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On 19-to-25 provision, I make no apologies for the fact that the Government have set out repeatedly their vision of being able to offer an apprenticeship to anybody in the 16-to-19 age group who wants to go on
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an apprenticeship, and a commitment to level 3 up to age 25. It has taken time to build up capacity in the apprenticeship system from where we started to bring that goal more and more within reach, and we continue to make progress. I do not regard it as a rehashed promise, but rather as one towards which we are steadily making progress.

With respect to universities, HEFCE has developed a package with universities for about 5,000 co-funded higher level placements with industry for the coming period. That is a step in the right direction, but the bigger issue that the hon. Gentleman might like to consider is that, of the entire training budget held by employers, only 3 per cent. is spent with higher education institutions. That suggests that there is a massive potential to increase the volume of higher level education and training involving universities from the present level. That is something that we need to discuss in the years to come.

On the skills pledge, we will step up the drive to get companies to join the skills pledge. The noble Lord Jones, who is now a Government Minister, brought a particular and individual verve and passion to the skills pledge, and he slotted into the post very naturally indeed. I have already met Sir Michael Rake, who will chair the commission on employment and skills, to discuss how we continue and whether it would be appropriate to look for a single envoy or whether the commission as a body, which will have strong employer representation, may be a better vehicle to take the pledge forward. I hope we can resolve that quickly.

The starting point for resources for the adult careers service is to bring together learndirect and nextstep. It makes sense to co-ordinate those services and to stress the importance of the close working relationship with Jobcentre Plus. On the starting point at 14, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the diploma programme.

Finally, I do not believe that adult skills is a Cinderella. What Leitch has given us for the first time is a logical framework to approach funding, with the public sector recognising a responsibility particularly in the area of basic skills and level 2 qualifications, and a recognition that higher level qualifications should rightly attract a larger contribution from individuals and employers because the direct and immediate benefits to them are that much greater. That gives us a sensible framework for deciding how we want to fund this crucial area of work.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his place, and I warmly welcome the statement. The fact that one of his first speaking appointments was to the all-party skills group and the National Skills Forum augurs well for the emphasis and focus that the Government are putting on skills. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on culture change and the focus on adults. I should like to raise two issues with him which have informed the discussions that the all-party group have had about Leitch since the report was published at the end of last year.

The first is about focusing on adult learners. My right hon. Friend will know all the statistics about the demographic gap that we are going to face over the
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next 10 to 15 years in terms of younger people, which means that we must place even more emphasis on older people in the work force. Does he agree that reskilling is as important as upskilling as part of the central strategy to gain more effectiveness in this area?

My second point is a related one. One of the criticisms of this policy that has been made in the past is that it has not always been finessed enough, particularly in relation to older learners. In considering how we take forward the exacting targets that Leitch has set, can we focus more on age-proofing and the particular needs of people in their 40s and 50s, and even beyond? We need to get those issues right in order to maximise the contribution to the skills improvements and ambitious targets that my right hon. Friend and his Department rightly look to.

Mr. Denham: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments and acknowledge the important work done by the all-party group on skills, not least in bringing the world skills competition to the UK in a few years’ time. Reskilling is enormously important. One of the challenges is to get the relationship between FE colleges and other training providers and employers right so that it is simple for employers to identify the package of training, and the delivery method, that will meet their needs. It may well be that the person is already in work and we have to raise their level of skills without disrupting the way in which the company or employer operates. “Train to gain” and the brokerage service will be as available to people facing that problem as to those who are, say, trying to meet the skills pledge to get people into level 2. That is an important part of its role.

I am interested in my hon. Friend’s point about age-proofing. I see no reason why the policies that I set out should not be of equal benefit to people of all ages in the work force, but if there are particular issues that he would like to raise with me, I would be more than happy to meet him, and perhaps other members of the all-party group.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind all hon. Members of the need for just one question and a short response so that more may be successful in catching my eye?

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. For the whole of my working life, we have had education for the best and skills for the rest. Leitch has put skills right at the heart of the national agenda, not just the Government’s agenda. In terms of the 40 per cent. target for level 4 students, or graduates, by 2020, does the Secretary of State recognise that simply adding more graduates to our work force is not what UK plc really wants? There is a massive need for scientific and technical skills, particularly at level 4. What plans does he have to address the market so that we can produce graduates with the relevant skills for business rather than simply more graduates to meet a target?

