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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am relieved to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady David, is adequately satisfied that "advice or guidance" means the same as "advice and guidance" because, on the face of it, it does not sound like the same thing. I am concerned not only for the reasons explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but also for the adult guidance services where that provision is of initial key importance if the Government's concern to widen participation is to be successfully achieved.
The Guidance Council has identified the key elements of guidance. "Information or advice" does not cover the range of activities adequately. The omission of the word "guidance" from the text here is a key concern because the result will be that the local learning and skills councils will consider that they are unable to fund the guidance activities and, if the provision is "advice or guidance", they will limit themselves to advice and not provide guidance. It is important that we understand from the Minister precisely what role is seen here for adult guidance services; how extensive or discreet those services are to be; and how much continuity may be maintained.
Baroness Blackstone: I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady David for what she has done in encouraging the Government to bring forward the amendments. I certainly believe that the Bill has been improved as a result. She asked about guidance and I believe that I have already said a little about the differences between information, advice and guidance, as have the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp of Guildford and Lady Blatch. Guidance is of course a much more in-depth approach than simply providing information or advice. The Government intend greatly to extend services in that area as a consequence of the Bill. They are committed to improving opportunities for adults and to ensuring that they are placed in the kind of jobs that they have the potential to take up and pursue in a fulfilling way.
Until now the Careers Service has had a rather limited role in adult guidance because it has been so focused on young people, but in future, as a result of the ConneXions service--by which that part of the Careers Service's work will be taken on by a new organisation--we hope that there will be a great improvement in the availability of really good careers advice, information and guidance to adults who are either seeking a job or are dissatisfied with their present job and want advice on how to improve their position. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for setting out the views of the Careers Service National Association on this issue. They sound extremely sensible.
Perhaps I may return to the more specific question about "and" and "or". In my letter to my noble friend I said that if we have on the face of the Bill "and guidance" the LSC would only be able to provide funds in circumstances where an organisation was providing all three elements of information, advice and guidance to individuals. It could not provide funds simply for, say, the promotion of information about education and that would cut out from local partnerships those many small community and voluntary organisations that may not be able to deliver in depth guidance but have an important role in reaching out to hard-to-help groups. I am sure that all those who have spoken would want us to be able to help such groups. So, in fact, "or" is an improvement on "and", but I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it is not the same. It is an improvement for the purposes which all of us who have spoken in the debate want to pursue. I hope that that clarifies the issues that have been raised.
Baroness Blackstone: I do not think I can add a great deal to what I have said other than that there will be a continued role. It will continue to be funded and, as I said earlier, we see this as an expanding role.
Baroness Blackstone: We need to distinguish here between the ConneXions service, which is about providing a whole range of personal advice for young people, and the provision for adults that we are discussing in this group of amendments. The Government are funding a new £54 million programme for adult advice and guidance. The LSC will be the agency funding that guidance. Local adult information, advice and guidance partnerships will be closely linked to the local learning partnerships. But the people who are currently involved in providing that adult advice and guidance will continue to do so under the new arrangements. I hope that that clarifies the position.
Baroness Blatch: I am sorry to press the matter, but I cannot do so at any other stage of the Bill. Does that mean that the present Careers Advisory Service will not have a role with regard to those under 19 or working with schools and young people on careers advice? Will that be contracted out to people other than those who are presently in the system and are presently doing that work?
Baroness Blackstone: As I said earlier, we have to distinguish here between provision made for young people and provision made for others. The Careers Service makes most of its provision for young people. They will be subsumed under the new ConneXions service. But those careers advisers who are working in adult guidance will continue to operate in adult guidance, funded by the Government through the LSC. The same people who have been providing this information, advice and guidance will continue to operate as such.
Baroness David: I am sorry to intervene again. If it were not so late, I should read quite a long extract from a letter I have received from the headmistress of Skipton High School, who is extremely anxious that the Careers Service should give her pupils the same service as it gives now. She says that those at the school could not possibly provide it themselves, and that they must have it. Many of the mainstream pupils still need the service. It will be for them as well as for adults. Will the Minister give that reassurance?
Under the Bill as presently drafted, it seems that the council would have almost unlimited rights of access to all financial and other information on the part of providers. On the face of it, that would seem contrary to natural justice. These amendments therefore seek to limit the rights of access to those matters that pertain to the council's business--hence giving such access and allowing such rights as are necessary for the carrying out of the council's functions. This is not a political point but a truly liberal one. It relates to the right to privacy of information on the part of providers.
The second, and in many senses the more important, set of amendments--Amendments Nos. 63, 68 and 252--relates to the powers of the learning and skills council to set charges. Currently, neither the Further Education Funding Council nor the Secretary of State has powers to impose on providers requirements as to the fees that must be charged.
Clause 6(3) consequently represents a major extension of current powers. At no stage in the development of the policies that underpin the Bill has there been any suggestion that such powers would be taken. Nor has there been any opportunity for public debate about either the Government's objectives in introducing controls on provider fees or about the way in which such powers may be used.
The introduction of controls of this kind would represent a considerable erosion of the autonomy of further education colleges and an almost unprecedented interference with the rights of private training providers to establish their own fees structures. It would take away one of the few options open to providers in tailoring provision to local market needs--not just in setting open market fees but also in negotiating with employers on a shared responsibility for some types of publicly desirable trading such as NVQs. As drafted, the clause would appear to permit the LSC to impose different arrangements on different providers and, in doing so, impose unequal or unfair conditions on some individual providers or some classes of providers as compared to others.
Without any indication from the Government as to the rationale for such a policy, the case for the imposition of conditions on fees has not been made. Although there may be justification for imposing common arrangements in some specific areas where forms of public funding are involved--such as individual learning accounts--no such explanation has been offered. Equally, although there may be a case for curbing some of the more extreme examples of fees policies seen in recent years both in the FE sector and among the private training providers, it is difficult to see how any national fees scheme could work. Market conditions vary enormously across the country and in different areas of vocational education and training. No single pricing regime could work without having different effects in different areas. For example, relatively high fees may be feasible in the south-east where incomes are high and the economy is buoyant but may have a disastrous effect on participation in depressed areas of Merseyside. Therefore, this series of amendments seeks elucidation from the Government as to precisely what they have in mind. I beg to move.
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