mr Lauener) Again, my memorandum highlights the importance, it highlights also the fact that there is a place for someone from Jobcentre Plus on all the local councils. I think that is extremely important to ensure they are listening to the debate and have the opportunity to make an input while the strategy is being debated. I talked also about an example of having people in Jobcentre Plus in the context of basic skills that understand the way the basic skills network works so they can advise the client advisers and so on, so it is practical things like that. What we have not done is set in place a detailed monitoring mechanism for that. I think we would talk directly to colleagues in Jobcentre Plus to get their own impression about the way that is working. They have got contacts right throughout their organisation. If we felt there were any problems emerging from that then we would want to maybe take things forward and conduct a more systematic review of it. While we have put in place the arrangements and think we have got examples of things working well, and we are getting reasonable feedback, we are inclined to let that system work.

  267. Is there not a danger that it is easy to talk in submission papers about good liaison but what you have to look at are performance indicators at a local level?
  (Mr Lauener) The other thing we do look at of course are the key performance indicators in terms of our learning targets. Again, to use the basic skills example, the key target there is 750,000 by 2004, 750,000 people improving their basic skills. We are in discussion with Jobcentre Plus about the number that might come from that through the Jobcentre Plus route. That interlocking set of targets is a very good way of putting a hard edged measure to the need for good liaison.

  268. The Government's White Paper on its employment strategy pointed out that some 40 per cent of people of working age who receive benefits have problems with literacy and numeracy. You have a strategy to deal with this, of course. Again, how closely are you meshing in with the Department for Work and Pensions?
  (Mr Lauener) I think very closely through mechanisms that I have identified. We identified from the start that getting a way into Jobcentre Plus at the point that the client adviser is talking to the person looking for a job is absolutely key and that is the bit we have tried to work hardest on, to make sure that people are being identified and then there is understanding about where it can happen.

  269. Finally, one group I am particularly interested in is a group who are greatly disadvantaged which is those who are ex-offenders, those who are on probation and in aftercare. I know how difficult it is to get that group back into the job market. You have taken over personally the prison education service. Can you tell us a bit about the progress there? Can you tell us about the progress in terms of your links with Jobcentre Plus?
  (Mr Lauener) Okay. The Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit is, as you say, part of the Department, it is within Lifelong Learning where I work as well. It was set up to bring about a partnership between the Prison Service and the Department. There was a feeling that education within the Prison Service had become a bit isolated from mainstream thinking about learning and skills and was too much seen as the poor relation within the Prison Service. We have now had just over a year and there has been a lot of progress in building relationships and building networks, putting in place a set of targets and then beginning to improve the provision in prisons. This is against the background of a period where there is a quite significant increase in funding. I think there was a 15 per cent real terms increase in funding set aside between 2001-02 and 2003-04 so that is a recognition of the importance of this. In terms of the actual provision one of the things that the Unit did was agree with the Prison Service targets for over 23,000 prisoners to achieve basic skills qualifications last year. That is the total number of qualifications, from 23,400 last year to 36,000 in 2003-04. The proportion of that bit which is basic skills will be rising over the period. We have developed new materials which will be piloted in prisons, including an initiative to pilot a payment system for prisoners taking the qualifications. Sometimes you can be better off in prison going on the job related activity rather than education. There have been a number of quite interesting initiatives there. The targets are on course to be met and some quite good progress is being made. There is quite an interesting debate at the moment as to what is the right level of provision. Many prisoners have got really extremely poor literacy and numeracy skills so there is a bit of a debate about whether the provision should be at level one, in other words what we are looking for from an 11-year-old, or level two, up to about a 16-year-old.

  270. Is the payment just related to participation or is it related to actually taking the qualification?
  (Mr Lauener) I think it is just related to participation. It is just a pilot. It is an indication that there is quite a lot of development going on within the Prison Service.

Ms Buck

  271. The target is to have childcare places in most disadvantaged areas for every lone parent entering employment by 2004. Can you start by telling us what progress you have made towards meeting that target?
  (Mr Lauener) That is quite correct, that is one of the key childcare targets. I have got information on the overall target but I guess you are less interested in that, that is the target to allow an extra million children to benefit from childcare than before.