Mr. Denham: There are two issues that we need to address. First, there is the way in which a range of higher education institutions sets out to deliver the
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types of degree course that the hon. Gentleman is talking about; foundation degrees are often particularly relevant in this area. Secondly, not every higher level qualification is a degree qualification, although it may involve that level of study. Many companies are working with higher education institutions on training programmes and delivering higher level education tailored to the needs of those companies. Some universities have made much better progress at organising themselves to know what is needed in the local economy at the higher level of skills. I agree that we should not be trapped by a particular model of what a degree should look like or by what a particular programme of study should look like. That will ensure that industry gets the skills that it needs.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the emphasis on mentoring in the trade union movement. However, it is not needed in the trade union movement alone. In some communities, particularly the most deprived, there is a deep-seated aversion to education and skills, and sometimes even to employment. May I draw to his attention an organisation called Skills Link, which operates in Tipton in my constituency and which uses community mentors to involve people in the education and learning process? Will he look at that with a view to seeing what lessons could be learned in raising skills in the most deprived areas?

Mr. Denham: I would be very interested to discuss the work that my hon. Friend describes. I met representatives from the TUC a few days ago and had a discussion with them about whether the expertise of 18,000 union learning representatives could be used in community, as well as workplace, settings. The statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that preceded mine helped to set out how both our Departments need to work together in communities of the sort that my hon. Friend mentions. We do not want a situation where we get somebody into work and then they drop out again and have to reapply three months later. Providing people with skills as they go into work, and maintaining and improving their skills levels in work, is absolutely vital to sustainable employment and a sustainable cut in unemployment in those communities. We need to use the skills of everybody we can find, not only public sector employees, to enable that to happen.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Any statement on improving skills is welcome. However, I should like to concentrate on the high skills area, where we are 11th in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of quality. Those are the skills that really attract and retain investment in the knowledge-based creative industries. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will take that into account in reforming the remit of the sector skills councils, which can be very responsive to what the industry needs if they work creatively with it? They are often criticised on the basis that they are still not multi-disciplinary enough to meet the new challenges that arise in some of the new creative, added value industries, where they cross sectors rather than just lying within one sector.

Mr. Denham: Within that brief question were several very important points. It is important that the sector skills councils engage effectively with the higher level
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skills. One of the things that Lord Leitch told us, very politely, was that some do it better than others. Some have engaged enormously well with higher education institutions because that is where their employers have said that the problem lies. We need to ensure that all sector skills councils do that as appropriate to their industries. Other initiatives, such as academies, are being developed; I think that there is going to be one for the nuclear industry. That is another way in which employers and providers can collaborate to meet the whole range of skills that are needed within a sector. [ Interruption . ] Of course, we must recognise the need for cross-sectoral courses to be available where appropriate, not just courses in individual sectors. And I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) for prompting me on that point from a sedentary position.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Is he aware that the Learning and Skills Council is causing mayhem among local training providers in areas like mine, with its constant chopping and changing of strategy and endless series of short-term contracts, now followed by a “big is beautiful” phase in which it is awarding contracts to large private sector providers who are very good at writing out the applications but walk away when they find, often predictably, that they cannot deliver? May I appeal to him to encourage the LSC to be a bit more consistent in its approach and to use local training providers where they are up to the job and capable?

Mr. Denham: I certainly hope that that is not the universal picture across the country. I will be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about the particular issues that have given rise to his concern. We need to recognise that a move towards a more demand-led system of skills is a move away from the “predict and provide” approach based on saying, “We will work out how many places we want and give you a contract for them”, to something that is much more closely tailored to what employers need. In that sense, over time there will in any case be quite a fundamental change to the relationship between the flow of funds and the providers of training, which should mean that we get a closer match between what is provided and what employers want.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I welcome much of what the Secretary of State has laid before the House today. In his statement he said, “We will step up the drive to encourage employers, large and small, to sign the skills pledge to benefit their staff.” Given that the Government are probably one of the largest employers in this country, particularly through Her Majesty’s armed forces, I urge the Secretary of State to meet the Defence Secretary to discuss the number of armed forces personnel who, because of overstretch, are unable to attend reskilling, upskilling and continuing professional development courses as a result of those courses being cancelled, or of there not being enough personnel to fill them.

Mr. Denham: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will see any Secretary of State whose Department is too tardy in signing up to the skills pledge. Most Departments are already signed up and we need to ensure that that extends to all reasonable parts of public service. The
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armed forces have done a good job in many areas, particularly with regard to apprenticeships, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise particular issues with me, I shall certainly look into them.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and it is clear that the Government are seriously addressing an important national problem. The problem is not new; some 20 years ago Sig Prais and Claus Moser drew attention to it, making stark comparisons between Britain and the continent of Europe concerning skills in particular, but also education and skills in the broader sense. Is it not possible that we are trying to invent our own solution to a problem when obvious solutions might be available abroad? Should we not just look at the most successful countries on the continent of Europe and start to imitate them directly in order to ensure that we achieve in the way that they do? Employers would not then simply employ continental Europeans who already have the skills necessary, while leaving our own people unemployed.

