National Well-being — Question for Short Debate
Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Tyler for raising a very interesting and important question. I attended the seminar held about six weeks ago in Portcullis House at which Sir Gus O'Donnell spoke about the work that the Office for National Statistics is doing on measuring well-being. I am interested in this topic because, as an economist, I have always been aware of the shortcomings of GDP measurement and of how much more there is to life than just the goods and services on which monetary value can be placed. Yet there is the difficulty of developing any proxy that tries to measure these other things in life. I remember the early days of cost-benefit analysis, when we had the Roskill report on the third London airport and the lengthy deliberation over what value one would place on a Norman church. The value that was put on it in the study was the value that the parochial church council had placed on it for insurance value, but the council admitted that that was the value that it felt it could afford to put on the church rather than any real valuation.
There are very real difficulties here, and there is the conundrum that many of us have pondered over for a very long time. I was an assistant lecturer at the LSE with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in the 1960s when the Roskill report was being deliberated over. I remember even then, at the time when GDP was going forward on a fairly regular basis, there was the conundrum of why it was that if we were all getting so much richer, we were not feeling happier. This is a fundamental question that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, has been asking for some time.
I wanted to speak in this debate because I want to share with the House my experiences over the past six months when I have been leading an inquiry looking at the role of further education colleges within their communities. It fits into the scenario of the Government giving further education colleges greater flexibility over decisions about how they should spend their budgets. I was sponsored in this inquiry by the National Institute for Adult and Community Education, the AoC and the 157 Group of colleges. My remit was to look at the role that further education colleges do and can play within their communities and the added public value that their leadership can bring to those communities. It led me to do a lot of reading, a lot of visiting, a lot of talking and a lot of thinking about this subject.
My visits were perhaps disproportionately to very good colleges classed as outstanding by Ofsted. What hit me more than anything else was how brilliantly some of our colleges are reaching out to their communities and working with them in all kinds of different ways, not only in spreading the message of learning and skills but giving to those communities the self-confidence and the self-esteem that give them a much greater sense of community and, from that sense of community, a greater sense of well-being.
I would like to give three illustrations of the sorts of activities that I experienced. I visited a community hub in Bolton where the college worked alongside the local authority, using an old primary school in an area that was acknowledged to be disadvantaged. It had been going for some 20 years, and it provided the community with anything and everything from cookery classes and knitting groups through to adult literacy and numeracy. It also ran a youth group that had attached to it a boxing club and a cycle club. It served old and young alike. Graduates from the community hub had gone on to other college courses-access courses, A-levels and degrees in social work-and a lot of them had come back, stayed within the community and worked as community leaders and at the hub itself helping to bring others in. They were the activists and community leaders there; they instilled a sense of community and pride within the neighbourhood. It was this hub that organised street parties for the royal wedding. The cycle club had a sponsored ride from Land's End to John O'Groats, raising money for a local charity. The boxing club was winning trophies all across the north-west, and they were extremely proud of it. The hub was very much the centre of the community, organising it and giving it a considerable sense of pride.
Another college that I visited did a great deal of youth work. It linked up with local youth clubs, the local police and youth offending teams. It provided for those young people facilities where they could meet, sports activities such as football and basketball, in addition to things like motorcycle maintenance classes. It brought in young people to use the college facilities so that they might get used to the idea of coming into college. Having seen the facilities and the classes that were being run, they might be induced to sign up for some of them. They turned from being NEETs-those not in employment, education or training-into being in training and very often going on to further qualifications. Again, it was an obvious linking up.
At another college, the principal discovered that the local PCT was having great difficulty in meeting its young people's well-being and health targets. He said, "Well, why don't you come and work from within the college?" This was set up and the PCT within two weeks had hit the yearly targets which it had failed to meet for the previous two or three years. It now provides within the college a well-being centre for young people. It is a win-win situation, because the PCT has hit its targets; teenage pregnancies are noticeably down within the community; and college attendance rates are noticeably up. In addition to that, the nurse function within the college is now paid for by the PCT, which provides the staff for the well-being centre.
I found all this extremely encouraging. It seemed to me that there were three elements in this success. One was leadership, another was partnership, and the third was vision. The college leadership provided the catalyst for those partnerships to be formed, and the partnerships led to greater involvement in the community. Social energy is unleashed. As a result of this activity, I found myself reading over the summer the work of the Royal College of Arts on social productivity. It seemed to me that this activity displayed precisely what the college was describing. By involving people in these activities, you could unleash social activity which gave people the confidence and self-esteem which led to well-being. I coined the term-and this is the title that I gave to my report-"dynamic nucleus": colleges could be like the centre of a Catherine wheel, as a catalyst, sparking off through partnership all kinds of other activities. These activities can add considerably to social well-being.