Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 6th July 2021.
Moved by Lord Lucas
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert “potential students resident in and”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to ensure that the interests of students whose needs are not encompassed by local employers are included.
My Lords, I declare an interest as editor of The Good Schools Guide and a member of City & Guilds Council.
I welcome the local skills improvement plans. A strong link between local business and local skills provision for local people is a very good idea; it will build a set of relationships which will be long-lasting and much valued. However, how exactly do the Government think this process is going to work? I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an outline of how the Government now see the local skills improvement plans actually working. Are they intended to be comprehensive, covering the entire needs of an area, or are they sector-specific, as I understand some of the bids for the pilots are? Are they intended to be inclusive of independent training providers? Will the local FE college be the dominant force or just a part? Is it intended that funds will be channelled through the local skills improvement plans? If they will, at what sort of level and with what sort of scope? How do the Government see this working in terms of local relationships? How exactly will the local skills improvement plans be held to account for their results? Will the decisions they reach be easily open to challenge, and if so, how? What is the interface locally with careers information advice and guidance and the Careers & Enterprise Company? There are a lot of things I would like to understand better about the direction in which the Government are intending to take us.
Whatever those answers, there is one big thing missing from the Bill: the interests of potential students, and that is what my amendment addresses. I want to see a reference to what local people need, from their point of view. The young people in Eastbourne, where I live, are pretty average—they are not in any way lacking compared to the national average. Business in Eastbourne, however, which is a coastal community, is typically very skewed. There are some areas in which we are very strong—hospitality, obviously, building and allied trades, education—but when it comes to cyber-security, IT generally, engineering, writing, creative careers, and management and science-based careers, all of which go on in London, there is really not much around. This is not surprising or unusual, but many of these are the growth areas of the economy. It is absolutely in the best interests of our people here—not only the young people, but career-changers and others—that they have good access to the skills necessary to those parts of the economy, not least because it will encourage such businesses to move down here or, in the new fashion of remote working, employ people here. That way, we as a community will have access to the more prosperous, higher growth, higher wage parts of the economy that we do not currently have.
The interests of individual people, potential students, are not congruent with those of employers and providers. In the interests of our people, we must offer training locally in the main growth areas of the economy. I do not mind whether it is through independent training providers or remote training, but it must be substantially good.
I will not speak at length to the other amendments in this group, many of which I have a lot of sympathy for, except to mention that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on getting people a base level of skills in maths and English. That is absolutely key to raising the level of the economy locally. Somebody locally must have responsibility for that. We need something better than GCSEs here. GCSEs are aimed at the requirements of an academic curriculum; what we need is a test aimed at the base skills needed by employers. Those are two different things. We test English competence extremely well when students come to this country or want to be employed as doctors, for example. We have skills-centred tests aimed at establishing competence. We need something like that for our own people in English and maths, so that everybody has a chance of getting through and we do not continue to suffer the comparable outcomes system, which condemns 40% of our young people to having substandard English and maths qualifications. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the very clear introduction to this group from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Having listened to his explanation, I rather regret not having attached my name to his amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, did. He really has nailed the key problem with this Bill and the reason for many of these amendments: the Government’s focus on employers, presumably existing employers, fails to explain how a local skills improvement plan can actually help an area to improve. By focusing on potential students, Amendment 1 really helps us to think about how people might also want to get the skills to be part of communities, to run community groups, to be involved in cultural activities or to be voters or parents. All of these are areas in which people might want to improve their skills. It would also help communities that are subject to the Government’s levelling-up agenda, which are often lacking in social capital. We are talking about skills that pretty well every community is short of. Any community group that any noble Lord has ever known has had to find a treasurer—someone who is prepared to take on doing the books, even if there is not much money in those books. These are skills that every community needs, but they might not actually be a business need.
However, I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 2, which is in my name. It tries to get at another aspect of the Bill addressing the so-called economy by adding in to consult in the skills improvement plans
“potential employers, start-up businesses and the self-employed.”
Looking at recent figures from the pre-Covid time, there were 5 million self-employed in the UK, up from 3.2 million in 2000. They are a very major part of our workforce and, if they are running a business, what they may need to help them find work, and improve the work that they find, is not necessarily going to be reflected by the employers in a town. I think here of a very old-fashioned term, perhaps—the “company town”.
A few years ago, I visited Barrow-in-Furness where the top employer, by a scale of many thousands, is of course the shipyards. The next two biggest employers, of around 1,000 each, are the largest supermarket and the local hospital. Barrow-in-Furness, as I said when I was there, clearly needs to diversify its economy and develop things such as local food-growing and tourism businesses, through all kinds of objectives. How are those three top employers going to provide advice on the skills needed for that?
At the moment, the Bill feels really half baked. I am in a difficult position in speaking before many of these amendments have been explained, but I support the sentiments behind them all. I shall pick out a couple briefly. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker—particularly, perhaps, Amendment 81, which has broad support—the focus on the attainment gap is crucial. There are many people whom schooling has failed in the past; they need support with the right kind of courses, the right way to improve and lift their skills, not just for their jobs but for their lives.
I also particularly support Amendments 20 and 21, both of which address, in different ways, distance learning. We are not going to be able to put into every village and town every course that might be of use to everyone. It is crucial that we have, in the Open University, a very successful and important structure; something that people can use to advance their knowledge, as well as their skills, and get into the practice of lifelong learning. That is such a crucial skill that we are going to need for the coming decades. The number of amendments tabled to this clause really shows that the Government need to go away, having listened to today’s debate, and think about how they can improve not just the Bill, but their thinking about how we provide the skills needed for a very different age.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 11 and 81. I also support the first three amendments spoken to, and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for my amendments. I declare interests as a fellow and former chair of the Working Men’s College, chair of the education department’s stakeholders’ group and other relevant interests as in the register.
The rationale of my amendments is that this potentially most useful Bill will not have the national impact it might, unless more provision is made to get a very large number of young people and others to the starting block. Amendments 11 and 81 are designed to do just that. I am most grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. The reason they are not speaking is entirely due to the complexity of arrangements, which I fervently hope will be simplified in September. They all tried to put their names forward. I also thank the Association of Colleges for its helpful advice.
At Second Reading, I set out the fact that more than one-third of young people in secondary school do not achieve the requisite GCSE grades in English and maths to qualify for entry to the further education and training so enticingly proposed in the Bill. I asked the Minister what provision had been or could be made for this very large number who, for various reasons, among which lack of innate ability has not been cited, could not access the educational opportunities in the Bill. She was not able to give me an answer, nor did one appear in the letter she helpfully sent to Peers after Second Reading, and nor have I had a reply to a request I made to her team for an answer. As this is unusual for the noble Baroness, I conclude that there is no answer and there are no such comprehensive arrangements in place.
Current arrangements do provide for resits of GCSEs, but this is not working. It is clearly a strain on young people, whose funding is complex, and on FE colleges, where most resits take place and which on average have more than 1,000 taking them, only for an average of 75% to fail again. Schools have even more of a gap now, after the effects of the lockdown. Our public examination systems in schools were long predicated on failing a proportion—now a discredited policy—but it is especially absurd and unjust when it crops up again in those skills which enable earning a living. Among those who fail are a large proportion of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people, as well as those from other minority ethnic groups, and people of all ages, for other reasons unconnected with ability. This is without counting those who dropped out even before the exam years.
This is not only a matter of stark inequality; it is a deeply concerning national educational failure which ignores potential, hampers life chances and deprives our economy of its full power. It is a devastating waste of our greatest national asset: our young people. So, our Amendment 81 would require the Government to fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise that no child shall be left behind, and to devise a national strategy to enable very many more of our young people to make the jump into useful and rewarding qualifications. Amendment 11 proposes a corresponding duty on providers and employer bodies to have regard to this strategy, so that it is locally implemented.
We do not prescribe details: there are several causes for failure, and there could be different arrangements for foundation courses and funding; there could be tutoring and mentoring; and there could be elements in teacher training and the Office for Students targeted at addressing the obstacles students face, which in some cases, notably that of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma young people, include cultural prejudice. The Runnymede Trust’s latest report says that only 12% of secondary school teachers have any material on how to talk about race in their initial teacher training. There are willing and expert hands in institutions and there is capacity in the department to work out a strategy. It is political will that is required. There is ample scope for levelling up here.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 1 and 6, to which I have added my name, and to Amendment 20 in my name and that of my colleague and noble friend Lord Storey. I declare an interest for the whole Bill: I am a vice-president of City & Guilds, an organisation for which I worked for some 20 years.
On Amendments 1 and 6, I have been crossing out what I would have said as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said it far more effectively than I could. I do not believe in repeating what others have said, even if I have not said it myself, so I shall just agree with what he said. It is essential that we take into account potential students—and not just the young people of Eastbourne, I suggest—who should surely be important players in any discussion. If there are no students, there is no point in employers wishing to train them. It is not just the views and interests of students but those of student unions, trade unions, relevant community groups, agencies and local government that need to be taken into account. There should also be constant dialogue with careers advisers.
Funding must be made available for social mobility. An aspiring blacksmith or chef should not be disadvantaged if local needs are engineering-based. Dyslexic students should not be disadvantaged if their skillset is different from local needs. Amendment 20 ensures that providers of distance learning are brought into play. As the Explanatory Notes set out, the role in the local skills ecosystem played by providers without a local bricks and mortar presence in a particular area is taken into account in local skills improvement plans. Of course, it may not be bricks and mortar. It could be any skills area, but distance learning is truly important, as the work of the Open University and other distance providers makes clear. The OU has been a life-changer for many who could not study residentially.
Often, people may wish to study for employment not directly available in their area but for which they can develop skills and earn qualifications which will serve them well in other parts of the country. We should not be depriving them of the wherewithal to do just that. Throughout the Bill we shall seek to ensure that distance learning is taken into account. This amendment will do that and provide opportunities for learning to those without local provision.