Mr. Denham: I believe that Lord Leitch looked at international experience as well as the approach taken in this country. It is true that the issue of skills has been a problem with the British economy for a long time—certainly since the latter part of the 19th century, at the very least—and it has been raised recently. Sir Claus Moser was heavily influential on the literacy campaign that was launched with such success four or five years ago.

My view is that for too long we have not identified properly the partnership between the Government, individuals and employers that can deliver successful and sustainable improvements in skills. Over the years, we have perhaps lurched between thinking that the public sector could work it all out for itself, and putting unrealistic expectations on the private sector to pay for everything. I believe that the statement I made today gets the balance right, and it should be the basis for real achievement in the future.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Will the Secretary of State closely examine access to training in rural areas? In North Cornwall, despite excellent work by schools, we still have people making a 100-mile-a-day round trip from places like Bude to Truro in order to access specialist courses. Will he bear in mind the provision of training and upskilling in deprived rural areas such as North Cornwall?

Mr. Denham: That is an important issue. It is not simply a matter for urban areas, and I recognise the problems set out by the hon. Gentleman. There will be some funds in the system to assist in areas in cases of special need, which can include matters such as transport. I hope that as we flesh out the detail of our plans, he will see that we recognise the problems in areas such as his.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post. In doing so, I draw
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his attention to the work of primary schools in my constituency that have set up adult learning centres in the community. Parents in those schools have been able to add to qualifications, or gain them if they had none, leading to their gaining employment. We can really target and attack deprivation in the most deprived areas in our communities by using local centres such as primary schools. I commend that work to my right hon. Friend.

Our colleague, my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, has visited a primary school in my constituency and seen for himself how the process is working. It works because it is in an environment where people feel confident and able to come forward and engage with what is going on, and by doing so they are able to assist in the education of their own children. Examples of that process were shown to my hon. Friend when he came to visit. We are able to target such communities, and I urge the Secretary of State, when he is considering future funding, to make it easier for schools to set up such adult learning centres.

Mr. Denham: I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend said. I am passionate about the ability to tackle family poverty and improve social mobility through improving adult skills. In my constituency, one of the least expected but most welcome effects of Sure Start has been on the aspirations of parents who have been involved with it. Many of them, by becoming involved in Sure Start, have gone on to jobs as nursery nurses or classroom assistants, and then feed back that experience to their own children, affecting their expectations of what can be achieved. We need to extend the type of experience my hon. Friend talks about as widely as possible.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): One group of people who desperately need functional literacy and numeracy and skills training are offenders serving custodial sentences. How will the new universal adult careers service, the prison education service and the unions work together to ensure that every person leaving prison on the completion of a custodial sentence will be fit for work, and that employers are persuaded to overcome their very natural reluctance to offer a job to somebody who has been in prison?

Mr. Denham: That is a very important issue. The Government set out last year, in a document called “Next Steps”, our response to some of the challenges of reducing reoffending, and we need to build on that work. In a previous capacity, I was enormously impressed by the work of the National Grid Transco scheme, which gets young offenders into work by essentially guaranteeing them jobs if they successfully complete training as they leave an institution. Through such mechanisms and the corporate alliance supported by the Ministry of Justice, I hope that, as well as generally raising the level of skills among offenders, we can extend the direct routes of offenders into work, because the reoffending rates involved are dramatically lower than those under many of the schemes we have tried in the past.

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Orders of the Day

Statistics and Registration Service Bill

Lords Reasons fo r insisting on their amendments, considered.

Lords amendments Nos. 12, 13, 15, 20, 67 to 70 and 72.

2.28 pm

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): I beg to move,

We are dealing with pre-release, which is the final point of contention relating to the Bill. Since our last debate on the Floor of the House, the Prime Minister has announced that the Government will call for a vote to confirm the recommended candidate for the chair of the Statistics Board, before the measure goes to the Queen. That is in addition to our commitment to reduce further the length of time for which pre-release access is available to 24 hours for all UK-wide and reserved statistics. Hon. and right hon. Members will recall that the previous agreement was for 40.5 hours. By committing to reduce pre-release access from the current period of up to 5 days to what will now be a maximum of 24 hours, the Government are demonstrating that they have listened and responded to the views expressed during the debates on the Bill in both Houses. It is time that the Government were given credit for the moves and changes that have been made during the Bill’s passage.

Under the proposals, it remains up to the Government to determine the precise content of the new pre-release arrangements under the new system, but our commitment today is to provide on the face of the Bill that the board must also be consulted. Moreover, pre-release arrangements will be set out in secondary legislation. The affirmative statutory instrument will set out rules and principles to restrict the number of people who receive pre-release access and the statistical series to which pre-release might apply. It will also restrict the length of time for which pre-release access is available to a maximum of 24 hours for reserve statistics.

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