New Clause 5 — Functions of Learning and Skills Council for England in relation to education and training for persons aged 16 to 19

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 11:31 am on 12th July 2007.

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'(1) LSA 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) Omit section 2 (education and training for persons aged 16 to 19).

(3) In section 3D(1) for "sections 2 and 3" substitute "section 3".

(4) In section 13(1) omit "2,".'.— [Sarah Teather.]

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 26, in clause 6, page 6, line 31, leave out subsection (1).

No. 27, page 6, line 37, leave out 'that Act' and insert 'LSA 2000'.

No. 28, schedule 2, page 28, line 2, column 2 , at beginning insert 'Section 2.'.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State

New clause 5 and consequential amendments Nos. 26 to 28 are essential probing amendments designed to tease out the Government's intentions with regard to 16-to-19 funding, following the announcement of a new departmental structure. The effect of those amending provisions, taken together, is to remove the statutory duty on the Learning and Skills Council to provide education, training and leisure activities to 16 to 19-year-olds.

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education may recall our previous debates on the subject. For example, he said:

"Lord Leitch made it clear—as the Government have made clear—that the role of the LSC can and should continue to evolve and change, but Lord Leitch also made it clear that instinctively he was not in favour of ripping up structures and starting again simply for the hell of it, but that we had to reform the process overall."

He also said:

"Sarah Teather made a criticism of 16 to 19 funding, and she advocated that it be transferred to local authorities. I am not convinced by her argument, and it is usually the case in these issues that the Liberal Democrats support the view of providers. In my experience of talking to college principals up and down the country, there would not be support for her proposition. ."—[ Hansard, 21 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 171-74.]

That is interesting, as just two weeks ago the Prime Minister announced that that money would be transferred to local authorities.

First, I warmly welcome that announcement and that change and I invite the Minister to do likewise. I believe that if it is done well, this could offer an exciting shift in policy. It could finally allow us to join up 14-to-19 education in a genuinely coherent way. It could provide an opportunity finally to end the invidious gap between students in the sixth form and those at further education colleges. It could herald the opportunity mentioned in the White Paper for funding to follow the student, so that people in the 14-to-19 range could move between institutions if required in the light of the Government's reforms of diplomas. I view this as genuinely exciting and I hope that the Minister has reflected on the change over the past two weeks and will feel as excited as I am and willing to embrace it.

In order to generate the necessary change, we need legislation. I am trying to be helpful by tabling amending provisions to repeal part of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which would be required for enactment. It will also be necessary to amend the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to place a new statutory duty on local authorities for 16 to 19-year-olds. That is not in order for this Bill, so I cannot do that, but I have done what I can to help. I hope that the Minister will receive it in the helpful spirit in which it is intended.

I assume that the Minister will respond in a few moments and say that he does not wish to enact these provisions now, but to go away, consult and consider them very carefully. If so, will he tell me when he wishes these changes to be brought forward and whether it is his intention to repeal the relevant section of the Learning and Skills Act? If not, why not? Does he intend to continue to use the Learning and Skills Council as a conduit for money for 16 to 19-year-olds? If so, does he not think that it could be an extra barrier of bureaucracy? If he thinks that the LSC should continue to play a role in 16-to-19 education, is it mainly in respect of apprenticeships?

There seems to be a bit of turf war going on at the moment between the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I hope that the result of that turf war will be that, eventually, many apprenticeships will be transferred to the DSCF and not continue to remain with DIUS. Only in that way will we get genuinely joined-up treatment of all 14-to-19 provision. It would be unfortunate if that were to generate weird barriers between part-time and on-the-job learning.

The important thing is how the transfer of 16-to-19 money is done: the transfer alone will not generate what we want if the money continues to be ring-fenced, and if the 0-to-16 funding continues to be ring-fenced in a separate grant. If there must be ring-fencing—which, on the whole, I am not in favour of—it would be much better to ring-fence 14-to-19 funding, and then to have 0 to 13, or at least 0 to 10 and 11 to 13, in separate grants.

