Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I find that deeply disappointing. Clause 21(3) states that:

If a council is setting a specific local council's budget as stated in Clause 21(3)--not across the board--a great deal will be known about that budget unless it is to be so broad brush and crude as to make no sense at all. If it is to make sense at local level there should be some understanding of how much of that allocation is reflecting both what the national council deems it should do with the money and how much flexibility and discretion it will allow the council over the percentage of that allocated budget.

For the Minister to say that it is not possible to go into that kind of detail means that it will be impossible to determine whether it will be between 10 per cent and 15 per cent. It is important to know at the time of allocation whether it is 10 per cent or 15 per cent. I do not see it as an onerous obligation to have on the face of

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1409

the Bill that when the guidance sets a local council's budget it should make some reference to the amount of flexibility to be allowed at local level.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Baroness asked for confirmation of the proportion of a local council's budget. We do not say that that is impossible; rather, it is much too inflexible to confirm the proportion as a percentage figure. That would be inflexible and against the way in which this matter is intended to work.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I was in local government long enough to know that, if government said that there was a great deal of flexibility at local level, I was always in a position to say that there was none if that was the situation because everything I had to do was so prescribed that there was not room to exercise local discretion.

The Government have said quite unequivocally that there will be local discretion between 10 per cent and 15 per cent. I assume that is as regards its budget allocation. If it is to be between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the budgeted allocation, then it seems only fair at the time of allocating it that it is given some indication as to how much of it is prescribed--in other words, what percentage will there be over which local discretion will apply. That appears to be entirely logical. The only time at which that can be ascertained from the national council is when budget allocations are given to local councils. I see no difficulty there at all. The Government are copping out, if I may use a colloquialism.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 69:

    Page 9, line 13, leave out ("the regional development agencies and").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall be very brief as regards this amendment except to put right something said at Committee stage. In the time between the two stages of the Bill I have yet to do something about it. I never enjoy reading Hansard after I have been speaking. I particularly did not enjoy reading the first paragraph of what I said that evening. I have yet to check the tapes. At col. 860 of the Official Report on 10th February, when referring to regional development agencies, I am alleged to have said,

    "a long time ago, it was the policy of our Benches that there should be unitary authorities at local level".

I referred to the fact that I was not talking about parish councils, but district councils. Indeed, that is what happened. In parts of the country, district councils became unitary authorities and the county councils were dissolved.

My mistake is that I went on to say that we agreed that county councils should go and that there should be regional elected bodies. I belong to a party which has never agreed to regional elected bodies. The Minister is looking worried.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I can do no other than to say that my understanding of what the noble Baroness said

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1410

was precisely the opposite of what appears in Hansard. At times the noble Baroness could hardly get out the words "regional development agency", if I may use that expression, because she seemed to be so against them. Indeed, I believe I queried her party's policy on that issue during the course of the debate, so I am with her on this.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am greatly relieved because I only read this two nights ago and had one or two nightmares that the Government were building up a wonderful retort as to how I changed my party's policy on the hoof. It is interesting that nobody in my party picked it up and I have yet to receive the phone calls asking what I am up to.

Perhaps I can make it clear--the Minister helps me in doing that--that we do not agree with regional elected bodies. It is my recollection that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who was involved in the debate at that time, was very much a supporter of regional elected bodies and, at the same time, of unitary authorities at district level replacing county councils.

Having got that off my mind, perhaps I can say briefly that it will come as no surprise that I do not believe that there is a hidden agenda. There is now a fairly overt agenda; the paving is well in place for removing local authorities. Indeed, I have it on good authority that a person in No. 10 is alleged to have said that before we are much older, local education authorities will disappear.

All the way through the Bill one can see the downgrading of local education authorities and local authorities, and the building up of regional development agencies. This will be almost only a stepping stone away from completing the process. I therefore seek to remove references to regional development agencies. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 70 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope.

Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, we do not want to see the elimination of regional development agencies; nor do we at the moment suspect that an unholy plan is arising from No. 10, although on occasion we have doubts about what is happening there.

Amendment No. 70 relates to Clause 21 and in particular to the question of who the proposed learning and skills council should consult in setting the guidelines that it is to prepare for local councils. Subsection (4) suggests that it should consult regional development agencies and local education authorities on such guidance. The amendment proposes that the council should also consult some of the providers of education and training in the area.

It seems logical that, given the role of colleges and other specialist providers such as the Careers Service in an area, in setting guidelines such consultation should take place. We are not suggesting that the council

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1411

should consult every provider but that on occasions it should consult some of the providers. It seems to us to be a perfectly reasonable amendment.

Lord Bach: My Lords, this is a fascinating debate for late at night and I do not intend to comment about the future in relation to local government. The noble Baroness is making many assumptions and I am not surprised at her concern at being so gravely misquoted in Hansard bearing in mind her strong feelings. I should still like to know whether it is her party's view as well as her own that regional development agencies are a waste of time and should not exist. It would be interesting to know; perhaps we are entitled to know.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. We have an aversion to elected regional government. I believe that what we have in this and other Bills are pavers for regional elected government.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making the position crystal clear.

We believe it is right that regional development agencies should be involved in shaping the national LSC's guidance to its local arms, as well as in working closely with the LSC in all sorts of ways. After all, an RDA has a statutory duty to,

    "enhance the development and application of skills relevant to employment in its area".

What closer connection could there be to the learning and skills council than "skills"?

It is accepted that there are certain trends and factors which are plain, wider geographical areas than either local authority or local LSC areas. These factors and trends cross boundaries in determining, for example, economic growth. That is why this Government established RDAs. That is why we believe that close working between RDAs and the LSC will be for the benefit of everyone, individual learners, employers, local economies and communities.

Local LSC areas will not develop in splendid isolation from one another. When making their recommendations for local LSC boundaries, the RDAs did of course reflect issues of economic activity and development. However, as I have tried to set out briefly, some such issues are wider. It is only by engaging at both local and regional level that the full potential of any one area will be released. We cannot accept the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, as I do not think that she will be surprised to hear.

Amendment No. 70, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, deals with the issue of the national LSC consulting providers on its draft guidance. We want to establish a coherent and streamlined system in which key partners and stakeholders can speak authoritatively on the wide range of interests relevant to the planning and funding of post-16 learning. Clearly, providers of post-16 learning--to whom we assume this amendment is intended to apply--are one such group. They will have

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1412

important contributions to make at both national and local level. To specify them on the face of the Bill as proposed would be less than meaningful. We ask the question: which providers should the national LSC consult--all several thousand of them or some at random? I assure the noble Baroness that we do not require this amendment to ensure that the LSC takes account, as it will, of the views of learning providers. I hope that on that basis neither of the amendments will be pressed.

11 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am disappointed, as always, but I did not expect to get very far with these proposals. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 70 and 71 not moved.]

Clause 22 [Plans of local councils]:

[Amendment No.72 not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page