Amendment 76

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:34 pm on 19th July 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Clarke of Nottingham:

Moved by Lord Clarke of Nottingham

76: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—“Provision of opportunities for education and skills development(1) Any person of any age has the right to free education on an approved course up to Level 3 supplied by an approved provider of further or technical education, if he or she has not already studied at that level.(2) Any approved provider must receive automatic in-year funding for any student covered by subsection (1), and supported by the Adult Education Budget, at a tariff rate set by the Secretary of State. (3) Any employer receiving apprenticeship funding shall spend at least two thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25.”

Photo of Lord Clarke of Nottingham Lord Clarke of Nottingham Conservative

My Lords, I tabled Amendment 76 in collaboration with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and I am glad to see that my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has added his name in support.

In moving this amendment, I hope to get a reasonably sympathetic response from the Government—I am sure the Minister will endeavour to provide one—because it is very much in the spirit of the Government’s policy of trying to address the skills gap in this country and enable individuals to develop skills relevant to today’s labour market in their area. I therefore hope I can get a sympathetic and even positive response to what I propose for the category of people covered.

The Government’s policy so far, based on their excellent White Paper—to which they are slowly adding some substance as they develop it—is to concentrate particularly on the higher levels of skill to make sure we have an alternative to the traditional route through school and university for the academically able that gives equal status and value to technical and engineering skills. I very much welcome that. This amendment is tabled for a slightly different target, which does not have adequate attention: people who unfortunately did not take advantage of opportunities when they were young and should have devoted at least some of their time to their education and training, who realise that they need to improve their skills to get better career prospects and move to a more sensible job pattern in future.

Teenage angst takes a whole variety of forms, but it leads to some people completely failing to take advantage of the opportunities they had at school or wherever. There are people who have intrinsic intelligence and ability but drop out of school or the labour market because of whatever phase of the world they are going through. They even join the category given the dreadful jargon name of NEETs—people not in education, employment or training. By the time they get to the age of 25, as people begin to mature and face up to the realities of life, quite a lot of them wish to address it. I think society as a whole wishes to give them an opportunity to make themselves better opportunities in the labour market.

For that reason, we are concerned with those seeking skills at level 2, which is the equivalent of GCSE, and level 3, which is the equivalent of A-levels. Anybody who failed to take their opportunities when they had them should have a lifelong opportunity to do so in order to improve the contribution they can make to the local economy and their life prospects.

As I said, the Government are producing quite substantial proposals in the Bill, but so far there is much more support for levels 4, 5 and 6 up to degree level. This is not in any way challenging that—I support all that—but there is a gap that we seek to address in this amendment. The first component of the amendment says:

“Any person of any age has the right” to free tuition if they wish to make up for what they have omitted so far and to take a level 2 or 3 qualification of some kind. The Government have not covered that. A statutory right would be extremely valuable.

Some financial support will be required. The Government are developing a lifelong loans entitlement for people who at any stage wish to improve their skills, but that is confined to those seeking skills at levels 4, 5 and 6. I hope I have made the case for making available some equivalent to those at levels 2 and 3. The form can be settled, but the legal entitlement would give substance to the Government’s policies. In due course, the Government could provide the sort of funding that should be made available to persons who make the sensible decision to gain qualifications at that level.

It is no good offering people government funding for courses of any kind if the providers are not supplying such courses and if the budgets of the relevant institutions do not allow them to make those courses available. This is all part of a much wider problem in the further education college and sixth-form college sector, which has been the Cinderella of our education and training system for several decades but will have to play a vital part in supplying a response to the skills gap at every level, and will certainly be very important at this level.

The problem at the moment is that, while further education colleges do try to provide relevant courses—I welcome the fact that they will be working much more closely with local employers for relevant local skills and I am not remotely hostile to the broad brush of policy—they are, of course, funded on a quite different basis from other parts of our education system. Every school gets a guaranteed sum of money for every pupil it persuades to stay on in the sixth form. Every university gets a very generous sum of money guaranteed for everybody it can entice into any sort of course. Colleges of further education, however, work to cash-limited budgets, which have not been treated generously in recent years; there is a finite limit to what they can offer and they have to make a choice.

This is why the second component of our amendment suggests:

“Any approved provider must receive automatic in-year funding for any student” who, as we have already said, is seeking a level 2 or level 3-type qualification at a tariff rate to be

“set by the Secretary of State”.