The announcement has enormous implications for the Bill. Indeed, it renders some aspects of the Bill redundant. Does the Minister intend to bring forward legislation at a later stage to amend the Bill in the light of the announcement? We are being asked to pass a Bill that contains a number of powers that will be irrelevant if the Government move the 16-to19 money—in particular, clause 17, which we will debate at some length on the next group of amendments, which gives intervention powers to the Learning and Skills Council. Were the money for 16 to 19-year-olds moved, however, many colleges would no longer have the LSC as their funding partner. That would seem to bring the proposal into question. Similarly, with regard to clauses 14 to 16, which refer to the merger, dissolution and publication of proposals for new colleges, the Learning and Skills Council may not fund such colleges at all, and would certainly never be the major funder. Of the £9 billion now provided by the LSC, the Government propose to move £6 billion to local authorities.

I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he intends to amend the Bill in the future. I do not feel comfortable passing a Bill now that gives powers to the LSC that will clearly become irrelevant in a relatively short period. It will be unhelpful if the Minister cannot assure me on the record that the Bill will be amended when the new proposals come forward, with respect not only to the duties on local authorities, but to other clauses that relate to LSC powers over colleges.

Lastly, what will remain with the LSC and what might its role be? In Committee, the Minister said:

"Even under the demand-led approach that we are moving towards—we envisage most of the funding going through the demand-led process—there would still be a relationship with the Learning and Skills Council. Funding would still come from the council. If it will not have the ultimate power of intervention, and if we want to protect the public purse and the public interest, who will take on the responsibility?" ——[Official Report, Further Education and Training Public Bill Committee, 14 June 2007; c. 110.]

In the light of the recent announcement, does the Minister still believe that to be the case? Does he still see a role for the LSC? Many rumours abound about the Government's intention to move that money for 19-plus adult skills to regional development agencies or to sector skills councils. I was hoping that the Treasury sub-national review might have been published by now to give us at least some hint of the direction of the Government's travel. Although ministerial appointments have been published, those proposals have not.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee, Chair, Education & Skills Committee

The hon. Lady is very knowledgeable in this area, and I was not privy to the Committee's discussions. What is her view of what should happen to the LSC, which seems increasingly endangered?

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State

At the moment, we are simply consulting on what should be done with the money. An internal party working group is in the process of taking evidence, and I would be happy to discuss such proposals at a later stage. I am interested to know the Government's intentions and whether they have a view on the matter. A move from a £9 billion organisation to a £3 billion organisation would seem to undermine the future of the LSC.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

The hon. Lady raises an entirely proper point. Does she agree that for those of us who have sometimes been critical—perhaps not always fairly critical—of the administrative costs of the LSC, it is self-evident that if the volume of traffic or turnover through the council is reduced, the ratio of overheads to final expenditure is commensurately increased?

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State 12:45 pm, 12th July 2007

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to criticise the announcement, as we have been calling for it for a long time, as the Minister knows. I am extremely pleased that the Government have announced their intention to move 16-to-19 money to local authorities. My question is: what happens next? Certainly, the announcement has enormous implications for the LSC. I have been similarly critical of some of the LSC's overheads, although I have not used the same language as the hon. Gentleman. I am aware that the LSC has been through several restructuring processes and that staff face quite a lot of uncertainty. It would be helpful if the Government were to put on the record their intentions for the organisation, at least to indicate to staff employed by that organisation the future direction of Government travel.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

It is good to welcome the Minister back to his job, albeit in a new Department, and I look forward to exchanging various comments and ideas with him over the coming weeks and months, in the happy spirit that has pervaded our previous exchanges.

