Skills White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 22nd March 2005.

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Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills, Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 12:33 pm, 22nd March 2005

I thank the right hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me an early copy of her statement. After the depressing exchange that we have just heard, I shall make my party's position clear: we remain committed to driving up standards in vocational education in schools, and particularly, in skills in the workplace.

There will be considerable disappointment at the Secretary of State's statement today, because she has presented us with more of a progress report than a White Paper. Indeed, with the exception of her proposal for vocational academies, there is virtually nothing new in it. How are those academies to be paid for? Will that money come out of the £350 million that was given to the further education sector for capital development, or from a separate pot?

The previous White Paper, published in 2003, concentrated on level 1 and level 2 qualifications, and we understood the reasons for that. We expected this White Paper to contain significant proposals for level 3 qualifications. Indeed, the Secretary of State commented at the beginning of her statement that that was where the greatest challenge lay. Will she tell us what target she has set for the number of 19-year-olds achieving a level 3 qualification by 2010? We have such targets for levels 2 and 4, so can we please have one for level 3? Is there a level 3 strategy for 19 to 30-year-olds, with a clear target for achievement by 2010? Will she respond to the question asked earlier from a sedentary position by Mr. Collins about whether the new 19-to-30 commitment will involve free tuition for all trainees and students?

We welcome the plan to unify the qualification structure for 14 to 19-year-olds and for adult skills, but will the Secretary of State tell us why she has not included higher education in that structure? Had she done so, we could have had a unified structure throughout the whole of our skills provision programme. We also welcome the extension of employer training pilots, with a universal system up to 2007, but will the Secretary of State say whether that provision will be demand-led? If so, does she honestly think that £65 million is sufficient to achieve that aim? LSC budgets are stretched to breaking point at the moment, and if more money has to be taken from other elements of adult skills provision to fund this proposal, we shall simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The Secretary of State rightly identified the needs of small businesses. With regard to the entitlement to level 2 and 3 training, will she tell us whether she will extend employees' rights to time off for study? Has she considered and costed such a proposal? Will employers be given any compensation for the training that is obviously needed, particularly in small businesses? The lack of such compensation is often a real deterrent to employers allowing employees out.

I look forward to the Secretary of State's answers to those specific questions. We welcome the White Paper, and we welcome the journey that we are on. I hope that after the general election, we shall be able to proceed a bit more quickly.