I add my support to Amendments 11 and 81, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, a staunch supporter of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, but these proposals go much broader, to those who have problems with GCSE English and maths which, for so many skill areas, are not essential. To have an academic qualification in English and maths is not necessary for a whole range of perfectly useful employment opportunities. I also support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Addington, who will be following me to speak for himself. They are important amendments too.
I hope that the Minister will be able to look favourably on the amendments in this group.
My Lords, this is one of those debates when everybody has said and everybody is going to agree with everybody, so let try to do it in as precised a way as possible. Before, I do, I should remind the Committee of my declared interests and let the Committee know that I have become an adviser to Genius Within, which looks at neurodiversity with Birkbeck, University of London.
The basic thrust of this is: what will be put into the plans, how flexible will it be and how will it adjust to the needs of those people who are supposed to be covered by it? We have heard about many subjects. When someone mentions dyslexia in front of me in one of these debates, I give myself a little cheer because, hopefully, the word is getting out.
The most important thing about my Amendment 22, if you throw everything away, is identification. Most people in the neurodiverse sector or with any special educational need have moderate or lower-level needs that, if not addressed or supported, can lead to failure to get academic qualifications giving access to training. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and I might argue about GCSEs and certain points, but the essential thrust of what she said carries through to these groups. Someone who has trouble in that learning environment will always have trouble. If we suddenly get—as I did with the officials who the Minister was kind enough to give me access to, for which I am eternally thankful—“Oh but we have a high-needs strategy”, well, that is great, but what happens to the 18% of the population who are identified as having special educational needs but who are not in the high-needs group? They will become your workforce. They are the people who are underachieving and either do not get jobs or get jobs which they do not fulfil or can access other qualifications with.
Please, when we are doing this, can we build in a capacity to identify people who have already failed in the school system? As adults, they will be presenting differently, with established types of behaviour, which may mean that they are resistant to certain activities because who on earth wants to be told again: “You’ve failed, you can’t do something”? Let us take everybody who is scared of heights and stick them up that ladder and shake it. Let us make sure that it is uncomfortable and that something that you do not like to have gone through again. What will happen about identifying the people in these groups, people with ADHD, people who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, with parents with the same problems, who do not have the type of parents that I had behind me?
I appreciate that this is all that you can do here, but what steps will be taken to ensure that everybody gets through and is supported? The idea that you need only a functional grasp of English and maths is a step forward, but we must embrace the fact that there is now technology available that can do most of this for you, at least at a functional level. If you can talk, you can word-process now. Can we ensure that this is taken into account in the plans because the groups who are unskilled, which we are addressing, will be helped?
My Amendment 26 is about looking slightly wider than just at one area. It came from a conversation that I had with someone at the British Dyslexia Association, who said, if someone feels that they would be happier in something that uses hand skills and is slightly out of area, please can they be supported to get there? This is true of virtually all groups but is probably slightly more intense in this situation. If you are living in an area which is just on the boundary, the thing that you may want to train in is probably in the next area. All of us have done this for schools to work. Arguments about constituency boundaries go to an audience where many may have an interest. Can we please take that into account? When the Minister comes to answer, or at a later stage, can he give some idea of how these group plans or areas of concentration will work together? If they do not, we will be excluding large numbers of people from getting the support that they need where that is a local employment opportunity for them. We are still assuming that they will stay in their local areas for jobs for long periods. If we are doing that, then let us at least be realistic about it.
My Lords, I support these amendments and the thrust of the debate so far, particularly with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in moving the amendment, every word of which I agreed with, as I have with most of the other speakers so far, so I will try not to repeat myself.
There is something of a dilemma. It is very difficult to be against a local skills plan, and I am not. It is a really good thing. I believe in this notion of place, which I think we have lost recently in school and skills. It is very important, and I can see that these local skills partnerships adopt that notion of place and that one place is different from others. I am absolutely in favour of that. It is very difficult to argue against employers being involved, and I would not. I have moved, over the course of this debate, from being very much in favour of those two things to having difficulty visualising what it will be like when it is in a good form. The more you talk about it, the most difficulties you see emerging. I hope that this means no more than that there are a lot of details to sort out. I am not trying to be difficult on this, but I wonder whether a number of issues will be resolved by this structure.
I shall raise two concerns reflecting the debate so far, which are around whether an employer-led body is likely to deal with these issues. It is not that they cannot be dealt with, but employers are different organisations, representing different things and have different experiences. It might be that in some circumstances they are not the best to deal with certain issues. My first concern regards Amendment 1 and potential students. Are current employers with current businesses the best people to scope the future economy? I am not saying that they have nothing to offer, because they do, but they have got a lot to protect in the here and now. A successful employer will be successful only if he or she scopes the future, but it is an uneasy thing that we are having to do. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that. How do we keep their eyes to the future if they are leading this plan?
The second is: is an employer-led skills plan going to be the most effective at looking after the groups of people who are often left out, whether it is the Travellers, the underachievers, the marginalised or those who have not got qualifications? The traditional role of employers is often as gatekeepers: they let the successful through to be their employees, but they do not have an ongoing responsibility for the ones they have rejected. They often fall to other organisations, which have or develop the experience to deal with them.
My worry over that is: in an employer-led skills plan, where will the knowledge, experience and capacity come from to support and skill up those people who have not got the basic qualifications or skills to be part of the current skills plan? I would include in that digital learning, which other people have referred to, and the Open University in particular, because from my own experience I know that because organisations such as the Open University are so different from other institutions in how they work, they very often get left out of legislation, and you end up trying to solve the problem of having excluded them later on.
My last point is this: when you look through the Bill, it is often the case that local plans will have to have regard to national plans, national frameworks and national guidance. So when does a local plan stop being a local plan and just become a mirror image of everyone else’s local plan, which makes up the national plan? My question to the Minister on that would be: how brave are the Government going to be in allowing local plans to do their own thing, which might not always accord with the national plan? Who is going to prioritise this big list of things they have to do, and what will the Government do to welcome innovation, which might be ideas they themselves have not yet thought of?
My Lords, this Bill is largely a Bill in search of a policy, and indeed a Bill that is a substitute for policy. It does almost nothing that actually requires legislation. As far as I can tell, there is only one aspect that actually requires a change of the law to be accomplished, which is the extension of student loans to further education courses—a reform I support. But all the rest of it is the enshrining in legislation of policy goals—some of which are inherently contradictory —which do not require legislation at all.
I am surrounded by former Ministers on all sides, and we all know that whenever you do not have a policy and cannot quite work out what to do, but want to proclaim a priority, you produce a Bill. The Civil Service loves producing Bills. It has Bill teams. The one thing you can do from Whitehall and that big building on Great Smith Street is produce reams of paper—White Papers, Bills and all that. It does not actually mean you do anything to improve skills levels in the country, but you do produce Bills and White Papers and requirements on other people to produce plans and so on themselves.
In my experience of big change in education, the biggest changes are usually produced by the smallest pieces of legislation that focus in particular on funding—because the one thing the Government control in this is funding. In parenthesis, further education funding is declining; let us not get away from that. No amounts of legislation, no White Papers extending to whatever this latest one is—it is in very large type, but it extends to 73 pages—can make up for the fact that funding is being cut. There is some opportunity for substituting public funding with private funding through the loans scheme, but public funding is being cut.
That is one way you can do it. The second is by great ministerial and Civil Service drive on the ground, which we desperately need in this sector. But this sector has had, by my calculation, one Minister of Further Education each year since 2010. The only one who was any good was sacked and now chairs the Select Committee in the House of Commons—I think because he was actually too committed to making a reality of further education.
The one big reform in this area, which is the apprenticeship levy, has been so badly mishandled that, astonishingly, it has managed to lead to a decline in the number of apprentices, particularly at entry level, which is the area where we have the biggest skills failures. So this is an absolutely farcical piece of legislation. The Minister has my deep commiserations on having to spend hour after hour camped in this House proclaiming mantras and platitudes that will have been written for her by civil servants and will do absolutely zero to improve further education or the skills level.
Producing local skills improvement plans does not require legislation. The Government could today announce —and, with funding, incentivise and require—public authorities to do them. I can assure noble Lords that employers’ bodies, if some money was waved in front of them, would willingly co-operate in the production of local skills improvement plans. So legislation is absolutely not necessary.
But, because one always hopes the Government are actually producing a policy that is well thought out and crafted and has a proper chain of connection between the conception of the policy and the levers, goals and outcomes, I actually read the White Paper. It is always a big mistake to read the actual policy statement that underpins the legislation. The White Paper says on page 14, in one of its many platitudinous statements:
“At the moment, employers do not have enough influence over the skills provision offered in their local area or enough say in how all technical training and qualifications are developed.”
We are then referred to footnote 14, which states:
“See for example England’s Skills Puzzle: Piecing Together Further Education Training & Employment (Policy Connect Learning & Work Institute, 2020.”
Well, I read that report. It is not a survey of employers; it is not even a proper study of employers. It is a report of an ad hoc commission chaired by Conservative MP Sir John Hayes, one of the former Ministers of Further Education. Having done a few dipstick surveys in different parts of the country, it makes five recommendations, none of which is for these local skills improvement plans.
The first of the five recommendations is that there should be national targets, monitored by the new skills and productivity board in the way the Climate Change Commission monitors its targets. I am not up on the creation of the latest quangos, so I am not yet fully familiar with the skills and productivity board. No doubt the Minister will tell us what this new quango is doing. But that does not require this reform. The second recommendation is for further devolution of budgets. That may be a worthwhile thing to do but, since the budgets are declining, that does not inherently help. As King Lear told us:
“Nothing will come of nothing,”
But, in any case, devolving budgets does not require these skills plans; it can be done by fiat from the department tomorrow.