I digress from that sentiment in no way by saying that the new clause and amendments seem to highlight a fundamental flaw in the Government's thinking. In a sense, the amendments prise open a gap between the Bill and the Government's strategy. Sarah Teather was measured in her comments; she could have been altogether more direct. She might have asked why we were debating a Bill in isolation from the Government's approach to the Leitch review of skills. We still await the Government's response to that fundamental review, which, we think, will come out next week—it has been delayed three times already. We understand that one of the reasons for the delay was that the first draft was simply not up to scratch: one agency told me that it could have been written by a seven-year-old child with chickenpox.

Given the paucity of the Government's approach and the delays suffered, it is unsurprising that we are debating in isolation a Bill that might contradict some of the Government's response to Leitch, and which certainly contradicts much of Leitch's analysis. The new clause and amendments relate to the departmental reorganisation and its implications for the LSC. The Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr. Sheerman, asked the hon. Member for Brent, East what she thought about the LSC, and in doing so prompted the question of what the Government think about it. Leitch does not mention the LSC until about page 75 of his report, and then talks about further rationalisation in that body. We are not clear whether the Government see a long-term future and a central role for the LSC. We certainly do not know whether the Government's response will merely be to bolt on a new structure to the existing one. I suspect that we might end up with that, and that would be thoroughly unsatisfactory.

As the hon. Lady said, the decision to create two new Departments to cover education and skills has significant implications for FE colleges because of the plan to route funding for 16-to-19 education via local authorities. That is what the new clause and amendments address.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

Does my hon. Friend agree that the last thing that the sector needs is more bodies, or a further proliferation of bodies? I am already uneasy about splitting the Department. What the sector needs is a simple line of funding and communication so that it can get on with its job.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

My hon. Friend, in his typically learned and well-informed way, makes two points. First, he makes the point that the split into two Departments creates a problem of clarity—it is difficult to know where responsibilities will lie for different aspects of the previous Department's work. He then made a second and even more profound point about the bureaucracy, over-regulation and micro-management that has typified the Government's approach to further education and to skills more generally.

Because I have high hopes of the Minister—rejuvenated by his reappointment—I hope that he will take the opportunity of the response to Leitch to clear away some of that bureaucracy and lift some of the burden on our excellent further education colleges, so that we can meet the skills targets that he wants to be met and on which we share a view. I do not take a negative view—I am not pessimistic—but unless the Minister rises to the challenge identified by my hon. Friend, I am afraid that my hopes will be dashed and the whole House, indeed the whole country, will be disappointed.

According to the Times Educational Supplement,

"Billions of pounds in funding for colleges is due to be taken from the Learning and Skills Council and put under the control of local authorities. The handover of about £7 billion of the LSC's £11bn-a-year budget will be the culmination of Gordon Brown's reorganisation of education."

The reform will require yet more legislation, presumably as part of the proposed Bill to raise the school leaving age to 18. We had a taste of it in what could be described as the early Queen's Speech—the pre-Queen's Speech Queen's Speech—which hinted that there might be further legislation to do just that.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State

The hon. Gentleman will have observed that the publication accompanying yesterday's statement contained no information about the proposed Bill. That suggests that the Government will use it to amend the process of funding 16-to-19-year-olds.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I agree. It is not as though we did not tell the Government—we said that this Bill was not fit for purpose because it had come to the House irrespective of the Government's response to Leitch. We may well see, in the autumn, a further Bill dealing with skills and further education and making structural changes to the way in which skills are funded and managed, although this Bill will have only just hit the statute book. It strikes me as bizarre to publish the Leitch report and the Bill simultaneously, given that the one bears very little relation to the other.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Opposition Whip (Commons)

Would it not be very much in the interests of the Learning and Skills Council for the Government to clarify their thinking on its future? The Bill talks of moving from a local to a regional structure. The LSC will inevitably need to do some work on that, which may come to nothing if the Government change their mind later.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Government's approach has a touch of rearranging the deckchairs and changing the sheet music for the dance band on the Titanic as we face our journey to the lifeboats. One wonders whether, expecting some massive change, the Learning and Skills Council is desperately trying to reorganise itself before it is reorganised in a way not of its own choosing. We need the Government to be straightforward, and the hon. Lady's new clause and amendments give them an opportunity to be so. Do they envisage a long-term future for the LSC in its current form, in the context of the new clause and amendments? Do they expect it to continue much as it is now, or do they anticipate fundamental reform of the funding and management of skills of the kind that is hinted at, indeed identified, by Leitch, and which Members in all parts of the House consider now to be necessary?