I hope that there will be much wider moves than that to get further education funding, further education college status, and the attractiveness of employment and careers in the further education service made more attractive by the Government—but this proposal would provide automatic funding for all those courses that are taken up by an adequate number of people seeking level 2 and 3 qualifications.

Finally, on a slightly broader point, the amendment addresses the uses to which the apprenticeship levy is being put at the moment. Again, I am not just trying to persuade the Minister to be forthcoming; I very much welcome the apprenticeship levy system, the development of apprentices and the way the Bill addresses very important things, such as the quality and variety of qualifications, trying to sort out the maze of them, and so on—and the levy system has had some extremely beneficial effects. However, in its current form, it has had some unintended side-effects. In recent years, there has been a steady drift in the use of levy money towards higher-level qualifications, and towards existing employees of companies seeking to refresh or modify their skills, go through management training and so on, and a decline in the number of young people getting apprenticeships and in the number of people getting more ordinary-level training in skills.

Management trainees, middle-ranking managers and quite senior managers can be described by large employers as apprentices—most of them are utterly unaware of the fact that they are apprentices—for the purpose of claiming levy money to cover the costs. Public sector bodies do this—as, I suspect, do government departments when they are training civil servants; some high-flying civil servant is probably being described somewhere as an apprentice, in order to recover the levy. In answer to questions from the Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, another Minister told us the other day that they have stopped funding MBA courses out of the apprenticeship levy. However, the whole thing has drifted away from its essential point.

The reason why we have all got enthusiastic about reviving the idea of apprenticeships is to provide an alternative for able young people to the traditional academic route. They are going through the process of moving from education into the world of work and acquiring the skills they need—always a difficult transition for any person. This is not happening when long-serving employees are taking levy money for skills improvement. That sort of thing is part of the ordinary costs that every major business is used to incurring; the levy money should not simply be absorbed by putting these courses forward as a way of reducing the burden of the levy on the employer.

This amendment therefore proposes that two-thirds of the levy money should go towards apprenticeships for the under-25s—the 16 to 24 age group. That would transform the way we move people from education into work. It would reinforce the argument that we wish to present our school students with a genuine choice of equal status and attractiveness to the traditional academic route, and it is what the apprenticeship levy scheme should have been aimed at all along. So that is the nature of the amendment. I hope that it commends itself to the Government and the Minister. We are rather looking for a little substantive meaning to the phrase “levelling up”. I think Amendment 76 might help the Government in their dilemma, because I think it can be described as, on the whole, reinforcing a genuine levelling-up agenda in the world of education and apprenticeships.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative 2:45 pm, 19th July 2021

My Lords, I warmly support the amendment moved by my colleague and noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham. We are both members of the House of Lords Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, as are the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who is a supporter of this amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, who speaks for the Liberals. We are exploring all ways in which we can improve skills training in our country, which is pretty dismal at the moment and compares very badly with many European countries.

One aspect that the Government boast of is the lifetime guarantee. This affects in particular those people who do not have A-levels and decide in their 30s, 40s or 50s that they would like to take an A-level course. To do that they will have to pay a course fee of about £5,000 to £6,000 a year, for which they may require a loan. As they are studying, they could not apply for the minimum wage or universal credit so, if they are unemployed, they would almost certainly have to take out a maintenance loan of another £6,000 or £7,000. So we would be asking unemployed people to pay £12,000 to acquire an A-level qualification that, had they stayed at school, they would have got for free. It is simply outrageous and unacceptable, and it makes a complete farce of what a lifetime guarantee is.

I am very hopeful that the Government will accept this amendment. Why am I hopeful? Well, about four weeks ago, the Government announced a skills fund on which they are going to spend about £2.5 billion. They suggested four items on which the fund could be based, the first of which was £93 million for free A-levels. They have now said that they want to go into consultation on the skills fund, which means that those original four proposals are on ice. I suggest that they should think very carefully and put the first item back in. That would be a way for the Government to fund this. Can the Minister tell us whether the four items of expenditure on the skills fund are on ice? They have spent most of the £2 billion among them.

I would go further than my noble and learned friend has done. If you go to an FE college at 18 and you get to level 3, you will want, if you are able enough, to go on to level 4, the higher national certificate, or level 5, the higher national diploma. This is where the main skills gap in our country is. If you analyse the skills gap in digital, in engineering or in the creative industries, you see that it is greatest at levels 4 and 5. These are two qualifications just below degree level—you would describe those taking them as high-quality technicians—and we have a huge skills gap in that area. We should be promoting levels 4 and 5.