The third recommendation is further funding incentives for collaboration—which, again, can be done without any of these local skills improvement plans. The fourth is a national campaign to recruit teachers to further education. I entirely support that; again, it does not require this reform. The fifth is piloting personal learning accounts. I strongly urge the Government to be cautious about that one; some of us on this side of the House are deeply scarred by things called individual learning accounts, which turned out to be a massive scam for rapidly created local skills organisations to cream off all the money. They certainly should not go there at all; the extension of the student loans reform would be much better. So the statements that underlie this are not rooted in any evidence base.
We then come to the skills plans themselves. I thought that, since this Government are deeply versed in evidence-based policy, they would have piloted these properly so we can see: what these local skills plans are going to look like; what employer bodies are going to produce them; and what the relationships are with the local further education colleges, the mayoral authorities and the other public authorities. I thought we could perhaps read one or two of them. I am very keen to read them because, from my experience of the centre trying to mandate other people to produce plans, it is not the bodies charged with producing the plans that produce the plans; it is consultants employed by the bodies, who are paid a fortune and have no responsibility whatever for delivery of any of the outcomes. Some of us on this side of the House will remember the words “education action zones.” A whole army of consultants grew up to produce the plans for education action zones, which led to precious little further education and no action—except by the people producing the plans for the education action zones, who made tens of millions of pounds. I see this happening again.
But I thought, “Well, maybe it’s being piloted”. So I googled “pilots,” because the White Paper’s pages 15 and 16 refer to pilots of these local skills improvement plans. The pilots have not started. There was an article on
“Hunt begins for ‘employer representative bodies’ to pilot local skills improvement plans.”
There is not long between
Now, bids for those trailblazers, which are to be backed by £4 million of revenue funding—all of which will go to the consultants charged with writing these plans—were being sought by
We have a whole box on page 15 headed “Case study: German Chambers of Commerce”. I strongly welcome the Government’s study of Germany and aligning more closely with the European Union; it is something that I have spent my political life seeking to do. If we had taken our membership of the European Union more seriously and done a better job of learning from the Scandinavian countries, Holland and Germany, our skills system would have made a much better start. So it is good that, as we leave Europe, we none the less regard as a model for policy the German Chambers of Commerce. However, there is nothing in these proposals that will lead to anything like the construction of the German Chambers of Commerce. There is no statutory power for the establishment of chambers of commerce. There is no requirement on employers to be members of these bodies and no public duties are imposed on them.
So who are the bodies that will be the skills-based bodies that will produce these local skills improvement plans? I should say “employer bodies” because the Government say that they must be employer bodies. Who are they? I look forward to the Minister telling us so that, by the time we come to Report, we will have been able to test this and perhaps propose a few amendments—perhaps, indeed, to remove this entire provision, save the public tens of millions of pounds and have some real action in terms of further education skills and what they will be.
My further remark is one that causes me real concern. The one area of policy that has at least taken some steps forward in this area over the past 10 years is the development of the mayors. For the first time, we actually have public authorities outside London with some real strength and political credibility. Andy Street is a great guy and is doing a fantastic job in Birmingham and the West Midlands. There is Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester. Ben Houchen has created a big name for himself and is perhaps the only major recognisable political figure apart from Tony Blair to have come out of the north-east in recent times. This is very welcome. It is something that, at the political level, England desperately needs.
However, the one body specifically banned from producing these local skills improvement plans—I must get the jargon right—are the mayors. The reason why, it turns out, is that they are not employers. Well, as a definitional thing, obviously they are not employers—they are mayors—but they are the people who have the capacity to generate real activity and engagement by employers and colleges in a serious way. They should be tasked with this mission, but instead they are totally isolated from the process on the grounds that they are not employers and the Government want to be promoting employers.
Instead, in paragraph 8 on page 16 of the White Paper, Mayor Burnham, Mayor Street and Mayor Sadiq Khan—very big political figures whom we want to seize this agenda—are told this:
“Mayoral Combined Authorities will be consulted in the development of these plans.”
That is a fat lot of good, is it not? The most dynamic, potentially active and crucial agents of the state—they are also the people who, as public authorities, are closest to employers—are simply going to be consulted by bodies that do not for the most part exist at the moment. They are going to engage consultants who also do not exist; I suppose at least the consultants can engage with the consultees quite easily because they both have “consult” at the root of their job descriptions. However, the one thing that this is not going to do of its own volition is produce more skills education and training.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker made the point that the fundamental problems with the education system in these areas—I look at the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who wrestled with these problems 40 years ago; we wrestled with them too—is that basic skills are still too low and we have do not have high-quality apprenticeship routes for those who do not go on to university. This is not rocket science. It is simple. If we got this right, employers would be cheering from the rafters and we would not need this whole new panorama of local skills improvement plans, which I suspect will simply lead us to have exactly the same debates with very little progress having been made in 10 years’ time.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I have argued over so many things over so many years that it is not true but, I must say, that was a bravura performance. He raised some very important issues, particularly in relation to whether we need this legislation or whether legislation is being used as a substitute for strategy. I note in particular his point about the lack of funding for FE and the fact that there is a danger that this legislation will simply be a way of signalling an approach but not helping in practical terms. I thought that he did an excellent job; it was like the emperor’s new clothes being exposed there. However, I want to correct him on one point. We have not left Europe; we have left the EU. As a Brexiteer, I am a great fan and advocate of German vocational education, as a matter of fact.
First, I apologise for not speaking at Second Reading. My IT skills rather failed me; I should probably go on a course. I thought that I had listed myself online, but I had failed to press the right button.
I support the aspirations of this Bill. It is close to my heart because, as a former further education lecturer—a sector that is too often treated as a Cinderella sector—I hope that further education will at last arrive at the ball. However, ironically, aspects of this Bill could limit opportunities, which is one reason why I am particularly sympathetic to Amendments 1, 2 and 6 in this group and the remarks initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
I want to avoid making a Second Reading speech. However, I want to make a broad point about a distinction that it is important to remember as we go through all the amendments on Report and which represents why I want the Bill to avoid being overly narrow or prescriptive about outcomes, as this can backfire and lead to unintended consequences. While we are focusing on the neglected areas of vocational qualifications, skills and training, one danger is that we assume that certain social groups of young people are just not cut out for academic education. In the skills and training discussion—that is, when we talk about how we can target people and help them with skills and training—it is too often assumed that we are talking about working-class youth. This is dangerously deterministic and has already put pressure on schools in certain social areas to see education as preparation for the labour market, which cuts against the principle of building a society or education based on merit.
To state it baldly, every child has a right to an academic education until the age of 16, in my opinion, and even if they choose not to pursue an academic route after that, they are entitled to be introduced to the best that is thought and known. This allows every young person, whether they end up as a plumber or a philosopher, access through schooling to a working knowledge of cultural capital, history, literature, the scientific method and so on. The trainee hairdressers and car mechanics to whom I taught literature were more than the jobs that they eventually acquired. We should be wary of a narrowly instrumental version of vocationalism, as it can limit opportunities and aspirations.
One concern that I have about the Bill is that it focuses too narrowly on the skills required by local employers; this has already been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I mean no disrespect to them, but local employers can be short-term and short-sighted and do not always see the long view. As these amendments—the ones that I am supporting—emphasise, local employers may not always be best placed to see the bigger picture. In turn, that can narrow the options for students.
For example, take a geographical area traditionally associated with the fishing industry—an area in which I would like to see more investment in terms of apprenticeships and so on. Are we to assume that the locality will only ever need skills related to fishing? Also, there may well be more future-oriented skills that are not needed as yet but could create new industries, such as marine biology.
Of course, it sounds positive when the DfE says that the Bill will meet
“the need of local areas … so people no longer have to leave their home-towns to find great jobs.”
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made the point about place; I am very keen on remembering that. I like the soundbite about improving communities rather than just providing a ladder out of them, but it would also be wrong to confine people, or even trap them, into jobs related to the needs of the locality they live in. If you live in a largely agricultural area but aspire to be an engineer in car manufacturing, or to work in construction in the city, will you be able to access skills that allow you to move if we confine the skills available to those that only the local employers decide on? If you are an inner-city youth who dreams of working in farming, will you be able to access skills if local bosses cannot imagine ever needing or training someone to pursue such an agricultural career? Amendments 1 and 6 and their motivation by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, tackle these issues and the potentially limiting anomalies in the Bill.
More generally, one of the ironies of focusing on catering for local needs is that it limits who decides on local priorities just to local employers. It takes power away not only from students locally, as has been mentioned, but from local civic leaders—we have heard about mayors being excluded—and local further education college principals. Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, calls this a top-down power grab on qualifications. He says:
“It is regrettable that the provisions in this Bill and the government’s wider qualifications review seeks to stifle investment, innovation and choice in the future by effectively nationalising technical qualifications via a Whitehall-driven, top-down, command and control approach.”
Certainly, as later amendments try to address, the Bill introduces new regulatory layers of approval which are politically controlled from the centre—for example, the need for the Secretary of State to approve the new statutory local skills improvement plans. The Bill claims to be local, but how local is it beyond the local employers?
I am also sympathetic to Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Greengross, and others, which addresses the attainment gap. The Bill is limited in supporting those who have not attained grade 4 or above in English. Simon Parkinson, the chief executive of the Workers’ Educational Association, noted that the Bill is
“quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3”,
“offer many adult learners key progression routes”.
I am sympathetic to thinking about broadening this out.
Many years ago—probably decades now—I launched a return to learning course for women who had no qualifications. They were often young women, and I taught them a broad liberal arts course. I agree with the WEA that it is worrying that the Bill does little to support
“subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines”.
