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Provision about regional councils will be made in regulations, rather than in primary legislation, in order to give the LSC greater flexibility over time, by enabling the LSC to respond to, and more rapidly accommodate, possible future machinery of government changes. The first draft of any such regulations will, however, be subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses, as in the arrangements that I set out in Grand Committee.
This amendment clarifies that regulations may provide for delegation of its functions by a regional council. While it has always been the intention that regional councils should be able to delegate their functions, this amendment makes it absolutely clear that regulations allowing a regional council to do so can be made. Such regulations may provide for the delegation of functions by a regional council to its chairman, from the chairman to a member of the regional council and, with the consent of the national council, delegation of functions by a regional council to its staff. The amendment also clarifies that regulations may provide for the appointment of a regional council chairman from among the members of the regional council.
There will be checks on the power for a regional council to delegate functions to its staff. This amendment allows regulations to provide for a regional council to delegate functions to a member of staff, but only where the national council consents. The national council may specify that this consent relates to particular functions of the regional council or description of functions. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, when we debated this amendment in Grand Committee, it had an additional paragraph at the end about promoting the well-being of members of the local community, which, to say the least, did not command the support of the Committee. We removed it, therefore, before tabling the amendment again so as not to detract from the virtues of the rest of it.
In moving the amendment, my noble friend Lady Sharp commented that the Bill, which radically changes the responsibilities of the Learning and Skills Council, lacked a declaratory statement about the objectives of the council. In replying the Minister claimed that the Act that set up the LSC, the Learning and Skills Act 2000, did not lack declaratory ambition and that, anyway, the recent grant letter to the LSC from the Minister in another place laid out clearly what was expected of it. My noble friend admitted that there was little between us in what we would like to see from the LSC but expressed the opinion that such things needed to be in the Bill, not in a private letter from a Minister.
It is in this spirit that we have retabled the amendment. We believe that a mission statement similar to that which was applied to schools by the Education and Inspections Act 2006 should be imposed on the LSC for post-compulsory learning. We believe that the learning funded and organised by the LSC is of such fundamental importance to the success of our economy that legislation needs to make quite clear the standards and partnerships which should apply. I beg to move.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support the amendment. I believe in principle that Bills should say what they are for. If they set up an organisation such as the Learning and Skills Council, they should say what its objectives are as well as how it will work. That is all I need to say in support of the noble Baroness.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Lord Speaker for her advice. I thank the Minister for his letter of 11 February. I was particularly pleased to see Stockton-on-Tees in the working draft of 29 January attached to his letter. Years ago I attended Stockton-on-Tees technical college. I went to what we then called night school. I was working in a steel foundry. Having previously studied history and economics, it seemed sensible to learn engineering drawing, structural steel design and weight calculations for complex cast components. It was a wholly positive experience. The tech provided me with the wherewithal to do what I was employed to do with much greater understanding and efficiency.
The Ministers letter of 11 February deals with two of the matters that we discussed in Committee: first, the staff reduction programme, begun towards the end of 2005, and, secondly, the LSCs intended management and geographic structure. The two are
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The letter also provides a baseline figure for administration costs in 2001-02 of £249.1 million, which, I believe, was the expenditure from September 2000 to March 2002a period of 19 months not a year. Things can get difficult when the information provided is unreliable.
The structure of the LSC will remain decentralised, which is most welcome. The change from the present structure is confined to removing the statutory status of the 47 and conferring that status on the nine existing regional bodies. Although the 47 will disappear we are to have the council, nine regional councils, 42 area directors and 150 team partnerships. Whatever else is changing within the LSC, the management structure will not.
One question is left unanswered: what will happen to the 750 non-executives? How many will remain? My amendment would do two things. First, it would put the LSC structure into the Bill. I believe that that is right because, however policy changes, there will still be some 2,600 institutions of education involved therefore a decentralised structure is vital if local needs are to be met. I have Stockton-on-Tees in mind. Accepting the need for appropriate flexibility, the amendment provides for changes in the number and location of area directors and puts no upper or lower limit on the number of team partnerships. Indeed, I have followed the Ministers letter as closely as I could. Secondly, the amendment would strengthen the position of local authorities in relation to the LSC. That point was made in Committee and is strongly supported by local authorities and the Mayor of London. They all believe that they should appear early in the Bill because of the importance of further education and training to the people who elect them. I strongly agree.
We are in familiar territory. We are probably close to agreement on the substance, as I believe the Minister was in his reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. There remains, however, the question of whether provision should be made on the face of the Bill. The Executive usually say, It is not necessary. We will see that it happens anyway, but Ministers cannot bind their successors, so an Opposition will say that matters would be better safeguarded by statute than by undertakings. I believe that in this case the face of the Bill is the right answer. Not being a parliamentary draftsman, I am sure that the detailed wording of the amendment will need to be changed. However, if the Minister agreed to its thrust it would be a simple matter to get it right in a government amendment at Third Reading.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, although I have great sympathy with the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, over the undefinedI
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On the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Eccles, as I said in response to Amendment No. 5, the efficiency-saving that the change from local to regional councils will, one hopes, bring about is our primary reason for supporting the move. However, my noble friend raises some interesting questions, and I hope that the Minister can answer them satisfactorily. As I said in response to the first amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the worst-case scenario that we can envisage would be a LSC that spans national, regional and local levels. That would involve overwhelming bureaucracy and wasteful government at its worst; as such, we cannot fully support the amendments.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that Bills should define orfollowing the noble Baroness, Lady Morrisedify what they are about. It is important to understand that the Bill before us amends the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which sets out the purposes of the Learning and Skills Council very clearly. Section 3 of that Act says:
What the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, wishes to dobecause she always encourages us to aim higher in our ambitions for education and trainingis to define the duties of the Learning and Skills Council more widely still. Though I welcome the fact that she no longer wishes them to promote general well-being, as she did in her amendments in Grand Committee, we are still concerned that her current amendment would significantly extend the duties of the LSC, beyond the point where it is
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I understand the aspiration set out by the noble Baroness, but it does not need saying that an FE college is not a school. I say this because, given the terms of the amendment, it would be very difficult to see how either the Learning and Skills Council specifically or indeed the further education system as a whole could effectively discharge the duty in paragraph (iii), recognising that most FE students follow specific courses, a good proportion of them part-time. It is hard to see how, in practicegiven that a students relationship with a college is fundamentally different from a pupils relationship with a schoolthe Learning and Skills Council could realistically meet the proposed duty.