As I have said, there is mention of further legislation, presumably as part of the proposed Bill to raise the school leaving age to 18. Conservative Members have concerns about the proposal to return college funding to local authority control. We are proud of what many further education colleges achieve. I make no apology for repeating what I have said before—that the House should celebrate their work, congratulate the professionals in them, and applaud the achievements of the many students who pass through them. Conservative Members trace those achievements back to the crucial Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which gave further education colleges their freedom from local authority control and set them on a path to the success that they now enjoy.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will now confine himself to the new clause and amendments under discussion.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I shall be delighted to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Association of Colleges is concerned about the plan to route funding for 16 to 19-year-olds via local authorities, which is precisely what is dealt with in the new clause and amendments. The proposed changes are creating considerable uncertainty in the sector, as I was told by the principal of a further education college that I visited earlier this week. The colleges are not certain what the change means, and they are not confident about their future. They are not even confident that the Government see a long-term future for further education at all. I do not share the Armageddon view of the Government's position, but I do think that a lack of certainty and clarity is causing a problem with morale in the sector, particularly in relation to the issues dealt with in the new clause and amendments.

Many young people cross boundaries to attend colleges in other local authority areas, but changing funding responsibilities may make it more difficult for them to exercise that choice. I ask the Minister to comment on that problem in particular. The Bill also creates confusion by extending the role of the LSC in training for 16 to 19-year-olds. Clause 6 would give it a new duty in relation to education and training provision for that group

"with a view to encouraging diversity in the education and training available to individuals".

It seems to be critical for those individuals to be able to exercise maximum choice, but the fact that the new powers will soon be obsolete again raises the question of the Bill's purpose. On Second Reading I argued that it was not fit for purpose and that further legislation might well be required. We now learn that the Learning and Skills Council is likely to be stripped of many of its current functions, but we have yet to hear the Government's detailed response to Leitch.

In the past, the Minister has been dismissive of the inquiries made by the hon. Lady and me, and mentioned by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, about the possibility of new legislation. Will he tell us whether he anticipates further legislation, and whether it will deal specifically with the points raised by the hon. Lady and amplified by me? If he says that he does, it will contradict what he said in Committee, namely:

"To move the system in a more demand-led direction one does not need to legislate". ——[Official Report, Further Education and Training Public Bill Committee, 12 June 2007; c. 19.]

I was doubtful about that at the time, and I remain doubtful. It appears to me that the Government have changed their position and are now suggesting that they may well need to legislate. The former Leader of the House said that the Government were "planning legislation" on Leitch when he was questioned on the matter as early as 21 June. Can the Minister confirm that, and can he tell us what reason the Government would have to legislate on Leitch if not to introduce the demand-led system that Leitch advocates?

Conservative Members are in favour of reducing the mountain of bureaucracy that stifles the delivery of training and prevents the establishment of a system tailored to the needs of business and learners alike. The Government have been complacent. Debating these very matters in Committee, the Minister said that concern expressed by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend Jeremy Wright, about the £1 billion of public money spent by the LSC for purposes other than training was "erroneous". City and Guilds takes a rather different view. Under the heading "The Cost of Bureaucracy", it suggests that the regulatory impact and overall burden on providers warrants "serious and sustained attention". Will the Minister deal with the concerns of third parties such as City and Guilds?