A course at level 4, which currently costs about £6,000 or £7,000, should be free. If an unemployed person is doing that, they will not be able to claim the living wage or universal credit, so they will need a maintenance grant of probably £6,000 or £7,000. So someone who wants to study at level 4 today for whom the alternative is unemployment has to find a loan of £12,000, which by the time they finish will be £15,000. I do not think that is at all reasonable. Strangely enough, neither did the Department for Education about nine or 10 months ago, because it put to the Treasury the proposal that level 4 should be free for unemployed youngsters, as should level 5, the higher national degree, which is just below level 6—a degree. The Government should consider this proposal and I hope our Select Committee will consider it as well. We have to stimulate real growth at levels 4 and 5. If we do not, our country will fall behind technologically.

I am sure the Government will accept my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke’s proposal today because it would be totally illogical and unfair not to accept it, but I hope they will think a little wider and broader because we have to upskill our country and catch up with Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. We are so far behind. This is a moment at which we can make significant changes for generations of young people to come.

Photo of Lord Aberdare Lord Aberdare Crossbench

My Lords, I support both amendments in this group. I put my name down mainly to speak on Amendment 76, which has been so powerfully moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and to focus on Section 3, about apprenticeship funding for young people before the age of 25, which is badly needed.

The question I am asking myself is, how will this affect the overall funding of apprenticeships and how will it help to deliver, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, a stronger focus on levels 4 and 5 as well? Where are those apprenticeships going to come from, and what is going to persuade employers to provide those opportunities? Many employers, of course, have limited capacity to take on new staff, particularly young people coming directly from education without previous working experience, however much they might wish to do so if they could. The result has been that those employers tend to use their levy funds to upskill or reskill existing employees—although, as I have mentioned before, even that may use up only a limited proportion of their available levy funds. That creates yet another incentive for them to recast what training they need in the form of apprenticeships where they can.

So, I strongly support the amendment. My question is, where are those apprenticeships going to come from and what impact are they going to have on the ability of employers to focus on reskilling and upskilling at the same time? I suspect that a significant number of apprenticeships for young people are likely to come from SMEs, yet many are put off from offering apprenticeships because of the bureaucracy involved and a lack of time and resources to manage the process, despite the generous incentives available. I encourage the Government to look at offering specific, more generous incentives to SMEs to take on young people aged 25 or under for level 2 or 3 apprenticeships, including help with their administration and simplified arrangements for fee-paying employers to transfer part of their levy funds to SMEs for this specific purpose. There are such arrangements but they do not seem to be as effective as one might hope.

I always fail to understand why there cannot be more specific support and encouragement for apprenticeship training agencies to run apprenticeship programmes for SMEs, perhaps as a specific element of the local skills improvement plan for a particular area. That would seem a useful way in which an LSIP could contribute to the take-up of apprenticeships in its area, specifically among SMEs and new entrants to the job market, and maybe with a slight slightly broader applicability of the apprenticeship levy than it currently has.

I very much support the provisions in Amendment 80 putting the lifetime skills guarantee on a statutory footing. One of these days, I look forward to hearing an explanation of why the skills guarantee is “lifetime” and the learning entitlement is “lifelong” and what the difference may be; it would make many lives much easier if we just used one term. I hope the Government will accept the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, in particular and explain how they want to achieve a better balance between younger apprenticeships and level 4 and 5 apprenticeships, for example.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench

My Lords, it is an honour to speak in this group with many noble Lords who have made an enormous and outstanding contribution to the education system in this country. I support both Amendment 76, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and Amendment 80, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie. Both amendments seek to provide skills training for those who do not hold level 3 qualifications, and I thank both noble Lords for tabling these important amendments to the Bill, which I believe really enhance it.

The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, would ensure that a person of any age has the right to free education on an approved course up to level 3, supplied by an approved provider, if they have not already studied at that level. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has a similar intention but would provide this training only to people between the age of 19 and the state pension age. Given the number of people who continue to work over the state pension age, and given that the Equality Act 2010 makes age discrimination illegal, I prefer the wording of the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke. I also support the work of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on level 4 qualifications.

The issue of skills training at all ages is important in our changing economy. It is estimated that 35% of current jobs are at high risk of being replaced by automation by 2040, if not earlier. This impacts on workers of all ages, but we must understand that for people who have been made redundant the situation is very difficult. According to figures from the Centre for Ageing Better, over 1 million people between the age of 50 and state pension age are not working but would really like to. One in four men and one in three women in that age group have been out of work for over five years. Many older workers find it very difficult to participate in skills training, and much more so if they left school without gaining qualifications. We must do all that we can to support older workers to participate in training.

