Examination of Witness (Questions 580-599)|
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
580. Minister, you have already mentioned when
we were talking about basic skills issues that that brings up
people within prison, and we have known for many years the kind
of educational background, skills and abilities that are often
found among people in prison. We have also known for a long time
issues about the inability to access work because the lack of
skills is a key part of the recidivism. Is there currently a joint
vision between the Home Office and the DfES on where prison education
(John Healey) There certainly is a joint vision beginning
to emerge. It is early days in the degree of the new working arrangements
that we have got. Members of the Committee will be aware that
funding for prison education now comes via the DfES for the first
time this year.
581. And the inspectorate arrangements.
(John Healey) And the inspectorate arrangements are
like those for any other part of the post-16 learning, principally
led by adult learning especially, that is correct. That gives
us a very direct stake for the first time. The impact of the direct
input from the education and learning point of view will be seen
next year and in successive years. Jointly Beverley Hughes and
I are responsible for the Prison Service Learning Unit that has
been set up. At the moment we are finalising together the work
plans and programmes that we want to see happening in prison education.
Aligned with that there is an increase in the resources which
also for the first time are ring fenced within the Prison Service
so that education funding cannot be diverted elsewhere. It is
£56 million this year and by 2003/2004 it will be £68
million which is quite a significant increase.
582. I accept that it is early days, but my
experience in working with one particular prison previously was
that the priority that is given to education over other aspects
of the prison regime, whether that is discipline issues which
clearly have to be maintained, is often down to particular prison
governors and the way they approach that. Have you had discussions
with the Home Office about the importance of developing a culture
within the Prison Service which values education for prisoners
specifically because it is so crucial to this issue of recidivism?
(John Healey) Yes, those discussions are going on.
You are right to point to it. It is key, not just providing it
but being able to do so in a context where education is seen as
part of the proper system in prison. It is also the case, however,
that for many of those in prison education is not something that
they readily want to embrace. In my view part of the challenge
we have in embedding education more firmly in the prison system
will be to embed learning in some of the other activities that
prisoners are more keen to do, such as the gyms, the workshops
and the catering. Particularly on the basic skills side, if we
can embed some of the learning in those sorts of activities rather
than simply as some prefab classroom that is a separate part of
the prison and therefore requires a step which is taking up education
from the prisoner's point of view, we have a much greater chance
of having the sort of impact we need to have.
583. Could not basic skills be emphasised by
even being part of the sentence or a condition of parole"If
you do not get your GCSEs you do not get out of prison"?
(John Healey) We had quite a fierce debate in the
House in the summer about setting up the legal grounds for a pilot
that would allow us to make it a requirement as part of the job
seeking system. That is a step I had not considered, I must say.
Chairman: When you think that the Home Secretary
recently sent to every Member of Parliament data pointing out
that 50 per cent of crime is carried out by 100,000 people, targeting
100,000 people with basic skills and giving them the opportunity
of a job might be a very valuable investment.
584. We have got the Home Office, the individual
governors, the DfES and the Prison Service. Who does what?
(John Healey) The Home Office with DfES are responsible
for policy that we want to pursue and developments we want to
see within the Prison Service. DfES is largely responsible for
the funding stream to support those developments. The Prison Service
is a crucial part of helping us make that happen and Martin Narey
is a very strong advocate of this approach and this element of
prison life. Of course individual governors are going to be quite
critical in terms of what they want to see or are prepared to
allow to happen within their establishments. Where they are good
and they are keen on education it is a great deal easier of course
than where they are not.
585. That does not sound to me as if you have
got the levers absolutely in place yet. I have got three prisons.
Parkhurst has a splendid record on sports education, for example,
but it seems to me that lifers benefit from full sentence planning;
most other prisoners do not. They feel, and so do governors sometimes,
that they are moved around more or less at random at the whim
of the Prison Service and they can be halfway through a particular
course of education (if they are lucky enough to get on one) and
they go to a prison where that course is not available. Will you
ensure that effective sentence planning takes place for every
prisoner commencing with a baseline assessment of their educational
needs and perhaps extending through a learning plan with clear
outcomes into post-release follow-up?