In essence, and in conclusion, the hon. Member for Brent, East has done the House a service by proposing the new clause because there is a gaping hole in the Government's position. It is not clear where responsibility will lie in the medium term, nor is it clear, as my hon. Friend Mr. Boswell said, whether contradiction and confusion will be a permanent feature of the Government's strategy or whether it is merely that the Bill and the Government's other plans are not consistent. It is not clear whether the Government will have to legislate further. It is not clear whether the Minister will be responsible for these things for very much longer, or whether they will pass to another agency or Government Department. That lack of clarity is doing the sector no favours and the House no service. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that he is rather clearer than he has given the impression of being thus far.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills 1:00 pm, 12th July 2007

I welcome Sarah Teather to her new position and, for the avoidance of doubt, I confirm that I continue to be the Minister with lead responsibility for the Learning and Skills Council. The hon. Lady referred to some of the remarks that I made in Committee and referenced them with the position we are in today. I need simply remind her that the role of Ministers is to argue current Government policy with conviction; I did that in Committee and I am more than happy to do it here today.

It is the Government's intention to provide strong strategic leadership for the reforms to the 14 to 19 curriculum and qualifications and for increasing participation and attainment by young people by the age of 19. That responsibility, announced as part of the recent machinery of government changes, sits with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We intend that the new Department will have responsibility for overall planning and funding for 14 to 19 learners to achieve that ambition. It will focus on those young people who are not in education, employment or training, who often need personal support services to help them engage. It will take responsibility for raising the education leaving age.

With that responsibility, we intend to transfer funding for 14 to 19 learners—I am pleased that the hon. Member for Brent, East has welcomed that—to the local authorities' ring-fenced education budgets. Crucially, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills—in effect the Department for the knowledge economy—will lead the work to ensure that this country has the skilled work force that it needs to compete in the global economy. At the heart of that task is the development of funding and performance management of further education in England—a vital and continuing role. Included within that role are efforts to make sure that the system is able to deliver the 14 to 19 reforms to which I referred earlier. If ever there was a need for joined-up government, it is in this area.

Both those reforms are logical developments of the Government's policies, such as Every Child Matters, the 14 to 19 reforms, the challenge set by Sandy Leitch and the further education reform agenda. Those are welcome and both Departments are now working on the practical implications of the announcements. It is clear that the reforms will require legislation. The Prime Minister has indicated that the Bill to raise the education leaving age from 16 to 18 will be one of the measures on the Government's legislative agenda next year. We will seek to secure on the programme for the following year a Bill to deliver the reforms announced in the machinery of government changes. Before then we will, rightly, consult on the details and timing of the funding transfer to ensure no disruption to schools, colleges and training providers. That is the fundamental issue.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

One issue that my hon. Friend has raised, and which I raised on Second Reading, was that of NEETs—those not in education, employment or training. They are not tracked at all and, in my constituency, there is no knowledge of what happens to them after the age of 16. Would it not be simple to instruct local authorities to make a list of people who appear to be missing from education and training as soon as they leave school at 16, and to do that fairly quickly?

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I respect my hon. Friend's intentions; he has worked on this matter for a long time. It is not fair or accurate to say that no tracking takes place. The Learning and Skills Council, local authorities and the Connexions service work together to provide advice, guidance and support and to track young people in those circumstances. One issue that we debated in Committee is that the NEET group is changing; it is somewhat simplistic to say that they are all suffering from a lack of opportunities. As a result of that discussion, I committed to write to members of the Committee and I will be happy to forward that correspondence to my hon. Friend.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I thank the Minister for that letter and for exploring the issue in more detail. Why does he think the number of NEETs has grown since 1997? It is not absolutely clear why and he must have a pretty good idea of what strategic changes have brought that about.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

If one looks at the long term trend, it is not accurate to say that the number has grown. Broadly, the percentage has remained similar. I am not denying that this is a significant challenge for us. Across Government, real effort is going into this area. Some of the reforms we are looking at now will enable us to take that body of work further forward.