For the women who I taught, it was an introduction to literature, history and creative writing; no doubt local employers would think that a complete waste of time. But it actually allowed them to acquire confidence and skills—and ultimately, in some instances, a GCSE in English. It was a stepping stone to them taking training courses and reskilling, and many went on to be, for example, a nurse or a police officer. One did a course in animal husbandry. Another eventually ran a successful beauty business and earned a fortune.
My main takeaway from that is that we cannot be too prescriptive in what we want to achieve when we train people by narrowly saying that the only skills that matter are decided by local bosses. They might say “We’ll decide what skills we’ll need in this area into the future”, but lack any imagination to think beyond that. Sometimes non-training and non-skills education can lead people into the world of training and skills, and we should not neglect that either.
My Lords, I am not sure I will be able to match the bravura performances that this Committee has already brought forward. I noted with great pleasure the speech of my noble friend Lord Adonis. I tried to make a speech like that at Second Reading. The only trouble is that at Second Reading you have five minutes, but being in Committee gives you much greater opportunity to expand as you wish.
For all the criticisms of the Bill, many of which I agree with, it does contain one major social reform which has the potential for improvement in the decade ahead: the extension of the student loan scheme to people doing training. We should all put on record clearly our welcome for that; it is very important.
I am no great expert in this field but I had a little encounter with it when I was involved, at the latter end of the Labour Government, with the North West Development Agency in my home area of Cumbria and saw the complexities of trying to improve the skills system. If the Committee will allow me, I would like to expand on that a little. It struck me that the problem with skills and further education was that provision was not demand-led but supply-led. It was led by people who wanted to fill the places on courses to get the money from the Skills Funding Agency to meet their costs. For it to be supply-led by the providers—not demand-led by the needs of employers and the country—is clearly not a satisfactory way of doing things, so reform is needed.
However, the Government are saying that they are going to create committees dominated by employers to solve this problem—well, we have had a bit of a history of that. The great selling point of the RDAs that Labour established was that they were private sector led. I actually think that was a great mistake; they should have been locally and democratically led. We then would have had, in my view, a much more solid basis for English devolution. We had the local enterprise partnerships established by the right honourable Sir Vincent Cable, which Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches will doubtless be anxious to applaud in these debates. Again, those partnerships were intended to put employers at the forefront of local economic development. We now have this proposal for local skills improvement plans, led by employers.
However, getting the employer voice in an area is very difficult. In Cumbria there are some very big employers. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned Barrow and British Aerospace, and there is Sellafield on the west coast of the old Cumberland. These very big employers need to have relationships with universities and colleges to provide a ladder of opportunity for their people, from apprenticeships to master’s degrees, in the areas that they need. That is not satisfactorily done but it is a way forward. I am not sure whether skills improvement plans will result in that, but that is what needs to be done with large employers.
Then there are big sectors in which there are small employers and generally unsatisfactory standards: typically, hospitality, in the private sector, and social care, in the quasi-public sector—often privately provided, of course. In those areas we need a national sectoral approach. There are probably several hundred local hotelkeepers in the Lake District; putting a couple of them on the skills improvement board is not going to solve the problem. We need some national sectoral approaches, particularly to the sectors where there are chronic skills shortages.
We cannot get cooks in the Lake District at the moment. That is a consequence of Brexit. Employers have to close their kitchens at lunchtime and on the early days of the week, because of the lack of availability of the labour from eastern Europe on which we formerly relied, which is causing a big problem.
If we want to resolve that dilemma, we need a national sectoral approach to encourage young people to go into social care and hospitality. We must establish a pathway for them, for gaining skills, and we must mandate for them minimum wages higher than the living wage to give them an incentive to do the training. That would raise productivity in those sectors. That is a way forward in some of the very low-paid, low-productivity, low-skilled sectors of the economy.
I wonder how these skills improvement boards are going to work. I just do not know. It will be difficult for us to come back after the Minister has spoken, but she has to answer all those sharp, precise questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his opening speech. We need to know more about how this whole thing is going to work.
The other big gap, as many Members have pointed out, concerns how we get people who have not succeeded at school to a level at which they can benefit from the extension of training and further education opportunities. I am not sure whether that is a question for this Bill, but it should be a priority for the Government.
One of the things I regret about the Labour Government was that we never extended the brilliant London Challenge, which succeeded in transforming our London schools, to the north-west. Cumbria never benefited from anything like that, nor did the north-east. We could have done much more. That is not a criticism, but there is a sense of missed opportunity.
I do not know what the inspection and transformation regime for colleges of further education will be, but, as part of the politics of place—which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, rightly mentioned—we should have a conscious policy, and a mechanism, to try to ensure that every reasonable-sized town has a decent further education college at its centre. How do we get that, and how do we sort things out? There is already a lot of good there, but there is also quite a lot of chaff. How we get rid of that, and how we amalgamate where necessary, and get co-operation, is a question that needs to be answered in these debates. We need to know much more about how the proposed arrangements will work. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked the Minister the right questions, and I hope that she will answer them.
My Lords, I very much support the aims of the Bill and of many of the amendments in this group, which seek to ensure that local skills improvement plans embody a partnership approach involving all participants in the education and skills system. The two overriding requirements of a successful education and skills system are that it should meet the national need for skills to deliver UK-wide goals and priorities, and that it should give individuals the attributes and skills to identify and pursue their own career aspirations and personal fulfilment. Reconciling those two aims is the challenge that the Bill seeks to address
I very much agree with Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is essential that learners have a voice in the development of LSIPs—as I will call them; I hope noble Lords will forgive me—in their own areas, and that LSIPs should take proper account of national strategic priorities. They will need to find a way of balancing actual opportunities in their areas—the jobs that are there now, in health, in care, in retail and in hospitality, in existing businesses—with future needs for green jobs, for STEM, for digital jobs and creative skills. They may also need to be aware of the views of significant national employer groups about their specific current and future skills needs, such as those in the energy and utilities sector, which faces enormous skills challenges.
I hope the Minister will be able to tell us something about how the planned trailblazers or pilots will be used to develop guidance. Ideally, they will blaze a series of trails to respond to varying local conditions and circumstances. Different local areas will rightly have to take different approaches, led by different employer representative bodies. There may be many areas where chambers of commerce do not have the right focus or qualities to lead the local partnership, and others where the plan would ideally be built on existing work by LEPs, skills advisory partnerships and other such groups. What is needed is guidance on general principles for successful LSIPs and ERBs. What is absolutely not needed is any sort of over-prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach to such bodies.
I shall try to follow the excellent example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, by not feeling that no point has been properly made until I have made it myself, so I will now move on. I welcome the fact that Amendment 2 in this group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would require the needs of potential employers, start-up businesses and the self-employed to be considered. Of course, those groups include numerous entrepreneurs, who also need special skills. The Future Founders report in 2019 revealed that 51% of British young people aged 14 to 25 had thought about starting, or had already started, a business. We should ensure that the Bill addresses their needs; we should certainly not be focusing only on the skills needs of existing employers. One of the last places to look for the potential unicorn businesses of the future is within the ranks of existing large-scale employers.
One other specific area of need not mentioned in the Bill, about which I feel strongly, having been involved with it for some years, is improved work readiness and practical skills, particularly for young people aged about 14 upwards.
I applaud the recognition in Amendments 20 and 21, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, that much valuable skills training will be provided remotely —as we have learnt during the pandemic. Distance learning providers are an increasingly important category of independent training providers, not least in remote areas and areas less well served by colleges, and local plans should take account of what they can offer.
Finally, I strongly commend Amendment 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, to require local skills plans to give due regard to
“coordinating careers information, advice and guidance provision across education providers” in their area. High-quality careers advice and guidance, available to all who need it, is fundamental to the success of any skills plan so that young people especially have a clear idea of what opportunities, meeting their own abilities and interests, are realistically available to them and what pathways they can follow to pursue those opportunities.
Although considerable progress has been made as a result of the 2017 careers strategy, which ended last year, careers education is still underresourced in terms of funding and of there being enough well-qualified careers guidance professionals to meet the needs of schools, colleges, universities and other training providers. This is one strategic skills shortage that needs to be addressed, preferably by a renewed careers strategy, but its complete absence from the Bill is concerning, so I welcome this and other amendments seeking to ensure that it is appropriately covered.
My Lords, I regret that I did not participate in Second Reading, but perhaps, as somebody has already remarked, there might be a better opportunity here. I declare an interest as a national apprenticeship ambassador.
I felt sorry for the Minister after the performance of my noble friend Lord Adonis, which basically embraced Dante’s advice: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”. I do not agree—this is a good Bill. There are no perfect Bills; those of us who have been involved in education in previous Governments will know that we never get it quite right. It is a good Bill but, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and a number of people have suggested, it could be better, so I support most of the amendments in the group.
I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, who first raised the question of English and maths. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, gave it even more emphasis. We need to find an alternative. There are certainly many apprenticeship opportunities which do not require GCSE English and maths. I had neither because I was dragged out of school at 15 years old, but I can remember some of the things we were required to do. After simultaneous equations, I am afraid I just could not master quadratic equations or anything else. I do not think that necessarily stopped me in my apprenticeship in telecom.
One thing I hope the Minister will respond to, because it is a constructive suggestion, is that the local skills improvement plans should embrace more than just employers. Perhaps that is the intention, but there are those who said that there is a need not just for students—trade unions have a role to play, as well as others. Trade unions are still doing a good job of getting back into learning people who have not embraced it for many years under the Return to Learn scheme.
There has been a lot of criticism about employers being somehow the wrong people to involve. I do not quite understand that. Where do people think these jobs will come from? There is a fundamentally important need to have employers as part of the local skills improvement plans. My concern is: will employers look ahead? A number of people said that, including my noble friend Lady Morris, while the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, quoted fishing and agriculture as a couple of examples. Even in those industries, it is not just the basic question of going out to sea and catching fish—there are the logistics involved when they return to port. A lot of technology is involved now, even in fishing. The fundamental changes taking place in agriculture require a much greater need for technology. I do not think we should assume that employers will not look ahead, but should we rely on them? No, I think that some of the amendments that have been suggested are right.