(John Healey) If I may say so, those are extremely
perceptive points and questions. We do not yet have any levers
in place. In a sense I think we are really taking the first steps
in this field with the strategy that DfES wants to see pursued.
It is called sentence planning. It is clearly easier to deal with
those prisoners you know you are going to have in one place for
a long time. To pick up the Chairman's point, where you have a
relatively small group of people who repeatedly commit a large
number of the crimes in this country they tend to serve short-time
sentences. That makes the challenge of assessing them on entry
and providing some support very much more difficult if their stay
in an institution is relatively short, particularly if they have
spent some time on remand before they get there in the first place.
Part of what you might call levers or arrangements that we are
now looking at putting in place to try and deal with this group
is that we are trying different assessment procedures as part
of the basic skills analysis of prisoners when they come in on
entry. What we have to do is to ensure that any learning that
we can get started on the inside is in some way continued in a
similar way on the outside so that the links with the Probation
Service on release and the learning provision outside on release
is crucial. Secondly, the sort of advice and individuals who deal
with a prisoner through their career moving in and out of custody
are such that they are seeing different people all the time. One
of the Cabinet special sub-groups on re-offending is very concerned
to see whether we might not be able to tackle in some way this
question of having somebody who might act as a single case mentor
or case manager who might be able to follow an individual offender
right the way through each stage of the system inside and out.
If that is the case that can play a big part in helping us with
the learning challenge and, on the other side, if we can improve
the basic skills in particular of many of these offenders it will
make it easier for them to get work, which will make it easier
for them to avoid re-offending as we know from evidence and experience.
586. Would it help if governors as well as the
whole Prison Service had hard targets to improve the basic skills
of their inmates? Secondly, do you have clear targets for the
Prison Service, and what are they?
(John Healey) The Prison Service itself has targets
for Level 2 learning at present. We are looking as part of our
planning for the next few years, because they do not yet have
targets for basic skills, at to what degree Prison Service targets
as a whole, aggregate targets, could usefully or reasonably be
disaggregated down to establishment level. It is a very important
suggestion and, if I may say so, I will take that as a small contribution
to the discussions we are having.
587. In December some members of the Select
Committee met with the Lattice Foundation. One of the interesting
projects they talked to us about was one where the gas industry
are short of people they can train as fitters, and yet if you
train as a fitter you have got virtually a guaranteed job and
a good wage. They went along to a prison and worked with some
young offenders who trained while in prison and at the end of
it they could move out into jobs rather than re-offend because
they cannot earn anything. The gas industry are happy; they are
getting the trained workers. The Prison Service are happy because
it does not cost them anything, and of course the prisoners are
happy because they are getting a worthwhile job out of it. Are
you aware of that sort of project and is it an area in terms of
prison education which you could look to expanding?
(John Healey) Yes, I am aware of it. In terms of expansion
within the prison system I am not certain to what degree we could
do that from other sectors but it is worth pursuing. It is very
much a sector based initiative, dealing with gas fitters. The
national training organisation responsible for that sector was
heavily involved in that. What I am aiming to put in place with
the new sector skills network, sector skills councils with an
underpinning agency, is much more powerful bodies that can develop
precisely those sorts of industry and sector specific skills initiatives.
588. As a magistrate some time ago I was at
a young offenders centre and the prison governor there was telling
me that 70 per cent of his guests could not read and write and
his objective was to be able to get them to write a letter home
and to read the responsea big job of work to do there.
Following on from my colleague, Paul Holmes, are you aware of
the FAST programme where Ford at Feltham have a Ka in the prison
and they run an apprenticeship scheme where 20 young men are doing
apprenticeships now and when they get to the end of their time
in the young offender's institution will go and work at Ford approved
garages and continue their apprenticeship to the end? Ford did
have a difficulty in getting a Ka into the prison in the first
instance because the first time they did it three of the guests
decided that they would go for a ride outside, and so before it
could go in the Ka had to be disabled. I think they have got over
that problem. I just wondered whether you were aware of that scheme
and perhaps other schemes like gardening or catering that could
be included so that people could learn a real skill and it would
be good for our economy certainly but, more importantly, good
for the individual who would have the self-respect that normally
goes along with that?