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Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd

Yesterday, I took four young women aged 16 and 17 who were NEETs around the House of Commons and spoke to them for one and half hours. Three of the four said that they fell off the education radar because of bullying. What message can the Minister give to those three young women from my constituency that that issue is being tackled, not only in Wales but in England?

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

My hon. Friend raises a serious and important point. The new Department takes bullying extraordinarily seriously, as we did in the former Department. We must ensure that there is best practice in every school. We must also ensure that schools are not blind to the problem and do not carry on as if it does not exist. Within every school we need proper procedures to expose the issue, tackle it and give children and young people the confidence that there is security within the classroom and the school.

We also will ensure that there is no disruption to 14 to 19 reforms, including the introduction of new diplomas, and to the skills reforms, including the move to a system which is more demand-led. We will continue the vital work of employer engagement, which Opposition Members have been particularly interested in. Mr. Hayes asked about further legislation. I reiterate that moving to a demand-led system does not require legislation. We are already moving to a demand-led system; the significant proportion of funding through Train to Gain and skills accounts will, under existing arrangements, move to a demand-led approach. We do not need further legislation to increase the proportions. Other elements will require legislation and I will come on to those.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Minister has provoked this intervention. Surely he is not telling the House that fundamental changes to the responsibility of the LSC and new powers for the sector skills councils—another element of Leitch that I assumed the Government would take seriously—as well as changes to the funding regime would not require some changes to legislation. There are statutory powers and responsibilities embedded in the system that would have to be changed if we were to adopt the Leitch agenda in its fullest form. I do not understand why the Minister is being so defensive; if there is to be legislation, let us say so and have an open and honest debate about the public policy implications.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I am not denying, and I have not denied, that there will be a need for further legislation. However, a move to demand-led funding does not require further legislative change. That is possible and is happening at the moment. The proportions of demand-led funding are increasing significantly as of today. As I said, we are moving to a more demand-led system, which is vital to employer engagement.

All of this will take time, however, and although we will seek to effect early changes that can be made under current legislation—for example, our commitment to close further the funding gap between schools and colleges as resources allow might be enabled by the new system, and lessons from the dedicated schools grant might be used to inform how funding methodology can be developed—I estimate that we will not be able to give effect to the full legislative changes until the academic year 2010-11. In the three full academic years between now and then, the LSC will retain the legal responsibility for securing and funding all forms of post-16 education and training outside higher education. In particular, it will retain the duty to secure the proper facilities for young people aged 16 to 19.

As the LSC will for the time being retain that duty for young people, we must ensure that it can operate effectively. Establishing the performance management and viability of colleges, including their work with young people and adults, will be discharged on behalf of the Government by the LSC until such time as new legislation is introduced. Therefore, now is not the time to make changes to the LSC's duties in respect of providing proper facilities for young people.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State

I thank the Minister for that answer, but may I return to an earlier point I made? Will the Government give an undertaking now that, when the funding changes are introduced, they will amend the legislation so that the performance management assessment of colleges is no longer done by the LSC? I would not feel comfortable passing the Bill if I did not have confidence that the Government would make such changes in a few years, because otherwise we would effectively be giving powers to assess the management of a college to an organisation that would no longer have any relevance to the college.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I cannot, and will not, give the specific commitment that the hon. Lady asks for, as if I were to do so it would pre-empt legitimate consultation on the detail of this matter, which should take place. It is certainly the case that we will have to consider changing the overall legislative framework, including changing the proposed legislation in this Bill. However, I think that the hon. Lady is asking me to go further by specifically ruling out that the LSC will be part of that process, and it would not be right to do so.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State