My concern is that we need to involve more SMEs—that is the challenge. I agree with my noble friend Lord Adonis that the apprenticeship levy is in desperate need of reform; the number of starts involving 16 to 18 year-olds has declined. That is the way the levy is being used and we have not managed to involve enough small and medium-sized enterprises.
For me, the key to skills is lifelong learning. I actually do not support student loans—I wish we had moved to a tax system instead. Student loans are not a particularly fair system, and students leave with a huge amount of debt. I would like to move towards a tax-based approach, but I do not think I will achieve that.
There has not been much reference so far in the debate to the pandemic, yet it is fascinating to see how learning has had to respond to it. We had to do what the Open University has been doing for years with online learning. We have had to make it flexible, and it needs to be more flexible. The Bill needs to look at today’s workforce. If we really want to get a more diverse group of people involved, we need flexibility in learning—we need modular learning. That ought to come out of this.
The Institute for Apprenticeships will be involved, which is right. We will look at the kinds of skills we need. T-levels are on the agenda, but we need to be careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater when we look at skills and qualifications.
I do not know whether mayors should necessarily be involved but I note that there is a balance between national and local in the Bill. It is a reasonable balance.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Watson’s amendment on careers advice. That is fundamental. Things are changing on the education front—it is not a static situation by any means. I was fascinated to learn that students applying to UCAS these days are not just given the opportunity of university places but directed towards apprenticeships.
Much in this Bill has good intentions. I hope the Minister will respond positively to the amendments started by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and built on by a number of others. I am not necessarily sure that the later amendments on net zero and the environment should form part of the local skills improvement plans, but we will no doubt return to that.
I am, if you like, travelling hopefully with this Bill. I think the glass is half full, and that that is the way we need to approach it. We know that we need to improve productivity in this country and that to do that we need to improve our skill base. The other, most fundamentally important thing we must do is ensure that we do not unwittingly create a lost generation of young children who are left claiming benefits or, worse, doing nothing at all or getting involved in criminal activity. That is the challenge: to create a framework which will improve skills, give opportunities to young people and embrace at a local level all those participants who need to be embraced.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate. I will address principally Amendment 81 but also the general points raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden.
The Bill basically focuses on education for 16 to 19 year-olds, but it cannot be looked at just as a separate section; it depends on what has happened between 11 and 16. If you have made a mess of 11 to 16, you cannot compensate for it by this Bill. I believe that, since 2010, we have made a mess of 11 to 16 education. This is really what is behind the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker; she is talking about disadvantaged children. The proportion of disadvantaged children today—you are usually considered to be disadvantaged if you do not get level 4 in English and maths—is between 30% and 35%. That is not a small minority—it is over 2 million students who failed, after 14 years of free state education, to acquire a basic literacy and numeracy qualification. It is a huge indictment of the English education system and what has been imposed upon it since 2010.
In 2010, Michael Gove imposed his curriculum on schools, without any consultation whatever. His curriculum, known as EBacc or Progress 8, consists of eight academic subjects: two English, one maths, three science, one foreign language and either history or geography. That is a grammar school curriculum; it is an academic curriculum. It excludes any sort of technical training, computer training, design training or cultural studies. Since 2010, there has been no fall in the number of disadvantaged children: the number then was roughly the same as it is now, at 30% to 35%. It was the same in 2015, when the Conservatives took control; there has been no significant improvement. I fear that there is absolutely no doubt that the attainment gap between the brightest and the less bright students will have grown substantially during Covid.
The victims of this policy are the disadvantaged and the unemployed. No one has mentioned the level of unemployment. Youth unemployment is now at 14.8%, which is very high—three times the national average—but there has been no mention at all of that. Nor has there been mention, so far, of students in the Bill; they have been left out like the mayors mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—they are not mentioned at all. I see no measure in the Bill that will prove a significant change in dealing with the skills gaps in our country.
The other matter that I am concerned about is that the Bill should have been a wonderful opportunity to create a combination of academic and technical education but, in fact, it makes the division even greater. The Bill is saying that if you stay on at school in the sixth form, that is the best way to get to university. When it is passed, the heads of every secondary school will say to their students, “Don’t go down that technical route, you’ll never get to university. Stay with us.” So all the rest will go down this technical route, and that is a real divide.
In Clause 4, the Bill actually says that schools and 16 to 19 academies will not be allowed to teach technical education. It says it in statute. I never thought that I would see that particular definition in an English law—least of all brought back by a Conservative Government, I may say. That is a complete bifurcation: there is an academic route and a less academic route. This is not really what should happen. The schools that I have established over the last 12 years include both academic and technical education and we have magnificent results, but the Bill really does not have that role in it whatever. It is educational apartheid—I do not use that word lightly, but that is what this is; there are two clear routes in future. Where is the parity of esteem, when the secondary head can say to his children, “Stay with me and you will get to university, because I will do those eight academic subjects, and we will get you through your A-levels as well”?
I am afraid that there is no real advantage in the Bill for the disadvantaged students, and I regret that very much indeed. When we talk about disadvantaged children, just remember that in every child there is a bit of flint. Sometimes you have to dig very deep for it, but that is the purpose of education—to find that bit of flint and create a spark, or, as Shakespeare said:
“The fire i’th’ flint
Shows not till it be struck.”
That flint has to be found long before 16; it has to be found at primary level and at secondary level and this is what we are failing to do as a country.
I ought first to declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I looked at these amendments and found myself agreeing with every single one. I looked back and remembered when we had the technical education Bill and, when we were in Committee in the Moses Room, I think there were probably about eight to 10 of us. How wonderful it is now to see how people have realised the importance of technical and vocational education—we have a proper Committee for a further education/vocational education/skills Bill.
I do not have a problem with local skills improvement plans—does anyone? It seems eminently sensible that you look at the needs of each locality in terms of business, job creation and development, and put that plan together. It is not something where you say, “Nationally, we will all do this”; you look at each local area. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talk about Cumbria. He will be pleased to know that I spent a week in Keswick and, as we walked around, virtually every single restaurant, hotel and shop had an advert pleading for people to work in the hospitality industry. Clearly, that is a skill that is needed in that area. It is obviously brought about because of Brexit, but that was a problem even when we were in the EU—there were not enough people in the hospitality industry.
I look at my own city of Liverpool, and back in the 1960s and 1970s we were the poorest region in Europe and, as a result, we qualified for what was called Objective 1 money—nearly €1 billion, I think. We got that twice; we got two tranches because our GDP was among the lowest in Europe. Why did we get a second tranche? Because the first time we failed completely to use the money effectively. We did not draw up a plan; we did not say, “What skills do we need? How can we turn the economy around?” We just sort of threw the money about. For example, FE colleges were booming with hairdressing and beauty treatment courses, so we gave them money to develop those courses. Yet there was a shortage at the time of engineers and of people in the construction industry, but there was no plan to say, “This is how we should be doing it.” So the notion of a local skills improvement plan seems eminently sensible.
I have a query about who should be putting that plan together. I have always said, “Look, employers want to run their businesses. They don’t want to be sitting round tables taking evidence, following government diktats and consulting people. They’ve got jobs to do. They want to make their businesses successful.” In a sense it should be the other way round. Whoever is doing this should be consulting with employers, not asking employers to do this work. But here we are. We have this.
If this is going to be employer-led, whatever that may mean, it is hugely important that other partners—and I use the term partners—are properly involved. The key partners must be the further education colleges, without a shadow of a doubt. They are the ones that are going to deliver this. If they feel that they have been pushed aside or neglected, it is not going to happen as well as it should. Then there is a whole host of other people who should be involved. Mention has been made, quite rightly, of the combined authorities—the metro mayoral authorities. I think we have nine of them now. They have been tasked with this—not only tasked, we have given them money. Liverpool City Region now gets £40 million a year. They have some other resources as well, so we should be involving them—not just involving, but partnering up with them. Again, that is important.
I want to raise some of the particularly important issues that have been identified. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right again when he says that we have made a mess. We have made a mess of our 11 to 16 schooling. It was not just Michael Gove, it was his coalition partners who sat by and allowed this to happen, much to my party’s shame. But that is in the past. We have to move forward and we have to recognise that, as I said at Second Reading, education should not be about just a knowledge and learning-based curriculum, it should be about a whole host of other things as well.
I am so glad that my noble friend Lord Addington again raised the issue of special educational needs, because here is an important group of young people who need to be part of this plan.
I want to go back to schooling. I have heard mention three times now of the London Challenge and how successful this was. I do not doubt it was successful, but I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that in Liverpool where our education service was failing, we were about to be privatised and the Minister at the time saw me and our chief executive and said, “Look, we don’t really want to privatise you. How about we work together to turn Liverpool around?” The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, came to Liverpool on numerous occasions—she was almost an adopted Scouser. Like the London Challenge, we were able to turn that around; at one stage Liverpool became the top-performing core city. It was not difficult to see how that was achieved. It was achieved by people working together and by realising that it was about the quality of teachers and the quality of leadership in schools—and also, to some extent, the quality of resources that were available.
Talking about the quality of teachers, if we are to get these local skills improvement plans to work, it also has to be about the provision and quality in further education. I repeat the plea that we look at the status of teachers and lecturers in further education. To my mind, it is a bit concerning that if you are a maths teacher, for example, in a school academy, you can earn considerably more than if you are a maths teacher in a further education college. Can the Minister explain why that is the case? Should there not be the resources in further education to make sure that we get the right quality, if we have not already got it?