(John Healey) No, I was not aware of that particular
scheme at Feltham with Ford. I would hope, given the level of
literacy and numeracy of his guests, that with the car maintenance
and tuition they are building in reading, writing and maths as
well, doing very much what I said earlier they need to do, which
is not to treat education as something separate but to build it
in and embed it into some of the other things that the guests
might want to do during their stay.
Chairman: We have had a bit of fun on that topic,
but this Committee takes deadly seriously the 18th century conditions
and environment in which many prisoners are kept int this country
still today, deprived of education and access. Education must
be really taken seriously and we would like to see a real vision
transforming what happens to prisoners educationally whilst they
are prisoners. Indeed this Committee is discussing looking in
more depth at prison education. I was Shadow Home Affairs Minister
for four years and visited many prisons and am still appalled
by the way we treat them. If you track back the people in prison
they will tell you that their educational experience is very much
about the deficiencies of the educational sector. However, we
now wish to move on and I want to ask you to concentrate your
mind on TECs and LSCs. I am going to ask my colleague Jeff to
come in on this.
589. How has the transition gone, Minister,
from the TECs to establishing LSCs? Have there been any teething
(John Healey) There are two parts to that: how has
the wind-up of the TECs gone and how has the establishment of
the LSCs gone. Given that this was such a large transition from
72 TECs into a network of 47 LSCs, plus other functions of course
that the LSCs have taken on in addition to that, I think it has
gone very well. One of the first sessions I had when I became
Minister in July was up in Norfolk. I sat down with a team looking
at this and I was very impressed at how good a grip they had on
it and how smoothly that has gone. I am pretty pleased with both
aspects of that. I think it is still early days for the Learning
Skills Councils but in a very short time most of them a) have
established good relationships with the main providers in their
areas, b) are beginning to establish a profile with employers
in their area, and c) are in my judgement at a very critical point
of their first year, which is that they are all at present, having
done some consultation, confirming basically their business plans
for the next year or two. That will be I think the telling point
in terms of the degree to which they are going to be able to plan,
fund and then shape the learning provision in their areas that
is required for their areas. In some ways the degree of variation
that we get in those plans will be quite an important yardstick
for us in assessing how well the LSCs are beginning to establish
590. It is the Committee's understanding that
one of the main teething areas has been the cost of harmonising
the IT and accounting databases for all the different forms of
TECs and now the LSCs. Have you got a figure on the actual cost
that has been involved in harmonising the systems?
(John Healey) It is certainly true to say that one
of the operational difficulties in the new learning skills network
has been with their IT, and if the Committee would like a particular
analysis or note on that I would be very happy to provide it.
That can include, if it is the Committee's wish, what costings
we are able to provide on that. In practical terms it has made
it more difficult for the learning skills' national and local
networks to set themselves up from day one.
Chairman: That would be very useful.
591. Turning now to the specific and to the
South Yorkshire Learning Skills Council, as I am sure you are
aware that has been established in a very posh new office in Sheffield.
Given the fact that we have already talked about the high levels
of adult literacy and numeracy problems, given the fact that the
former coalfield areas in South Yorkshire have got some of the
highest levels of adult numeracy and literacy problems, would
it not have been a better signal from the Department to establish
the new LSC office for South Yorkshire say in the Dearne Valley
or perhaps in Barnsley East & Mexborough or even Wentworth
(John Healey) In all honesty I have no idea what the
process was for determining where the South Yorkshire Learning
Skills Council should be headquartered.
592. They did not get everything wrong, Minister.
They have got a very good Chairman who is a great friend of mine.
(John Healey) You have essentially pre-empted the
one point I was going to make. I know there are concerns which
Mr Ennis has expressed about other parts of South Yorkshire, but
then I believe the composition of the board, and you have drawn
attention to the Chairman in particular, is such that there are
some pretty strong voices from the former coalfields areas elsewhere
in South Yorkshire on that board, and I would expect them to
593. I am referring to the signal it sends out
to the people in South Yorkshire, particularly the ones who do
experience adult literacy and numeracy problems, that everything
is centring on Sheffield and not in the areas where it is needed
(John Healey) Certainly it is true that some people
see it that way.
Mr Turner: Not only in Yorkshire. It is exactly
the same in my area.