I can, however, give an encouraging response to other elements of the noble Baronesss amendment. She highlights the importance of quality in her amendment. We entirely agree with her. That is why, for example, the Quality Improvement Agency in Further Education is dedicated to working with providers, including those performing poorly, to raise their standards and increase their capacity. We are also, as is the noble Baroness in her amendments, committed to ensuring fair access to learning. That is why we have introduced educational maintenance allowances at a cost of many hundreds of millions of pounds. These are specifically geared towards promoting fair access to learning, and doing so with considerable success. I very much agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of the Learning and Skills Council, both nationally and regionally, co-operating with further education colleges, among others.
As we set out in our White Paper last March, the Learning and Skills Council is establishing a new and more effective relationship with colleges and providers, so that they can focus on improvements and meeting the needs of learners. A key part of this is the new arrangement for a single nominated Learning and Skills Council individual, called a strategic partner, for each college or other provider. Their role will be to discuss priorities, to commission provision within a much more streamlined and light-touch planning framework and systematically to help co-ordinate and build partnerships between the LSC and the respective college or provider. I hope that the objectives set out by the noble Baroness in her amendment are very substantially met. For the reasons I have given, we cannot go the whole way with her in her amendment.
I am delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, had such a good experience of further education in Stockton-on-Tees and that he brings that experience to consideration of this Bill. As he said, we are narrowing the points of disagreement between us. I have dealt with the issue of numbers a good deal in our correspondence, and I will seek fully to reply to his latest letter to me. I hope to deal with most of the issues he raised, which are technical and deal with the
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The noble Viscount asked how the baseline set out in the Learning and Skills Councils first annual report and accounts, covering a period of 19 months, could be compared with subsequent years. That is a major point. I am informed that the calculation of the baseline was necessary, because Section 29 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 specifies that the first financial year for the council should be the period starting with the date on which it was established and ending with the second 31 March following that dateas the noble Viscount said, that was a period of 19 months. However, for the first seven months, the Learning and Skills Council was in embryonic form and did not become fully operational until April 2001, when the operational staff transferring from the former training and enterprise councils and the former Education Funding Council for England took up posts. I am advised that the £249 million baseline figure to which the noble Viscount referred is appropriate for the department and the Learning and Skills Council to use because, for all practical purposes, it relates to a period of 12 not 19 months. Subsequent comparisons are, therefore, reasonable. Perhaps I may deal with the other issues raised by the noble Viscount in correspondence.
Amendment No. 6 is not necessary because it would place a statutory duty on the regional councils of the Learning and Skills Council, of which there will be nine, to set up between 27 and 54 area offices. However, as I said earlier in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the Learning and Skills Council will set up around 150 local partnership teams, which is approximately one per local authority. I set out their functions in my letter to the noble Viscount.
As I stressed in that letter and in my remarks, the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities already work in close partnership and the arrangements by which they do that will be strengthened by proposals in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, currently in another place, which place a duty on responsible local authorities to co-operate with partner authorities, of which the Learning and Skills Council is one, in producing local area agreements.
I hope that I am further narrowing the points of disagreement between the noble Viscount and myself. When I have replied to more of the specific points raised in his latest letter, I will be happy to engage with him further.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and other noble Lords for their contributions. I am grateful to the Minister for reading us the declaratory statements in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, but reasonable provision, as stated in that Act, is not quite the same as high-quality provision. He rightly identified that that is one of our major concerns; but, I suppose we will have to make do with the Audit Commission, rather than having something on the face of the Bill, if the Government insist that that is not appropriate.
In addition, encouraging individuals is not quite the same as helping students to fulfil their potential. Proposed paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of our amendment are both about access, and I accept that it is for colleges primarily to ensure fair access. In my defence against the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, I would point out to her that we provide in paragraph (iv) that the learning and skills councils should co-operate with the colleges on those duties.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I return to directions, which we discussed in Committee. The Minister correctly said that the duty to comply with directions is higher than that to have regard to guidance, and that the power to give directions allows greater control. Therein lies the problem. Ministers are constantly looking for greater powers of centralised control and for control that can be exercised without reference to Parliament. By good fortune, nearly all the legal departments serving Ministers have so far advised restraint, as, I believe, happened in the Ministers department.
In the 2000 Act there are powers of policy direction in Section 25. If those powers were exercised, the LSC would have a duty to report under Section 28 in its annual accounts presented to the Secretary of State and to Parliament. No such reports have been made. The schoolmasters cane has remained behind the curtain, but it would be better if it were not there in the first place, not least because at some recent date, probably about a year ago, the LSC lost confidence in itself, as its 2005-06 report clearly shows. It is not the strong and independent non-departmental public body it needs to be. It does not debate matters publicly with the department. It apparently has no views about the Bill.
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