My understanding, especially from the discussion that members of the Education and Skills Committee had with David Bell yesterday, is that the Government have made it clear that it is their intention that the LSC will not be part of the process, but that they are consulting on the means to get there—on how to move the money for the 16 to 19 age group. It is therefore completely illogical for the Government not to say that at some point in the future they will end the LSC's responsibility for the performance management of colleges which will not be funded by it. That is what I want the Minister to say. We are passing measures that will need to be changed in the future and I do not want to pass them unless the Government are prepared to give us an undertaking that they will come back and look at this issue.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

We will certainly come back and look at the issue, but we must consult on the detail, and we must make a decision once 14 to 19 funding is transferred to local authorities' ring-fenced budgets about which is the appropriate body to manage the overall intervention regime. It is right that we consult on the detail of that, which will almost certainly mean that we will need to return to the House. However, it is wrong to ask me to say explicitly now that a reformed LSC will not have a role to play in that.

One of the amendments is intended to probe our intentions in respect of the transfer of 14 to 19 funding. The machinery of government changes consolidate our policy aim to ensure that there is a coherent offer of education and training to all young people at local level, with overall responsibility residing in one body—the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The changes also help us to achieve our ambition of making a step change in delivering a world-class skills base. The new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will provide a strong voice across Government for effective investment in research, science and skills and put them centre stage in the Government competitiveness strategy. That is one of the most exciting elements of the machinery of government changes. There will be shorter-term action that we can take to consolidate our approach, deliver our aims and ease transition to the new arrangements. I understand the spirit of the hon. Lady's amendments, but now is not the right time to introduce the measures they propose. As I have said, we will consult on the detail and the timing of the changes to ensure that there is no disruption to providers or, more importantly, to students and employers.

The probing amendment is silent on which bodies would gain responsibility for 16 to 19 provision if we were to remove that from the LSC. Our policy intention is clear: the Department for Children, Schools and Families will lead the Government's overall strategy for children and young people, and specifically for the 14 to 19 phase, where the funding to support learners in that age group will transfer from the LSC to the local authority ring-fenced grant. However, in terms of the detail of the funding transfer we will need to determine the exact allocation of responsibilities and duties, which duties should apply to the Secretary of State and which to local authorities, and whether other bodies will also need to continue to co-operate or be under a duty to support the delivery of the 14 to 19 offer.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 1:15 pm, 12th July 2007

This is an important debate about an important issue in the Bill, and Sarah Teather makes a valid point about competence. If the competence for funding is to move, is it not critical that the other competences move with that? Accountability, inspection and management functions must follow the money. I am unsure about the Minister's view on that. I appreciate that he is consulting, but he must have a notional view of how he expects that to pan out.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

If I were standing here now—a week or so after announcing the government machinery changes—setting out a blueprint of exactly how we intend to proceed, I would be criticised for having drawn it up behind closed doors and for not having consulted people or involved them in the process. As we have not done that, I am being criticised for not giving a steer as to the future direction. We are handling this matter correctly. We have made it clear that there is likely to be a period of up to three years under the existing system during which the funding will continue to be routed through the LSC. Given the importance of providing services to those young people, adults and employers who are currently in the system, we must ensure that we manage that transition without disruption, but we will need to reflect, consult and debate on the way forward after that period, and we intend to do so.

On the detail of the funding transfer, we will for example need to be clear about the roles of different bodies in the delivery of apprenticeships and the duty currently residing in the LSC to secure facilities for learning of sufficient quality and quantity. I am sure that Members will agree that it is vital that the transition to the new arrangements does not interrupt our existing reform programme, which is significant and is delivering improvements on the ground. Delivery of courses and training to young people must also be unaffected.

Many measures are already working well, such as the local partnership teams that have been established which bring together the best from the LSC and the local authorities to create a variety of learning routes and means of progression for young people. That is leading to higher levels of participation and achievement than we have ever had before. We must build on such successes.

We might want to consider making changes that do not require legislation, and the amendments would not allow for that more flexible approach to change, which would be a pity. It is important that there is careful consideration and consultation on the details before legislation is brought before Parliament. Given our policy intention on the 14 to 19 phase, we also need to consider and consult on the best way to deliver our skills ambition on post-19 education and training. That must preserve and build on the progress through the LSC that we have already made to meet the needs of employers and learners. These are significant changes, and we need time to consider all the issues and to get them right.