  272. I am thinking about employment. I am happy for you to come back to us and give us that information. Again, speaking as someone in one of the neighbourhood renewal areas and Chair of an Early Years Development Partnership, I am acutely aware that we are not. I think there are a couple of things that I would like you to comment on. One is the fact that I would be interested to know how satisfied you are with the provision of information and assistance with access to childcare through the Employment Service. When I have sat in on employment interviews I find that lone parents are simply being given a list of child minders to ring and frankly that is not going to work. I want to know where your thinking is going and how we can be more proactive. The second issue is the actual creation of the places both nationally and looking at some of the regional distribution issues. I am sure you are quite happy to accept that we are going backwards on child minding quite fast and that seems to me to be a very significant problem. The third issue, and I suspect you will perhaps have to come back on this one, is on the Children's Information Services which the Early Years Development Partnerships are providing, and which could be very important indeed in helping lone parents seeking access to childcare places. Can you give us chapter and verse on the role of local authorities providing resources for these services through their SSA[14] allocation?

  (Mr Lauener) I think I may have to take that away and provide a note.[15] What I can say is that pretty good progress has been made in terms of the overall provision of places against the national target of a million extra places by 2004. The latest figures show that we are over half way there and that is accelerating reasonably and we do expect to reach that target. What I cannot do here today is break that down into the most disadvantaged areas for lone parents in the way that you have asked.

  273. The thing which is very key for this purpose, because we are not looking at childcare overall, is the successes in the Childcare Strategy, and I do not doubt that we are making very considerable progress overall in the Childcare Strategy, matching the areas of greatest employment need for lone parents. I think it is patchy and it would be helpful to see exactly what information you do have so that we can then push a little bit harder on what action we need to take to get those two sides of the service matching.
  (Mr Lauener) I have got the point and I will take it away and provide a note on that.

  274. Just for the record, can you define a childcare place?
  (Mr Lauener) I sense from the way you have asked the question that that is a very important point which I had better not therefore hazard a guess at in a response to you here and now. In providing a note I will provide a clear definition.

  275. In employment terms we are talking about a childcare provision which is going to match a lone parent's employment experience which is that it has to be available from eight o'clock in the morning, it has to potentially be available until after six o'clock at night and it has to be affordable. Whether that is after school for a school child or provision for under-5s, it cannot just be the kind of place which is available between nine and twelve at a nursery.
  (Mr Lauener) Yes, I have got the point.

  276. That is for clarification. It would be helpful.
  (Mr Lauener) Clearly in the overall numbers we expect many places are filled more than once in a day. I understand the context of your question and I will cover the definition in the further note that I will provide.

Mr Dismore

  277. You said many places are filled more than once in a day, does that mean that they count as double against the target if the same place is used twice?
  (Mr Lauener) The overall target for March 2004 is to create 900,000 new childcare places for 1.6 million children. Taking account of turnover that should allow a million extra children to benefit.

  278. I am picking up on your last answer.
  (Mr Lauener) What it means is with 900,000 childcare places that would provide for 1.6 million children.

Ms Buck

  279. My line of argument is there is an important difference between providing a childcare place which is a good thing in itself for children and parents and providing a childcare place which enables a lone parent to go to work. It is that second area that I am interested in.
  (Mr Lauener) I have got the point. I understand the point about the times for which it is provided. It is not a bad thing if it is used more than once as long as it is allowing the access to the labour market.

  Mrs Humble: And some more information about the recent announcement about providing childcare support in the parent's own home which was excluded in the original legislation.

  Chairman: Those were the preliminary questions. Those were your starters for ten. I think you have helped us by covering a lot of the co-ordination questions that we were going to raise.


13   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Education and Skills (ES 13A), Ev 135. Back

14   Standard Spending Assessment. Back

15   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Education and Skills (ES 13C), Ev 141. Back


 
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