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Lord Lucas: As we were sitting through the debate on social exclusion yesterday, my mind was drawn back to the arguments that I made on Schedule 3 and the requirement that it should be provided in statute that the learning and skills council has separate adult and young people's committees.
Here we are again looking at adult education being provided to young people. It was extremely clear from what was said yesterday that the most crucial advances to be made in making sure that adults who find themselves socially excluded can return to the mainstream and that young people do not fall into social exclusion are to do with making available what might ordinarily be called adult education to many young people and what might ordinarily be called young people's education to many adult learners.
That is something which this Government should consider again in the way they have set out in this Bill. They should provide more flexibility to the learning and skills council as to how it sets up its committees. Yes, they should impose on it the obligations to do the work which is required in the first three paragraphs of Schedule 3, but please may we not have the rigidity of structure which is imposed on them by those paragraphs because it surely must inhibit the proper cross-fertilisation of ideas which is necessary to relieve social exclusion in this country.
The Earl of Listowel: I wish to support Amendment No. 214A. When I have coached young people in a hospice in chess, I have seen how much they value the attention and how they delight in learning a new skill which helps them to develop themselves while they are in limbo, waiting for move-on accommodation. This amendment would ensure such opportunities for all. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbourne.
Lord Hylton: I can foresee that there may be serious difficulties if the Secretary of State directs under subsection (2) the provision of some services without acting also under subsection (3) to provide grants or other kinds of financial assistance. That may be particularly serious where a local authority is capped or it has reached the limit of its ability to raise money through council tax.
Baroness Blackstone: As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said so eloquently earlier in the Committee, provision for learning is about more than making facilities available. It is also about providing support, encouragement and advice, about raising aspirations and expectations, about enabling people, especially young people, to exploit the facilities which are available and to maximise their potential.
The Connexions service is an ambitious, interdepartmental initiative designed to meet exactly those needs which the noble Lord identified. It has received widespread support across the range of public, private, voluntary and community organisations, as I believe the noble Lord is aware. Everyone is agreed about the benefits for young people and for society by collaborating to provide a comprehensive, integrated service for 13 to 19 year-olds to support them in effective learning throughout their teenage years.
The legislation does not attempt, and nor should it, to prescribe in detail how the service will operate because we want it to be developed bottom-up at local level. So Clauses 99 and 100 deliberately give scope for flexibility--I say that to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas--so that the new service can accommodate local needs and circumstances and can evolve over time to meet the changing needs of young people.
We have been and are continuing to consult with a range of local partners about the detail of local delivery and are considering with them which delivery models work best. Clearly, if the service is to meet local needs, we shall not be expecting all delivery partners to fit their Connexions contributions into an inflexible and standardised blueprint. The detailed prospectus, which will be published in the late spring, will reflect that.
We shall also be piloting particular aspects of the service across the country with the first wave starting in April. That will enable us to learn from experience what works well on the ground. We and our partners will continue that evolutionary process as we phase in the service.
I turn now to Amendment No. 214. As I said, the service will build on existing services for young people provided by a wide range of statutory, private sector, voluntary and community bodies. Those include health authorities, local authority social services, youth offending teams, LEAs, the Careers Service, the Youth Service and so on.
A number of the services which will contribute are already the statutory responsibility of the Secretary of State at large. As I said, the Connexions service will build on and extend those services, and I hope that that
A duty on the Secretary of State to provide those services would risk cutting across other related duties in respect of young people performed by the LSC, LEAs and other statutory bodies. The whole approach of our policy is to try to enable co-operation. Creating an overlap or, worse, a conflict of statutory duties in that area would only raise the spectre of disputes about responsibilities and muddle. Defining new services through a power is by far the most effective approach, enabling the Secretary of State, through the new service, to support and work alongside other agencies. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that the Secretary of State has every intention of exercising that power.
I turn to Amendment No. 217, which would make two changes. First, it would require rather than empower the Secretary of State to make arrangements with local authorities and other bodies in respect of the new service. As we have made clear in the policy document, we expect that local authorities will play a major role in the Connexions service. However, we do not intend, nor should we, to prescribe in statute the part that particular organisations will play in providing the service. That would be over-centralist and bureaucratic; something on which noble Lords have commented earlier in Committee.
We made clear that we want an outcome-driven service allowing local discretion over delivery. As we know from inspection reports, not all local authorities meet the high standards of the majority and not all afford the same priority to their youth services, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is fully aware.
It must remain open to local partners to test the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector delivery against delivery in other ways and to make local decisions about the provision of the Connexions service in the light of local circumstances.
