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16 May 2006 : Column 266WH—continued

The Government’s skills strategy is essential.

I want to give some figures to bring home the scale of the skills gap. There are 12 million adults who lack a full level 2 qualification—the basic school-leaving qualification, the equivalent of five good GCSEs. Some 6 million adults lack basic literacy skills and 17 million adults lack basic numeracy skills. It is true that our plans to transform the fortunes of young people will improve those figures over time, as young people leave school better equipped with skills. However, as Lord Leitch demonstrated in his report, that is not enough.

Today more than 70 per cent. of what will be the 2020 work force has completed compulsory education, so if we are to tackle the figures that I have just given we shall have to transform the fortunes of our adult population at all levels. It is not only an economic imperative that we face; we know that adults with low skills have lower than average levels of employment and lower earnings. That is a point that my hon. Friend made. We have a stretching public service agreement target for 2010, which is to reduce by 40 per cent. the proportion of the work force without a level 2 qualification. However, as many as 25 per cent. of the work force lack that level 2 qualification today. Those with level 2 qualifications are three times more likely to receive further training than those without qualifications. It is a key to unlocking future individual success.

How do we match funding with those priorities? We have records of public funding for adult learning. Our planned funding for the Learning and Skills Council’s major adult programmes is nearly £3 billion for both of the next two years. However, we cannot transform skills at every level through public funding alone. We have to
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prioritise where public funding is targeted. We have made it clear that our priority is to give help to those adults who need it most. We have prioritised for free provision those without functional literacy and numeracy and those without the foundation of employability skills, as represented by a first full level 2 qualification.

To support that shift, there must be a new balance of responsibilities between the state, employers and learners. We do not accept that the withdrawal of LSC funding—where that happens—means that a course automatically has to close. If employers will benefit, it is only fair that they share the cost. Where learners and employers are prepared to pay more, we expect providers to provide courses on a full cost-recovery basis.

We need a cultural shift that will lead to new and better targeted investment by employers in their work force and to individuals investing in themselves. There is a lot of evidence that individuals accept the case for investing in their own learning. MORI polling and recent research by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education show wide acceptance that adults should make a contribution to the costs of learning.

There is a long backdrop to the moves by Liverpool community college to restructure its provision to meet the priorities that I have outlined. I mentioned earlier the national figures for adults without a level 2 qualification or with basic literacy and numeracy needs. My figures—I hope that these are in accord with the ones that my hon. Friend mentioned—show that 120,000 adults in Liverpool are without a level 2 qualification. That is 44 per cent. of the working population in Liverpool, as compared with 27 per cent. in England. That is a major gap that we have to fill. Some 80,000 adults in Liverpool are without basic literacy and 89,000 are without basic numeracy. My hon. Friend was right to highlight that need, and I am highlighting it too. It is because we have identified that need that we have no choice but to prioritise our resources to address the demand for learning. That is what Liverpool community college is doing.

Liverpool community college’s “Second chance to learn” programme has been part of adult education in Liverpool for nearly 30 years. The programme currently helps 180 individuals, out of the college’s 17,000 adult learners. Many of those 180 learners have been attending courses for a number of years—I have received correspondence from hon. Friends on that. Some of those learners travel into the city from the Wirral and elsewhere. However, the college has decided that the programme no longer meets the needs of many learners, mainly because it does not encourage progression to higher qualifications.

Mrs. Ellman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Phil Hope: If I may say a little more but do not address my hon. Friend’s concern, she may intervene on me.

The college recognises that the “Second chance” curriculum is an ideal base to support the recently
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established foundation programmes. The “Second chance” subjects have been tried and tested throughout the course’s long history. They will attract a wider range of students if they are delivered in the college’s local drop-in study centres, which my hon. Friend mentioned. The college will retain the best aspects of “Second chance” as part of a foundation programme for students that addresses their basic skills needs and works towards level 2. The broad range of subjects available through the programme will continue. That includes courses such as “Introduction to history”, women’s studies, creative writing, citizenship and sociology. Many students will have the opportunity of a second chance to learn when those subjects are delivered in local communities.

My hon. Friend mentioned the need for joined-up government and neighbourhood renewal programmes being funded through the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—the Department for Communities and Local Government, or the DCLG, as I shall get used to calling it. By delivering those courses in drop-in centres in local communities, we shall see a greater joining up between the needs of local communities and the courses that the college offers, because they will be provided where more students can access them.

Mrs. Ellman: I thank the Minister for his comments, which give a full explanation of how the Government see their policies unfolding. As I have said, I support a policy of creating greater employability, but my concern is that the needs of people who may not progress to further qualifications but who nevertheless get a sense of self-confidence and of becoming active citizens—another part of the Government’s programme—are being put to one side in the search for greater employability.

Phil Hope: It gets complicated, in that there is a strand of funding that we call PCDL—personal, community and development learning—which funds learning for its own sake; it does not have to lead on to a qualification. That fund covers some of the themes that my hon. Friend described. We have protected the budget for PCDL at £210 million across the country, but the way in which that money is spent in different parts of the country is patchy. That is why I have asked the learning and skills councils to bring together the local partnerships, including themselves, providers, local authorities, the health service—which often provides education for health reasons—and voluntary, third-sector organisations, and to consider how the money allocated to PCDL is spent in their area, who goes on what courses, and how PCDL can be developed further. We are alive to, and committed to, that concept of learning for its own sake, but we are mindful that the ways in which budgets are spent locally do not necessarily meet all the needs or cover all the gaps.

As the hon. Lady mentioned, Liverpool community college recently received recognition from a number of sources for being a place of high-quality learning. It has two centres of vocational excellence and is involved in another, too. It has had good inspection results, and is a beacon college. It will receive extra funding for personal and community development learning in recognition of that excellence. This year, Liverpool
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community college received some £32.7 million—that is 61 per cent. more than five years ago. My hon. Friend mentioned £1.2 million that had been brought back to help the college. I can tell her that the Learning and Skills Council has now agreed to give the college an additional £450,000 to support adult learning, so there has been recognition of the local priorities and needs, and of how the college can respond to those needs.

We have mentioned further education, adult learning, particular courses and so on, but on the wider policy area and the direct funding that we are giving, we expect colleges to focus on meeting people’s needs at work. Particularly for employers, there is the “train to gain” stream of funding, which is rolling out nationally from 1 August this year. That is a £230 million
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programme to help employees who do not have basic skills and level 2 qualifications.

Finally, on the worry about focus on level 2 leading to the withdrawal of adult courses, it is not our policy to lose good courses that lead demonstrably to progression and to level 2; we make that clear in our grant letter to the Learning and Skills Council. I say to my hon. Friend that too much of the kind of provision that is called “First Steps” or “Return to Learn” is not so much a pathway as a revolving door; people go round and round on courses and do not move on. That is why we announced our new development value, the foundation learning tier, in the White Paper.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Two o’clock.

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