Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]
Baroness Blatch (Conservative)
At the beginning of the afternoon the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was particularly cross with me, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because we started off on what appeared to be a negative note. Indeed, it was either the noble Lord, Lord Tope, or the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who was accused of wrecking the Bill. Like them, I can see how that interpretation is technically drawn in relation to the amendments that we are discussing today. The argument is not about whether there needs to be more coherence for 16-plus education. There is no disagreement across the whole of the Chamber about that. The argument is about means to ends. From what the noble Baroness has said and what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has done, I believe that it could be done better, more effectively and certainly at less cost.
My view is that there seems to be almost a fetish on the part of government that anything invented by the previous government must be changed, even if they agree it in principle, rather as they tried to agree with grant-maintained schools in principle. But grant-maintained schools had to go. They had to be redefined. Some changes had to be made. Sadly, the changes were in terms of losing autonomy. They knew that deep down it had in fact been a good idea to give schools more control and more operational autonomy.
Much the same is happening with training and enterprise councils. At some stage, the noble Baroness said that there were good, bad and indifferent training and enterprise councils. Earlier this afternoon, they were referred to as quangos. They are not quangos. They are incorporated companies, and they are separate. Hence, there is no clause in the Bill to dissolve them. They will not be dissolved; they simply will not receive contracts from the DfEE. They will not wither on the vine, but will go in some haste. It is not clear from the details in the Bill exactly how that transition will occur and what some of the practical manifestations of it will be.
There are two fairly important points when it comes to management of change. One is that it can be difficult. It certainly can be painful for the people who are involved and who are the losers. Certainly many members of staff will not be reappointed. Some people who have given very good service as voluntary members will cease to be used. The other side of management of change--and this has been my experience in local and in national government--is that management of change is expensive. To be done properly, it is costly. It is conventional for government, and indeed local government, never properly to fund management of change. Often, with hindsight, the reason why changes do not happen in quite the way that Ministers want them to happen has more to do with the fact that the changes were implemented on a shoestring.
Clause 1 is a bureaucratic monster. It is far removed from the aim of the Bill, which is to introduce more coherence and a more locally-tailored service to meet the skills and educational needs of communities and of business and commerce. A network is already in place. There is an argument for revisiting TECs--training and enterprise councils--looking at their composition, powers and modus operandi, and for introducing some reform so that they can deliver what the Government want.
The noble Baroness earlier criticised the fact that there are too many TECs and said that they are going to be reduced in number. I shall come back to the financial aspect of that in a moment. If that is the case, looking at their coterminosity with other bodies with which they have to work and at whether or not the areas they cover are right, the relationship between them, local business, local commerce and local authorities could be built upon in a practical and cost-effective way.
I was disturbed when earlier today the noble Baroness appeared to imply that part of the £50 million would in fact be saved by reducing the 72 councils down to 47. It is of course true that they may operate in fewer buildings. Parkinson's law being what it is, I suspect that those buildings will still stay within the public sector. But they will use fewer buildings. Is the intention to use fewer staff? And is the intention to have less money? In other words, is the money that is presently available to training and enterprise councils to be reduced in order to provide for the local skills councils and the national skills council? If so, what is the equation and what is the basis on which that calculation is to be made?