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Baroness Blatch: With regard to the last statistic used by the Minister, of course the number of students has gone up so one would expect the expenditure to go up if one is to keep pace with the number of students. The Government have said that not only are there more students since that time but there are to be more this year, next year and through to 2002. Expenditure per student will be static even if more money is put into the budget and, therefore, the quality of provision to the individual student may only be sustained by an injection of even more money.
The Minister mentioned the words "best value"--which is the argument used by the noble Lord--but the words are not on the page; there it simply says "best use of resources". As to the Minister's criticism that "cost effective" is too narrow, he will remember that when I spoke to the amendments I argued that there is another dimension to this matter; that is, operational effectiveness. I concede that sometimes cost effectiveness is not the only consideration for getting the best possible value for money from a service. Indeed, I lobbied my own government when competitive tendering was introduced and won the argument that we should not be pressed to accept the lowest possible tender on the grounds that the lowest tender might not, in the long term, offer the best value for money and that it would be better to pursue best value. Therefore, if the Minister was hinting that the Government would put into the Bill either "value for
The Minister kindly returned to the issue of the distinction between "proper" and "reasonable". Again, as I understand it, there will be no flexibility for local authorities under the Bill. The Government have quite rightly taken pride--and I shall not in any way criticise them for this--in the fact that they have strengthened the obligation of providers and the Government to young people up to the age of 19. They have set out in legislation that proper provision will be made for young people up to the age of 19--whoever they are, whatever background they are from and whatever their needs. That is an obligation in the Bill. It is a legitimate entitlement to the individual up to the age of 19.
I have said before, and I repeat, that there will be limited resources for most public authorities, including the local skills councils. Therefore, the first legitimate call on their moneys will be to meet properly the needs of all young people, including the extra numbers coming into the system that the Minister mentioned earlier. It is only when all those needs have been met that others may be considered. Even someone with severe needs who is post-19 cannot have his needs met until the outstanding needs of anyone under the age of 19 have been met.
We have been looking for two kinds of flexibility. One concerns the line between under 19 and over 19. We seek to allow some flexibility, especially for people who, for one reason or another, continue mainstream education after the age of 19. We seek also some flexibility to allow local authorities determination over their obligations to young people. Otherwise, the needs of someone just under the age of 19 who has all the wherewithal to find accommodation for further training and education outside the system may be met, while those of someone over 19 with extreme needs will not be met simply because the provision would incur disproportionate expenditure.
The Minister's answer on disproportionate expenditure simply did not stand up. There will be disproportionate expenditure on some students and rightly so, because the expenditure needed in order to meet their needs adequately will be considerable. Either normal or even below normal expenditure will be spent on others because they have the wherewithal or they have done it on their own or their needs are small. That kind of flexibility at local level is important.
If the Minister has said his last word in saying that the best term that can be mustered--I return to my criticisms--is "best use" and if "best value", or "most cost effective" plus some accommodation for "operational effectiveness" or "value for money" cannot be included, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee on Amendment No. 34.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
I and other Members of the Committee are concerned about the future of school sixth forms under the new arrangements. I remind the Committee that sixth forms constitute around 60 to 70 per cent of the arrangements for 16 to 17 year-olds.
In the past, the controversial issue of closing a school sixth form involved the local authorities, which were by their very nature influenced by public opinion. Further, many local councillors were also governors of the school. Therefore, there was a direct interest between the local council and the schools under discussion.
The problem is that the direct influence of the local council is now less, both as a result of the recent Education Act, which gave great powers to the adjudicator, and also because of the extensive powers given to the new learning and skills councils, nationally and locally, particularly in the matter of money to be allocated. They are now allocating money to the sixth forms, albeit through the local education authority. Therefore, the general guidance that is given to these new and powerful bodies is of great importance.
To give one example, it may mean that consideration may have to be given to small rural sixth forms, which are not always inadequate. I attended a small sixth form--a history set--in which there were four people. But that school, with its small sixth form, managed to get quite a large number of people scholarships and exhibitions to Oxford and Cambridge and was very effective. The fact that something is small does not mean that it is inadequate. My amendment means that the LSCs will have to bear these matters in mind. I suggest to the Minister that, in view of the great influence of LSCs in the allocation of money and in many other ways, it is of enormous importance that guidance other than in relation to expenditure and practicality is borne in mind when, for example, it closes a sixth form or decides that in a rural area everyone should go to a college, which economically may be more effective.
The amendment proposes that the LSC bears in mind distance; accessibility; the part that the sixth form plays in the local community; the outside activities that it provides, for example music and so on; the fact that many people between the ages of 16 and 19 may be lost in the larger environment of the college; and, finally--I repeat a point that I made at Second Reading--that good teachers may be attracted to such a school in a rural area just because there is a sixth form.
I was very grateful that, following Second Reading, the Minister wrote a letter in which she assured my noble friend Lord Baker and other noble Lords that other bodies would be consulted in this matter, such as the school organisation committee. The Minister also referred to the powers of the Secretary of State. However, the Minister is aware that this House is mistrustful of guidelines and offers by the executive of safeguards of this kind. We saw an example of that last night. Therefore, the purpose of my amendment is to ensure that there is some guidance on the face of the Bill which can be pleaded when the LSC decides these matters. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman, who has much more experience of these matters, said that these matters were terribly important in the context of judicial review. We all know that executives hate judicial reviews. I beg to move.
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