Talking about the overall budget of colleges, if we are to identify skills that are needed in this local skills improvement plan, we have to ensure that the colleges are given time to develop those courses. That means an understanding that the money will be around for a period of time to develop those courses. You cannot suddenly say, “We need skills in this sector” and then start up the course when you have not then got the money to keep that course going. Again, that is hugely important.
I am so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and other noble Lords have mentioned the importance of remote learning. The Open University has been amazing in making that provision. Wherever people are, they can develop skills and knowledge through remote learning. Let us hope that continues.
It is interesting for me that, just by chance, as this Bill goes through your Lordships’ House, I also serve on the Select Committee looking at youth unemployment. It would perhaps be worth the Minister looking through some of the evidence given to that Select Committee. It is absolutely eye-opening. Only today we were hearing from disadvantaged young people and those in the careers service dealing with disadvantaged people. This is a whole host of people that we need to engage if we are to make these skills improvement plans work. Staggeringly, in the construction industry, for example, where we know that there is a national shortage, only 6% of people working in that industry are black, Asian or minority ethnic. Only 6%—why is that? Is that because they do not feel comfortable in that industry? Is that because there is overt racism? I do not know the reason. But there must be a reason it is only 6%. If you look at engineering—again, where there are national shortages—why is it only 7% black, Asian and minority ethnic people working in that industry? The other startling thing—again, my jaw dropped open—was to hear many young people who are desperate for a job tell us they did not feel confident going to Jobcentre Plus. They were nervous to apply for apprenticeships. They were nervous about and did not think it right to go for Kickstart. Why is that? These are issues that we need to get to the bottom of because they impact on the work we do.
In the Minister’s letter on the local skills improvement plan, which I got today, I was pleased to see that the priorities of local stakeholders will be considered when developing local skills improvement plans and that employer representative bodies will—kindly—engage with employers and then clear guidance will be set out. I also note that the Secretary of State will approve a local skills improvement plan before it is published and will require evidence that statutory guidance has been followed in the process of delivering this plan. I hope that will mean that they have to be absolutely confident that all the key partners have been able to have an input into those plans.
Finally, I just want to mention that, in putting forward these local skills improvement plans, there will be national requirements that are not locally based. The one that people have mentioned that springs to mind is the utility industry, where there is a national skills requirement. I would like to understand from the Minister how its voice will be heard, which is, in a sense, quite separate from local needs.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as in the register. Amendment 17 seeks to ensure that LSIPs cannot place an unreasonable burden on providers. Although we aim to amend the Bill to ensure that LSIPs are produced in partnership with providers, as drafted, the Bill gives ERBs all the power and renders FE colleges passive recipients. The role of employer representative bodies will be very important in shaping local systems, so it is worth while being clear about expectations, accountabilities and oversight in respect of what they are undertaking. There is a risk that some ERBs might represent a narrow group of employer voices, focus too much on current skills needs or be unwilling to take feedback. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked earlier, how will they work?
It is important to ensure that ERBs represent the full breadth of employer voices, focus on future demand—the skills we need for tomorrow—and have appropriate governance. Some employer representative bodies run publicly funded training providers that compete with colleges for apprenticeships and other contracts. We are therefore concerned that they have no ability to challenge plans even when these include unreasonable burdens, and can in fact be penalised if they are deemed to be failing in the plans’ objectives. I will not repeat the powerful rhetoric of my noble friend Lord Adonis, save his strong statement that this is “a Bill in search of a policy”—that is worth repeating, as is his further description that, with appropriate government funding, legislation for LSIPs would not be required.
There are many areas where plans could be unreasonable; for example, a requirement to facilitate a new course in an unworkable timescale or accommodate significant numbers of new students. I hope the Minister will agree to our other amendments and see sense in providers having agency over LSIPs, given their role in their delivery.
Amendment 18 seeks to ensure that LSIPs provide co-ordinated, strategic, all-age careers information, as mentioned by several noble Lords. The advice and guidance are widely supported across the education sector and, as was apparent at Second Reading, in this House. The Government’s White Paper says:
“We need impartial, lifelong careers advice and guidance available to people when they need it, regardless of age, circumstance or background.”
I could not agree more. Education is the key to personal and social mobility. I well remember being a young teacher when the noble Lord, Lord Baker’s 1988 Act was introduced. There must be a joined-up employment, skills and careers system. A range of choices and opportunities should be central to any reform, and changes to the post-16 education system should allow for progression and pathways between technical education, apprenticeships and existing further and higher education qualifications—no dual system, but one continuous pathway. It is disappointing that we are still awaiting the recommendation of Sir John Holman, who has been appointed to advise on this. Can the Minister confirm when these recommendations will be published and how they will sit alongside the Bill?
Amendment 19 seeks to ensure that the development of LSIPs must consider and support people with EHCPs and disabled people without EHCPs; this is supported by Mencap. Every person with a learning disability should have the opportunity to study and work. However, too few people with a learning disability have the opportunities and support that they need, and employment rates for people with a learning disability have remained stubbornly low. The reasons for this are numerous but some of the typical barriers to employment include a lack of support to build skills, misconceptions and a lack of understanding of what people with a learning disability can achieve with the right support, and failure by government programmes to provide the necessary adjustments required by people with a learning disability.
It is crucial that those with a learning disability can benefit from the measures in this Bill, and that support for schemes that help them, especially supported internships, are on the face of the Bill. A focus is needed on making the three “ships”—traineeships, supported internships and apprenticeships—more accessible and widely available; this will open up pathways into long-term employment. It is crucial that the various offers and pathways work in harmony. Indeed, apprenticeships need to be made more flexible and this should be included as part of reforms to the post-16 education offer; it has been a significantly missed opportunity.
Additionally, we want to see more of a commitment to ensuring that people with education, health and care plans, as well as disabled people without EHCPs, are included in the development of local skills improvement plans. Leaving this group out will only further entrench the current barriers.
Amendment 21 seeks to ensure that LSIPs consider learning distance providers, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lady Morris. Indeed, the Open University has been a world leader in flexible distance learning. Noble Lords do not need me to tell them that it began in 1969, established by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government as a major marker in the commitment to modernising British society. He believed that it would help build a more competitive economy while also promoting greater equality of opportunity and social mobility. In the past 50 years it has done exactly that; it should therefore be seriously considered as a world leader in distance learning opportunities.
I turn to other amendments in this group. It is imperative that LSIPs have regard to national strategies for addressing the attainment gap. The latest annual report from the Education Policy Institute found that the gap between what poorer pupils and their richer peers achieve at school stopped closing even before the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. Disadvantaged pupils in England are now 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. This is the same gap as five years ago, and disparities at primary school age are widening for the first time since 2007. My noble friend Lady Whitaker set out a powerful argument for greater provision to bring more youngsters to the starting blocks, to stop the gross ignoring of potential and hampering of life chances.
It is deeply concerning that our country entered the pandemic with such a lack of progress in this key area of social policy. The Government urgently need to put in place new policy measures to help poor children and close that gap. My noble friend Lady Morris shared her concern about employers and set out the successful “gateway” approach. We need to scope out those skills of tomorrow.
LSIPs must include the interests of students whose needs are not encompassed by local employers to prevent geographic fatalism of employment. We should encourage social mobility and prevent history repeating itself. Large swathes of the United Kingdom that were reliant on coal and manufacturing industries have never recovered from their collapse; for this very reason, we must ensure that the skills Bill does not have a narrow focus on historical sectoral dominance.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. Bearing in mind that questions have been raised about the structure and nature of the Bill, it may be useful to deal with those points first. The Bill will provide a framework. It gives the Secretary of State power to designate an employer representative body. That is not necessarily a group of employers but, as outlined in Bill, a body required to be “reasonably representative” of employers in the local area.
With respect to the framework, as was mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, there is a balance to be struck between not wanting to dictate centrally and having as much flexibility as possible, so that it is not prescriptive from the centre and the employer representative body can take into account a wide number of stakeholders and gather a wide range of evidence. This will set up a dynamic relationship. Clause 1(4) provides that the relevant providers have a duty to co-operate with the development or review of a local skills improvement plan. As some noble Lords have outlined, that duty places the further education colleges as a central plank in creating the plan for the local area. With respect to Clause 5, the plan is one thing that providers should have regard to when they are looking at local needs more generally.
I believe that noble Lords, at Second Reading and today, have had some concern about the scope of the local skills improvement plan. It is based on technical education—the beginning part of the Bill outlines what technical education is material for the purposes of the plan—but then the duty under Clause 5 for those providers is local needs. So it is much wider than just the technical education part that forms the central plank of the local skills improvement plan.
This will use the powers of the Secretary of State to designate that body and set up that dynamic relationship. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, mentioned that relationship with the national priorities. The Skills and Productivity Board, which looks at national skills requirements, will be reporting later this year, so that will be a central coherent national skills outline that every local skills improvement plan will have access to and will be referenced in the guidance. Hopefully, that will produce the dynamic relationship between the national skills plan—so each of the areas will have the same plan for national skills—and the local area. At the local level, you have the employer representative body with a duty on the relevant providers to co-operate in that dynamic relationship.
Noble Lords have made some very powerful points, and maybe we are going to come down to a bit of a House of Lords point about “Do those points belong on the face of a piece of primary legislation or are these important considerations to include in the guidance?” From the nature of this legislation, it is a framework. The challenge that could be made to the Government if we were too prescriptive in the Bill would be that we were trying to Whitehall-lead this—and that cannot be.
On the trailblazer process—for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—the current timetable is that the trailblazers will be announced later this month and end in March 2022. They will be important in fleshing out what should be in the statutory guidance that is mentioned in the legislation, and the national rollout will commence after Royal Assent. I hope that assures noble Lords that we have a timetable for this.