Before I conclude, let me respond to some of the specific points that were raised. The hon. Member for Brent, East asked whether we will introduce measures to enact such changes. We will undoubtedly have to consider changes to the legislative framework, including those proposed in the Bill. I hope that that gives at least some of the reassurances that she was looking for.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The White Paper proposed that common funding principles for schools and colleges be put in place by 2008-09. I presume that that still holds true.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

It certainly is our intention to have a common set of funding principles for schools and FE. We are already making significant progress in reducing the funding gap between school sixth forms and FE, which is a very important and positive step forward.

The hon. Lady also asked whether we would repeal section 2 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. That is clearly an option that we will rightly have to consider. She also asked about apprenticeships and where responsibility should lie in that regard. As my Department is the employer-facing Department, it is appropriate for such responsibility to stay with it, given the skills and innovation agenda. However, we need to make sure that all young people have diversity of choice, and there will have to be co-operation across Departments.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made some kind of insult involving seven-year-old children with chickenpox that I did not fully follow. The Leitch implementation plan will be published very shortly. We have taken—

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

What I said was that I was told by an authoritative third party that the original version of the response to Leitch could have been written by his seven-year-old son at a time when he had chickenpox. Given that it was so poor, and that it has been reworked several times and the Government's response has been delayed several times, will he tell us unequivocally now that the Leitch response will be published next week, that Parliament will have a chance to debate it, and that it will not be published outside this place? All Members deserve the chance to scrutinise and debate this important matter.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I can and will give the commitment that our response will be published very shortly, and there will be opportunities to debate and scrutinise it. My experience is that every White Paper, Government response and piece of legislation that I have seen in five years as a Minister has benefited from a first, second, third and fourth draft—indeed, as many drafts as were necessary to ensure that we got the detail right. That has rightly happened with the Leitch implementation plan, and I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman sees our response, he will feel able to support it. I can make it clear to him that nothing within the strategy that we will put forward is contradicted by any of the Bill's provisions.

I hope that I have been able to reassure Members about our intentions. As I said, these are significant changes and we need time to consider all the issues and to get them right. Therefore, although I appreciate the opportunity for an early debate on this matter and thank the hon. Member for Brent, East for providing it, I hope that she feels able to withdraw her motion.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State

I thank the Minister for that response; he gave a lot of extra detail on the time frame and the Government's intentions. I am pleased to see his change of heart on this issue, and that he joins me in welcoming these changes. I was disappointed, however, with the vagueness of his response to the question of amending this legislation in future. As I said at the outset, the new clause and accompanying amendments are probing amendments—I wanted to know more about the Government's intention. I also tabled them because the Government's announcement has enormous implications for the Bill before us. I am not wholly reassured that when future legislation is introduced logical changes in respect of performance management and responsibility for opening, closing and merging colleges will take place. I remain disappointed that the Minister has not given more detail on that issue, to which I suspect we will return when we discuss the next string of amendments on clause 17.

I am also disappointed that the Minister continues to argue that apprenticeships should remain within the Department. I am hoping that a change of view and a volte-face similar to that which we have already seen will take place at some point in the next couple of months. There is a danger in leaving apprenticeships within the Department, rather than including them with all other 14 to 19 learning. It could create a rather confusing barrier between the part-time learning that inevitably happens at the start of an apprenticeship, often off-site—perhaps in a college or another classroom-based setting—and the move to on-site, work-based learning. It is not obvious what the division will be, and it would be very disappointing if leaving apprenticeships within the Department created a confusing barrier. It is important that young people know that they have a range of options, including apprenticeships, along with other forms of vocational learning. I hope that the Government change their view on that issue.

However, this is a probing new clause, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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