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Lord Bach: Amendment No. 125A proposes express provision on the face of the Bill for the national council to amend the guidance given to a local LSC or to alter its budget during the course of a financial year. The Government appreciate that the objective behind the
We made it clear in the prospectus that the national LSC would retain the capacity to make in-year adjustments and to reallocate a proportion of local budgets in the event of significant underspends or potential overspends or changing needs. The LSC will retain some capacity to invest in sector-based initiatives through NTOs where that provides specific benefits that cannot be delivered locally. The national LSC will also hold a limited contingency fund to allow it to respond to unexpected in-year changes.
It is only right and proper that a national body, with a strong central leadership and clear national priorities, should oversee expenditure of £6 billion overall, while recognising the authority and decision-making ability of the local LSCs which comes from their local knowledge and regular contact with local authorities, education and training boards, employers, trade unions and individual learners.
Those levers and the approach outlined will help ensure that the national LSC is responsive to local needs and is customer-led not provider-driven. But we do not believe that we need to spell that out on the face of the Bill, particularly as we shall be consulting further in May of this year on the details of the new funding and allocations framework for the LSC covering more fully the issues raised here.
I turn to Amendment No. 142 spoken to by the noble Baroness. Again, the Government appreciate that the objective behind the amendment is to ensure that local LSCs have the ability to respond to changes in local circumstances during the course of a year. I stress that we believe that it is important that local LSCs have that flexibility and I assure the Committee that they will have it. But it is not our intention that the published plans of local LSCs will be continually updated throughout the year. That would lead to a bureaucratic nightmare, as well as possibly a need for three or four plans in one year. We envisage a single local plan for the year as set out in Clause 22(5).
However, that does not mean that local LSCs will not be responsible to changes in local circumstances during the course of the year. We said in the prospectus that the LSC will build into its financial and planning arrangements scope for moving resources into local areas to meet needs which could not have been anticipated on a yearly planning system.
Nothing in the Bill requires a local LSC to stick rigidly to its published plan regardless of changing circumstances. Indeed, it would be the height of folly for a local LSC to stick rigidly to a published plan which had been overtaken by circumstances. I hope that I have given the noble Baroness some real assurances which will lead her to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Bach: It is astonishing to hear that said in this context by the noble Baroness, who played such a prominent part in a government who clearly had strong central leadership at their heart. I was talking about the national LSC with its budget of £6 billion. Perhaps she would rather that it did not lead in the way we intend that it should.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am delighted to hear that we have both strong central leadership and bottom-up initiatives! I am very glad to have the assurance from the Minister that the Government envisage a degree of flexibility both at national and local level. It has been useful to get that on the record. Should there ever be any problems from the point of view of the local LSCs, it will be necessary for them to remember that it is on the record and can be brought to the attention of Ministers. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 126 is another amendment that tries to turn the Bill on its head. It makes an interesting distinction between education and training and the importance of reading the skills needs of the local labour market in the local area. For that reason I believe that there is a strong argument for inserting this at line 20 to ensure that reading the needs of the local skills labour market is considered important. That is not implicit in the words already on the page. I beg to move.
Baroness Blackstone: Recognising and meeting the skills needs of local labour markets will be a key function of the local LSCs. In the LSC prospectus we made it clear that each local LSC will produce an annual statement of the learning and skills needs of the local area. Subsection (2)(a) of Clause 22, with its reference to,
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 127 will ensure that the local LSC's statutory plans make adequate provision for the needs of people with learning difficulties. I shall not repeat the arguments that I made when I moved and spoke to the amendments placing a duty on the councils to promote equality of opportunity for disabled learners. Suffice it to say that we all agree that there are still some who are missing out.
I digress briefly. On Tuesday, I was extremely grateful to the Minister for saying that she will bring forward an amendment on Report in response to my Amendment No. 53 that would place a duty on the LSC to promote equality of opportunity. I was so excited by the Minister saying that she would do something of which I had no foreknowledge that I forgot to check whether her amendment--it may be quite different--will cover the local LSCs and the Welsh councils. If she could indicate that in her reply I would be grateful.
I return to Amendment No. 127. Even if there is a duty to promote equality of opportunity on the local LSCs, when the local councils make their plans it is important that the statement of education and training needs of the population in the area should contain specific reference to people with learning difficulties. In other words, it would be excellent if we had the duty to promote equality of opportunity. Amendment No. 127 could be the mechanism to ensure delivery of that. I hope for an encouraging reply from the Minister. I beg to move.
Lord Addington: I support this amendment, to which I attached my name. If we are going to bring forward a plan which does not take into account those with learning difficulties, we are effectively excluding them from the holistic approach, which is something for which we are campaigning. I suggest that this reference should happen automatically if we are to integrate people into the same education system at every level. I fully support the amendment.
Baroness Blatch: I too rise to support the amendment. It is not that persons with learning difficulties are given "specific" focus; but that they are given "a" focus. The amendment is more than just a reassurance. The disability lobby has seen Clauses 13 and 14, which are important, and the amendment dovetails nicely in with them. Focus is given when plans
Baroness Blackstone: The requirement on local LSCs to produce a statement on the learning needs of its local population must certainly extend to the needs of specific groups and interests, including those of persons with learning difficulties. I point out to the noble Baroness that under Clause 13 the LSC must have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties in discharging its main duties to secure post-16 learning provision for the population of England. In practice, it cannot do that at either national or local levels without reflecting this in its plans and strategies. However, we should avoid adding extra words to the Bill to achieve what will happen in any case. I hope the noble Baroness is able to accept that and, in the light of this and earlier statements of our commitment to the needs of people with learning difficulties, she will withdraw the amendment.