On the challenge about why this legislation is needed, there is a very clear DNA running through the technical education qualifications that one can see with apprenticeships, T-levels and the current review of levels 4 and 5. The majority of technical education qualifications in this country should be connected to an employer standard so that the employers know what that student can now do and the student knows what currency that qualification has. I recall serving with many noble Lords on the one-year Select Committee on Social Mobility; I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, served on it. For young people who do not go to university, the complexity of the qualifications —the uncertainty about what that level 2 or 3 actually meant for you and what it gave you at an interview—was clearly so different from walking into an interview with your GCSE or A-level certificates. That is what, in terms of parity of esteem, all these changes are meant to change. Students should know, “When I get that qualification, it gives me that competency”, and they can walk into an interview and the employer will know that level 3.5 in, say, forklift truck driving on an oil rig has that competency. The currency is standard and gives parity of esteem to these qualifications. That is why, as we will discuss in a later group, the employers are in the lead as the employer representative body. That is the consistent DNA in the technical education system that we are trying to embed to give that parity of esteem, not just through saying this about FE and HE but through the technical qualifications being as easy to understand by students and employers as a GCSE certificate is at the moment.
I have a final point. The Bill does not exclude any particular level of qualification. The definition at the start is about technical education that is material to the skills, capabilities and assessments in that area. It is not limited in that regard. Obviously an LSIP could include the level 1 or 2 kind of qualifications; it is not limited. The limiting is the technical education section of what the providers in a local area would have due regard to when considering the local skills improvement plan.
I hope that provides a useful framework before I deal specifically with some of the amendments that noble Lords have tabled and explain to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that this is not half-baked. There is a reason why this is a framework to ensure local flexibility. We have not defined “local”. When we have done these trailblazers we have allowed the economic area to define itself, so we are really trying to get a balance here in terms of a structure and a framework to enable local areas to take ownership of their local plans.
I note the points made by my noble friend Lord Lucas concerning the LSIPs and the skills, capabilities or expertise required by potential students. I know the whole Committee will agree that post-16 education and training should meet the needs of students effectively, not only to secure meaningful employment but to ensure that they have essential skills for life more broadly.
I point out to noble Lords that Ofsted already considers whether the curriculum considers the needs of learners as part of its inspections of all post-16 FE providers. Many of the core skills and capabilities that students need to succeed in life are already well known and are consistent across the country—for example, literacy, numeracy, ICT and, sometimes, English language skills—so that students can function and integrate effectively into society. However, as I have outlined, the key technical skills that employers need can vary significantly across areas. They continually evolve to respond to new opportunities and challenges, and that is where the local skills improvement plan will make a valuable contribution.
By identifying the skills, capabilities and expertise required by employers in a specified area and, importantly, that may be required in future, which is specifically outlined in Clause 1(6)(b), a designated employer representative body will have clear evidence on the skills, capabilities and expertise that potential students will similarly require to help them secure good skilled jobs in the local area.
I reiterate that Clause 5 introduces a new duty on all institutions within the FE sector—namely, further education and sixth-form colleges and designated institutions—to keep all their provision under review to ensure that it is meeting local needs, including the needs of learners. At this point, to answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, there is no prescription in the Bill to say that 11 to 16 should not be teaching technical education. We have just said in Clause 4, in relation to the relevant providers being under a duty to co-operate, that at this stage we have not given that burden to schools. It is clear in Clause 4 that by regulation the Secretary of State can change that and make them one of the relevant providers that would then have a duty to co-operate.
Sorry, no. On Amendment 2 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in relation to potential employers, start-up businesses and the self-employed, I strongly agree with her on the importance of ensuring that employers’ voices are central to the local skills improvement plan. That is why it is clear in the Bill that, once designated, the employer representative body must draw on the views of employers operating within an area to inform a local skills improvement plan. The definition of “employer” is wide and the employer representative body can take into account any other evidence. That is broad in order to ensure that they have flexibility to include, of course, the needs of the self-employed in the local area.
To effectively fulfil the role of summarising the skills needs of local employers, the designated body will need to convene and draw on the views of employers that are not part of the ERB itself, as well as other relevant employer representative sector bodies and any other evidence. That will ensure that it is as easy as possible for employers, especially small employers, to navigate local skills systems, engage and have their voice heard.
Turning now to Amendments 11 and 81, from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her expertise and her unstinting efforts to support those who have not yet achieved their grade 4 or above in English and maths. I hope she will be pleased to know that although the coronavirus has slightly delayed the work with MHCLG and DfE, a strategy in relation to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers will be published, we hope, later this year.
We agree, of course, that English and maths are vital for life, learning and work. Securing good levels of literacy and numeracy increases individual productivity and improves earnings and employment opportunities. That is why English and maths are core competences of 16-19 study programmes, traineeships and T-Level transition programmes. They are also set as exit requirements for successful completion of the apprenticeship and T-Level programmes. We want young people and adults to have the skills they need to progress into jobs, further education or training. That is why we have a number of policies in place to support attainment.
First, all 16-19 year olds on study programmes of 150 hours or more, where they do not yet hold a GCSE grade 4-9 in English and maths, must continue to study these subjects. Secondly, we have reformed the English and maths functional qualifications to improve the rigour, relevance and recognition among employers. This qualification is often taken as an alternative to GCSEs where students must continue studying, which I hope answers the further question from my noble friend Lord Lucas. Thirdly, we have increased our investment in the centres for excellence in maths programme that are designed to improve the quality of maths teaching in post-16 institutions. We have made further investment in a range of professional development programmes for post-16 English and maths teachers. Dealing with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, FE colleges are free to set their own pay and conditions, so they are free to set the salary levels that they wish to as autonomous institutions. Fourthly, through our statutory entitlement, we fully fund English and maths courses from entry level 1 to 2 for adults who are yet to achieve a GCSE grade 4 or above or equivalent. This provision is free of charge and aims to support people in everyday life to find a job or to progress into further education. I think this is a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. Finally, specifically in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we have expanded the 16-19 tuition fund to support hundreds of thousands of young people who most need help to catch up in English, maths and other vocational and academic subjects.
I hope these actions will satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, but there are no plans to have a separate published strategy. Obviously, she will note from the Bill that the duty under Clause 5 on providers to take into account local needs will also, of course, take into account the provision of lower-level qualifications. In answer to my noble friend Lord Baker, I do not think we had much discussion at Second Reading about vocational, technical and academic. I had the great pleasure of visiting some of the university technical colleges that he was involved in setting up. It was pleasing to see that one I visited in Doncaster—I think it is the newest one—was offering the EBacc as well, so I do not think that there is a clear divide. It was impressive to see the outstanding education that is achieved in those institutions.
Turning to Amendment 17 from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, I understand he seeks to probe what reasonable action would be asked of providers under the local skills improvement plan. I completely agree that it should not place unreasonable burdens on providers, and I outlined, on another section of the Bill, why “relevant providers” does not include schools. Clause 1 is clear that the duty on providers is to have “regard to the plan”. It is also why we want providers to work hand-in-glove with employers to develop these plans from the start rather than simply having regard to a plan that they have had no hand in developing. The Bill is clear that when there is no plan in place, there is a duty to help prepare the plan, as well as to help review it if there is one in place. Rather than simply requiring them to have regard to the plan once developed, this will ensure they can share their own perspectives on the current challenges and what actions might best address them. Thus, the plans will be the product, as I have outlined, of direct engagement between employers, as convened by a representative body, and the providers.
It is helpful, potentially, at this stage to answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about the trailblazers. The ERBs were identified through an open bidding process. We had a very strong response from across the country, including from areas with mayoral combined authorities, with more than 40 applications to become one of the six to eight trailblazers. As I have outlined, we will be announcing the results of that this month.
Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, mentioned the importance of careers advice in relation to Amendment 18. This year, 2021-22, £100 million is being invested in the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company. Amendment 18 concerns consideration of the priorities of organisations and the co-ordination of careers information, advice and guidance. Of course we agree that there is a need for good careers information, advice and guidance for all to ensure that individuals can make informed choices. Local skills improvement plans can be one source of information that can help support this.
Of course the technical skills that employers require continually evolve and change to respond to new opportunities. The designated employer body will therefore need to engage and work closely with providers, as outlined in Clause 1(6)(b), which refers to “any other evidence”, so the widest scope is given to the employer representative body. This includes the Careers & Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, the National Careers Service, area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus, of course. This will ensure that local intelligence and priorities are fed into the provision of careers information, advice and guidance, that advice is employer-led and integrated and that it generates interest in upcoming job opportunities in the area.
I was asked a specific question by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, about the funding of FE. There has been considerable investment: the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010 into the FE sector, nearly £700 million for 16-19s, an increase of £1.5 billion into FE college investment and a £2.5 billion national skills fund, so we are serious about the parity of esteem of these sectors.
We intend, as I have outlined, to set out clear expectations on stakeholder engagement—whether that is with careers, other employers or learners that have been outlined—in statutory guidance, which will be informed by evidence and good practice from the trailblazers running in 2021-22.
I turn now to Amendments 19, 22 and 26 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Addington, relating to special educational needs and disabilities. I fully understood his analogy in relation vertigo. I suffer from it, so there is half the department that very rarely go to because I cannot get to it, so I appreciated his analogy. I appreciate the continual challenge he gives, not only as an FE ambassador, but to us in regard to thinking through the implication of all policies in relation to SEND children and young people. Obviously, with the right preparation and support, the overwhelming majority of SEND young people are able to progress into paid employment.
We are currently delivering two study programmes specifically designed to prepare young people for employment: traineeships and, as noble Lords outlined, supported internships. Traineeships are designed for all young people with little or no work experience, and supported internships are specifically for those with EHC plans. The traineeships have recently been strengthened as part of the Chancellor’s plan for jobs. In July next year, DfE will evaluate the impact on young people with SEND of the £237 million investment in traineeships.