594. Both Government Ministers and the Chief
Executive of the LSC have said that the LSC's admin budget is
better value than that of the predecessors who administered these
funds and that they also want to reduce it further. The budget
for the LSC is £7.1 billion of which £218 million in
the next financial year is for admin. Of the £7.1 billion,
£4.3 billion, which is about 60 per cent, is for colleges.
When the FEFC administered that money previously they spent about
£16 million on administration, so that is £16 million
of administration costs against £4.3 billion. That would
be about eight per cent of the LSC's admin budget. That leaves
92 per cent of the LSC's admin budget to cover the other 40 per
cent of its total spending. Have you any comments on that sort
of distribution and how it might alter in the future?
(John Healey) The LSC is doing, even within the narrow
perspective of further education, more and different things than
the FEFC did, so I think that the direct comparison is not legitimate.
Secondly, the LSC has taken on responsibilities not just of the
FEFC but of the network of TECs, functions also from the Department
and also functions from Government offices. In terms of melding
the responsibilities and the admin functions of those 78 or so
different bodies that is the context in which to examine the admin
costs of the LSC, and the undertaking that David Blunket originally
gave that the admin costs of the new LSC network would be a saving
of £50 million on what existed before would be met.
595. But even if for some reason it costs more
to administer the college money than the £16 million that
the FEFC used to have, it still leaves 85-90 per cent of the total
admin budget going on only 40 per cent of the total expenditure
of the LSC.
(John Healey) Mr Holmes, I do not accept the figures
that you are trying to calculate. You are not comparing like with
like and I do not regard that as a legitimate exercise.
596. John Harwood told us that he wanted to
cut bureaucracy by 25 per cent in the future as part of this improved
administration. Is that a 25 per cent cut in the flow of paperwork,
is it in terms of cost? Is that cost in terms of premises or staff
or is it all three of those things?
(John Healey) You will have to ask John Harwood that.
I do not know the answer to that. I do not know what the LSC will
do on that front. What I can say though is that along with the
LSC we are aware, particularly in the arguments that have been
made from providers, including colleges, that the degree of separate
funding streams and the degree of paperwork and bureaucracy that
that brings is something that is cramping the ability of the sector
to operate. From our point of view as the Department in relation
to the LSC you will have heard the Secretary of State before Christmas
announce, for instance, that the standards fund will be from April
a single unified pot of money that will have no ring fenced elements
to it. You will have heard her also announce that in terms of
the DfES budget lines to the LSC we will be cutting those down
from 45 to nine and we would expect that to give the signal and
scope to the LSC to do similarly with their provider, so it is
not sufficient simply to be cutting down the red tape between
the Department and the Agency. We expect to see some of that having
an impact on the front line of colleges and some of the teaching
staff as well.
597. On the transition from the TECs to the
LSC, the TECs employed about 10,000 people and the LSC say that
they employ 4,757 people. Do we know what happened to the other
5,000 during that transition?
(John Healey) Can I suggest I cover that in the transition
note I promised to let the Committee have which can deal with
IT? It can give you give you a breakdown of the staffing elements
of the transition as well.
598. Another differential which your colleague
Margaret Hodge mentioned, again in a letter to us, is that the
TECs did not pay VAT and LSC does. Can you tell us why? The TECs
were not liable in any account to VAT. One of the difficulties
is the extra cost, we were told, to the LSC because they have
to pay VAT and presumably they employ people to calculate it.
(John Healey) I think, if I may say so, you are probably
thinking of the question of funding for learning in school sixth
forms being exempt from VAT whilst funding for other post-16 providers
is not exempt from VAT. The reason for that is that with school
sixth forms being funded via LEAs in the past the VAT legislation
exempts them from paying VAT because part of the funding for local
authorities is raised through local taxation. Margaret Hodge will
have told the Committee in her letter that she has taken this
up with the Treasury and we are looking for some decision and
clarity on this because clearly it is complicating the sorts of
moves that Mr Chaytor wants to see and that the LSC is trying
to manage in terms of a common approach to funding and common
levels of funding.
599. I think "clarity" is the word
and we would like to know, thank you very much.
(John Healey) As soon as we have the clarity ourselves
we will make sure you have that too.