The second change the amendment would make would be to require rather than empower the Secretary of State to direct local authorities. That duty would be clearly inconsistent with the parallel duty to make arrangements with the same bodies that he is also required to direct. That would also be inflexible and, as a number of local authorities have already noted and informed us, unacceptable to them. Clearly a duty to direct is inappropriate, whereas a power allows the Secretary of State to direct local authorities in those limited circumstances where services are, for some reason, inadequate or arrangements have broken down.
Baroness Blatch: I support the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on this issue. I certainly agree with him. We were simply saying that if there is an obligation on the Secretary of State it should not be one that he may or may not use but one that he must use. I am sorry that even given the fulsome explanation we have had from the Minister, we are still not reassured that there would be an absolute obligation. That is unfortunate.
I shall not press the amendment. However, I shall use the next amendments to give some views on the new arrangements to be made under the Connexions document. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: It is important to note that the Bill does not contain much specific reference to Connexions or to the arrangements that will impact greatly on the younger age group. That is unfortunate because it leaves an informal debate to be had outside. All the groups to whom I have spoken in preparing for the Bill are desperately anxious to know how it will work in practice.
There is a huge welcome for the aspirations and ambitions of the Government and the care which they have shown in making more coherent and effective provision for this age group. However, many questions are left begging about how it will work on the ground. Having read through the document, I still find it difficult to understand how all the networks will operate. How will the service be delivered? What will be the responsibilities for the various bodies at community level? How will the Connexions partnerships and the local management committees work in practice? How will the link with the Benefits Agency work?
A personal adviser is to be appointed to each young person irrespective of their needs. As we understand it, that will apply to all young people in the age group. What will be the specific remit of 20,000 new mentors? What will be their areas of operation? It is important to have definition if we are to avoid confusion.
I refer to the transfer of data on young people. The Data Protection Act applies in this area. Therefore, if the Benefits Agency and the other agencies are working together, information about individuals will pass from one to the other. It would be helpful to know how that will work and what legal protection there will be, both for the individual and for the people providing the information.
There is also anxiety on the part of the voluntary sector. The careers management group recognises the importance of the voluntary sector, as, indeed, we all do. However, it is concerned about quality control and how that will be achieved, especially as regards recruitment and training. There is also the question of the protection and safety of both volunteers and the young people concerned. Is it likely that the careers management group will be represented on the working group which we understand will be charged with developing the detailed specification of the new service? Again, a particular difficulty is that of not knowing the details of the new service at the stage when the legislation is being passed.
As always, resources continue to be an issue. It would be helpful to know what cash is available for the new arrangement. We understand that about £450 million is in the system at present. We also understand that an extra £750 million will be needed to make sense of and give proper force to the arrangements. There will, therefore, be a shortfall of around £300 million. If the Government disagree with that estimate, it would be helpful to know their own estimate of the cost of the provisions when up and running, as well as the set-up costs. Perhaps they could give some indication of the source of the new money which will be needed.
Another concern is that some existing careers companies will survive under the new arrangements, despite having already received a letter from the DfEE saying that they must prepare to wind up or close down. How will their existing areas, which are dotted all over the country, fit in with the new support service areas?
I have mentioned the mentors. How on earth, from a standing start, will 20,000 mentors be recruited, accommodated, serviced, trained and made operational in just three years? Who are these people? What is their source? What kind of people are likely to be recruited? Will they be additional to careers advisers or is the intention to transform careers advisers into mentors? If that is the case, what part of their service will be sacrificed as a result? Who, for example, will be the employer, and to whom will they be accountable? Where will they be accommodated? What will be their modus operandi?
Will all local services for youth be able to draw down cheques on the youth service bank account? I include the hard-pressed social services, who will already be subject to a raft of changes as a result of the shocking report on child abuse in Wales.
I return to the voluntary youth service, whose record of meeting the diverse needs of young people is considerable. The service is flexible. It targets and focuses its work on young people. It works particularly effectively with young people at risk, vulnerable or excluded for one reason or another. I believe that in many instances the voluntary sector works more effectively than official provision. That is not a criticism of official provision. Very often, young people in these categories have an aversion to officialdom. The voluntary sector effectively bridges that gap.
In addition, the voluntary sector provides a rich tapestry of provision through many organisations. I refer, for example, to the army, navy and air cadets; church youth organisations; brownies; guides; and music, theatre and sports groups. One could list an enormous number of organisations who make a considerable contribution to the country as a whole.
The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services is particularly anxious to know how the practical arrangements will work and what the funding streams will be. Can an assurance be given that the present level of voluntary services to young people will not only be sustained, but that scope for increased capacity will be allowed for, both in terms of funding and as an integral part of the new arrangements? It is still not clear who will be making the decisions given that there is central control housed in the DfEE. It would be helpful to have some light thrown on this detail which is very important as we discuss this part of the Bill. I beg to move.
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