In relation to relevant providers and the duty under Clause 5, there are existing legal duties on colleges and local authorities linked to reviewing and offering provision for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. There are also the duties under the Equality Act. I have already highlighted the role of Clause 5 in introducing a new duty on all institutions within the FE sector to keep all their provision under review to ensure that it is meeting local needs. That includes the needs of those with special educational needs or disabilities. Of course, if a young person presents with an unidentified SEND need, there still is an obligation on that college or provider in relation to that young person. The draft statutory guidance on this duty under Clause 5, which accompanied the letter that I sent to Peers, is clear that governing bodies will need to consider the needs of learners with special educational needs and disabilities, including those with education, health and care plans and that they will need to engage with local authorities when reviewing their provision.
The Careers & Enterprise Company already undertakes targeted work with employers to stimulate more employer engagement with young people with SEND, and it will continue to make the case for providing work experience and supported internships. The designated employer representative body would therefore engage with stakeholders such as the Careers & Enterprise Company to ensure that identified local intelligence and priorities are fed into the provision of careers information.
Amendments 20 and 21 were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and tabled by respectively the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson. They are on distance learning, and many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, specifically mentioned the Open University. I confirm that Clause 1 places duties on relevant providers of post-16 technical education and training that is material to a specified area. This includes relevant providers that may be based elsewhere and offer provision by distance learning. As long as the provision of this distance learning is material to the area, they will be captured by this duty. As I outlined, obviously, the Skills and Productivity Board report into national skills will also feature in this. In addition, we will encourage all providers of post-16 technical education and training to be involved in the development of local skills plans and delivery, regardless of whether a duty is being placed upon them.
In concluding, I acknowledge the important points raised by many noble Lords in relation to these amendments. However, as I outlined at the start, just because something is important—I have outlined the nature of this piece of legislation—that does not necessarily mean that it should feature on the face of the Bill. This is why I have argued that our statutory guidance is a better vehicle to reflect these points. Not only can we provide more detail in the statutory guidance but we can also keep it updated to respond to changing future circumstances. Furthermore, we can ensure that the learning from the trailblazers and the evaluation of those can feed directly into the first iteration of this guidance.
I hope that I have covered the one specific point that my noble friend Lord Lucas raised with me on ITPs. They are included in the definition of “relevant provider” in Clause 4. He also mentioned the point about accountability, which is of course important. To mitigate this, the designation can be subject to terms and conditions, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and the body must have regard to any relevant guidance published by the Secretary of State.
I will make clear that the evaluation by the Secretary of State is of the process, asking whether they have taken into account the guidance or whether a plan has been produced by consulting and collaborating with the relevant stakeholders. It will not be a judgment on the merits of that plan—that is about delegating down to the employer representative body to create it. Of course, some funding has been allocated to the trailblazers, and, of course, whenever you give public funding, it is on the condition of accountability for how it is used.
I hope that my remarks have given some reassurance to noble Lords. As I have said, I have taken this opportunity to outline the framework of this piece of legislation. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment and that other noble Lords will not feel the need to move theirs when they are called.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Knight of Weymouth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I will call them in turn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, the Minister said that over 40 applications for LSIP trailblazers have been received by the department. Could she make them available for the Committee to see? It would be very helpful if, while we are considering the Bill, we could see what is going on in the real world. Could she also assure us that, when the selection of those trailblazers is made, they will not just go to areas that have Conservative MPs, reflecting the gerrymandering that took place with the towns Bill? There is a very acute concern that the funding that is available under the Bill is just going to places that are favoured with Conservative representation in the House of Commons, which would be par for the course for this Government.
The successful ones will be announced later on this month. There are no plans—and I clarify that it is not our normal process—to release the applications of those who have not been successful. I will write to the noble Lord if I am wrong about that.
My Lords, the Minister did a noble job in trying to prevent us wanting to come back to these issues, but I am sure that we will on Report. I was particularly interested in the comment that she made about local areas defining themselves. Looking back at some of the places where I have lived, I am interested in what happens if no one wants you in their area. I was once mayor of Frome, which is right on the edge, and in the east, of Somerset. It is economically more in west Wiltshire: lots of young people might go and study at Trowbridge college, but they might go to Radstock college or Yeovil College. Frome is a wonderful place, but in those areas they might not want it. I used to represent Swanage, which is on the edge of the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation, but it is in Dorset, so it is in the wrong county, just as Frome is in relation to Wiltshire. I am interested in that area.
I am also interested in national colleges. There is a National College for Digital Skills in north London, a national college for the creatives in Purfleet and a National College for Nuclear in Cumbria and Somerset. Will they have to have regard to all of the local skills partnerships’ needs for their particular skills? If so, it is a bit of a nightmare for those colleges to go through all of them.
Finally, I ask the Minister whether she sees a move to a genuine all-age careers service? In particular, would the DWP have to refer people to it if they are coming through jobs schemes? With the National Careers Service and the extra money that the Chancellor agreed for it during the pandemic, we have seen that it is struggling to spend that money because DWP is not really aware that it exists and is not referring people over. On the Government’s thinking around all of this, which is critically important, with all of the deskilling that is going on in our economy, can she give us some assurance that they are properly working through what an effective all-age careers service that everyone will want to use will look like?
My Lords, I was smiling at the noble Lord because I asked this precise question about a national plan. There is a balance here between not dictating from the centre, drawing a map and chopping things up and allowing economic areas to define themselves in our complex local geography. This has not been an issue with the trailblazers, but that was obviously a small number of areas—but, yes, we will ensure that there are no cracks between the areas and that every area will be covered by a local skills improvement plan.
As far as I am aware, there are no plans to change the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company, which have different roles. The noble Lord is correct that we obviously need to make sure that all of this is joined up. Previous noble Lords have asked me about how this will join up with people on universal credit—this is a work in progress, but I was pleased to learn from DWP Ministers that there have been some slight changes to UC to make sure that those people could take up the digital skills boot camps, for instance. So we are aware of the need, with all of this, to make sure that this is one system that is working together.
One of the issues that I spoke of in preparation for this is the need for the job coach to understand which job requires which level to get those competences. Everyone needs to be able to understand this. I am sure that a job coach would understand that to be a translator you need GCSE French—but, to be a crane driver, what do you need? So we get that currency of understanding for employers, learners and job or work coaches sitting in DWP, who can advise people on what qualification to go away and do. That will make sure that you have the competences to walk through the door at that interview, in the same way as you would in relation to GCSE French, as I have said.
I am afraid I do not have a specific answer for the noble Lord. I think he was referring to Ada college in Manchester and north London. I will write to the noble Lord on how national colleges will engage. Obviously, we are hoping that, under the duty in Clause 5, a provider will not just say “Well, I’m in this LSIP area”. If they are on the border, they should be looking dynamically at where their students come and travel from—so they may end up looking at what the provision and the LSIP are for a number of areas.
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s response. I will read it carefully in Hansard. I may have missed something, but I think she said that there were no laid down qualification barriers to entry. I would be grateful if she would write to me about where in the Bill this is made clear, and whether the Bill says that there is scope for enabling access through whatever barriers are locally set.
My Lords, the point I was making was that the Bill does not mention being only at level 3, level 4 or level 2; it does not mention those levels. The only definition in the Bill in terms of the LSIP and relevant providers is around technical education. I will just get the definition; I might as well read from it. It refers to
“post-16 technical education or training that is material”.
For instance, in a sixth-form college, the entirety of its provision might not be relevant under its duty to co-operate with employer representative bodies. That is not linked to saying, “Technical education at level 4, 3, 2 or 1”. The Bill does not talk about that; it is just talking about technical education as defined in Clause 1.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her encyclopaedic reply to this long debate. In general, I am encouraged, and I did not notice any point I raised that she did not address. I am particularly grateful to her for filling out the picture generally.
I will pick up a few points from the debate. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, had it right when she referred to place. Place is very important. That importance seems to be becoming recognised within various areas of government. I was very pleased, for instance, by the structure of the levelling-up fund and the way it required a place to get together to decide what it wanted the money for, rather than the former system that applied down the coast, where a pier was imposed on Hastings by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and not tied into what the place wanted to do. That developing sense of place needs to find a way to be tied into local skills improvement plans. These organisations want to be talking to each other and moving in the same direction, by and large. I think that is what I mean by accountability. This should not be an organisation which just wanders off on its own and does not feel that it needs to have any relationship with the way that the place it is embedded in wants to go.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the question of towns adding new areas of business. It is really difficult to see how that works in the structure which has been proposed. I will devote some time to thinking that through when I get a chance to read Hansard. I am conscious that in my own home town of Eastbourne, a conurbation of about 130,000 people has 50 places per annum for A-levels. That is ridiculous, but it seems really hard to change, to move and to draw attention to. I suspect that a town which needed to add a new area of business would find it similarly difficult to shift some of the structures that are being proposed here—but, as I say, I will look at that more carefully.
There is a question of how existing businesses realise they need new skills, which is a function that historically has been provided by the good awarding bodies. How that is going to flourish in the new system is going to be worth looking at.
Several noble Lords were looking at the structures of employers that the Government are proposing to work with. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, it is not easy to build good employer groups. That is why I very much support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to include the mayors. They have a convening capability which will mean that the local businesses produce good people to be on the LSIPs. It will not be third-rate or fourth-rate people; it will be people who are at board level taking part in them. That will make an enormous difference to how well they perform.
Perhaps the noble Lord remembers the old sector skills partnerships, many of which did not work well because they were just too low level. The one that I liked, e-skills, which was a top-level one, the Government killed— but there we are. The nice thing about the structures proposed in this Bill is that they are—I hope, by and large—existing employer structures, which will mean that they have a resilience against falling out of favour with the Government and an ability to retain the relationships and ways of working they build up under this structure.
So, as I say, I am grateful to my noble friend for her answers. I will look at them in detail and I am so pleased to have the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, back on home turf and out of the dark world he has been inhabiting for these last few years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.