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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: The purpose of my amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has indicated, is to ensure that higher education providers--both HE and FE colleges and universities--are fully and properly consulted by a local council preparing its annual plan. Of course, those annual plans include a statement of needs of the population in a local council's area in respect of education and training. I declare an interest as the chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, but we are certainly not alone in our concern. I can add the voice of the university and college lecturers' union--NATFHE--to the desire to include the amendment on the face of the Bill.
We are concerned about the measures in the White Paper, Learning to Succeed, which the Bill implements, in that there are insufficient linkages between the roles and functions of local and national learning and skills councils and providers of higher education. Currently, the Bill and the Government's prospectus for the learning and skills council make little mention of firm links to higher education institutions and place no obligations whatever on the local LSCs to consult HE providers. The prospectus desires seamless progression into HE, but only specifies that links are to be made by LSCs with the education funding council. These links concern only funding provision and degree targets. In our view the Bill needs to ensure that consultation with higher education providers take place.
Therefore, I believe that, with the support of the Local Government Association, which shares our view, a ministerial statement concerning the consultation arrangements under Clause 22(5) would be very welcome.
Baroness Blackstone: As the right reverend Prelate indicated, learning partnerships have a key role to play in the new arrangements, particularly in ensuring that local LSC plans reflect the real needs of learners in local areas. I am grateful to him for his support.
The Learning and Skills Council Prospectus makes clear that LSCs will be required to consult learning partnerships in drawing up LSC plans. That is important, given the influence that they can bring to bear as representatives of all the key players in education, training and guidance in their localities. That is why we intend to use the powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 22(5)(c) to ensure that local LSCs consult learning partnerships on their plans.
However, learning partnerships have no statutory responsibilities for education or training. They have made substantive progress over the past couple of years and are still developing. It would be wrong to try to close off such development with a rigid definition, and we do not think it appropriate to specify them as consultees of the local LSCs' plans on the face of the Bill. Nor do we believe that imposing a requirement on the national LSC to consult all learning partnerships on its draft guidance would be appropriate. That would lead to an unwieldy and rather slow bureaucratic process of the kind that many Members of the Committee have been keen to avoid.
In the light of the assurances that I have given that the Secretary of State will require local LSCs to consult local learning partnerships, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will not press her amendments.
Turning to Amendment No. 122, learning providers, from the smallest provider of adult education or work-based training to the largest FE colleges, have a great deal to gain from the new arrangements that we are putting in place: more coherent arrangements for planning, funding, quality improvement and inspection, and stronger encouragement for collaboration to meet the needs of learners and employers.
There is also a significant role in the new arrangements for local learning partnerships which bring together providers and others in a locality. They will influence the plans of the local LSC by bringing their knowledge of learners' and employers' needs to bear. I have already said how we will ensure that learning partnerships are consulted on their local LSC's plans.
I now turn to Amendment No. 226. Our intention is that the local planning process for the LSC should be as open and inclusive as possible. Too often in the past the workings of the various funding and planning agencies in the field of post-16 learning have been not only highly complex, even to those intimately engaged in them, but, I am afraid, entirely opaque and hidden from local people and communities. We want to shine a light into what is currently darkness.
The best way to achieve this is to encourage local LSCs to be innovative in seeking ways to engage their communities and to ensure that, through the appointments that we make to senior posts in the LSC, we create a culture of direct and open consultation with providers and stakeholder groups, such as those in the voluntary sector. The Government will ensure that this happens by using, as appropriate, their guidance to the LSC. We do not believe that this is best achieved by a provision in the Bill to place an additional requirement on local LSCs to consult particular categories of people and organisations such as the amendment proposes.
I turn now to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady Warwick. My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of the relationship between the LSC and the higher education sector. Clearly, HE plays a major role in the education and training of our workforce and offers an important progression route for those who move on from further education, school sixth-form education and work-based training. I assure the Committee that close working between the LSC and the higher education sector will flow from the new arrangements. The Government stated in the LSC prospectus that the national council of the LSC would invite the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England to all its meetings. This will ensure that a powerful HE voice is present at the heart of the LSC's decision-making.
The amendment proposes that we include on the face of the Bill a statutory requirement for the local LSCs to consult local institutions on their draft local plans. However, we believe it is right only to specify in the Bill that local LSCs must consult local or regional bodies with relevant statutory strategic responsibilities. Clearly, it is highly desirable for local LSCs also to consult other bodies, including HE institutions, as part of their work to develop strong relationships with the HE sector locally. Indeed, I do not see how the local LSCs could exercise their functions appropriately without such wider consultation. But there is no need for all of this
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her reply to this group of amendments. My greatest disappointment is with her response to Amendment No. 122. Given that on the face of the Bill there is a requirement for consultation with regional development agencies and local education authorities, it is reasonable to suggest that consultation should also take place with local providers. We shall read carefully what the Minister has said, but we may return to the matter at Report stage.
As to lifelong learning partnerships, I accept the Minister's observation about their evolutionary state and the fact that at the moment they have no statutory basis, unlike regional development agencies and local education authorities which are defined. Given their evolutionary status, it is difficult to include them in the Bill. Equally, the intention is that they should be very much encouraged to grow and develop in areas where they are not currently present. Therefore, I hope that in drawing up local plans the LSCs will be made aware of the Minister's observations today and that the intention is made plain to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 123 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 128 to 130 and 143. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will speak to Amendment No. 132. This group of amendments is concerned with two aspects: first, joined-up government. There are a number of pieces of legislation around, in particular the Local Government Bill. Certainly, when it comes to planning there needs to be some coherence. I notice that two of the amendments are almost identical in that they invoke Clause 4(1) of the Local Government Bill. The way in which the plans will have to be co-ordinated might be difficult: it is hard to know which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Certainly, Amendments Nos. 129 and 132 are important in that context.
My Amendments Nos. 123, 128 and 143, leaving out the word "education", relate back to a point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and myself. Local authorities have recently been given a new function--an obligation under the law to be concerned about economic well-being in their area. We know they are involved in economic regeneration and indeed generation. For that reason, where local education authorities are named in the Bill as needing to be consulted or to be part of the process, it seems to me that the wording ought to be "local authorities". If there is an education authority within a local authority then, of course, if it is appropriate to the local education authority, whatever the involvement is, it will be made possible by speaking through the local
I believe that this set of amendments makes sense. I hope there will be a cross-reference from this Bill to the Local Government Act 2000. I beg to move.
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