The other component of the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, is that an employer receiving apprenticeship funding shall spend at least two-thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at level 2 and 3 before the age of 25. This specifically encourages the training of younger workers at a time when we know that the youth unemployment rate is 13.2%, compared with 4.7% for the whole population. Many young people struggle in our school system and, at the age of 16 and 17, may not yet be in the right mindset to complete their level 2 or 3 qualifications. A few years later, when doing an apprenticeship in an area where they are interested and see the potential to progress their career, is a much better time to gain the qualifications that they were unable to get at school.

However, we cannot just put our focus on the young. Traditionally, we have had a model of education where it is something that happens at a young age rather than throughout life. With our workforce now changing so fast, this model is increasingly out of date and we must now have a focus on lifelong learning. We have a proud reputation in this country, with the Open University and the University of the Third Age, but we still have to fight for the fact that people of any age, no matter how old, should have access to education that allows them to gain level 2 and 3 qualifications, and other skills that they are going to need in the modern workforce.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 3:00 pm, 19th July 2021

My Lords, I support Amendments 76 and 80, for the obvious reason so clearly set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and others that unless full funding is available, many students who could benefit from and would in turn benefit society by attending these courses will simply not be able to do so through poverty. This applies to a significant proportion of those from the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, and no doubt to other minority-ethnic students, as well as to the rest of the NEETs referred to by the noble and learned Lord. I hope that the Government will respect the powerful arguments in favour of these amendments.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, this is a hugely important debate for the future of not only our education system but our society, because unless we have a properly trained workforce in the future and young people have real prospects and qualifications, we are in for a terrible time. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said, there cannot be levelling up unless we have qualifications, skills and opportunities that level up. It is good that he and my noble friend Lord Watson have tabled these amendments, which give us an opportunity to explore this broad issue and to hear from the Government what their intentions are.

Amendment 76 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, and my noble friend Lord Watson’s Amendment 80 are superficially similar. But I notice that as soon as you start probing them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, there are significant differences. I wonder whether my noble friend might elucidate, because his amendment is much more circumscribed then that of the noble and learned Lord, and I wonder why. I find the noble and learned Lord’s amendment very appealing: it has a broad statement of policy objectives, which looks to be absolutely correct for the future of our workforce and society. The bold statement in the noble and learned Lord’s amendment is:

“Any person of any age has the right to free education on an approved course up to Level 3 supplied by an approved provider of further or technical education”, whereas my noble friend’s amendment says:

“All persons aged 19 or older and under the state pension age have the right to study a fully-funded approved course”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, asked whether that eliminated all people who are over the retirement age. By the way, we need to eradicate from society the concept that once you get to the age of 60, 62 or 65, you are now unemployable and should not be eligible for proper training and the full opportunities that we extend to other people. If the House of Lords—average age 72—does not stand up for those beyond the statutory retirement age, who in this country is going to do so? The noble Baroness’s point is very well made and I look forward to my noble friend Lord Watson, speaking on behalf of my party, making it clear that we are fully in favour of people post retirement being eligible for these benefits as well.

My noble friend’s amendment also does not specify whether this is to be a right, which must go with funding, or simply an entitlement. The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, says:

“Any person of any age has the right to free education”, whereas my noble friend’s amendment says:

“All persons aged 19 or older and under the state pension age have the right to study”.

The big question is: who is going to pay for that? I know that we are having a policy review at the moment. The noble and learned Lord is a former Chancellor, so he is well aware of the forms of words that need to be used when you can give no commitment that involves any spending at all. I fully appreciate that may be why my noble friend’s amendment does not extend, so far as I can see, any rights that go with funding. but it would be as well to make that clear.

In the policy review which my party is conducting, it is essential that we put the rights of those who are on a path to technical and vocational education on a par with those who go on to university. We keep mouthing these platitudes about equality of opportunity but we never deliver it. When we look at the priorities facing the country, there is none more important than seeing that those on a technical education track, who at the moment too often do not get those opportunities, have them extended to them. These two amendments give us an opportunity to explore the terrain in this area.

However, the noble and learned Lord’s amendment also raises the very important issue of the apprenticeship levy. In all the instances of major acts of public policy which have delivered the exact opposite of their stated intention within the last generation, I cannot think of a more significant example than the apprenticeship levy. George Osborne, the late lamented Chancellor of the Exchequer who introduced it in his Budget speech of July 2015, said about apprenticeships that the then Government were

“committed to 3 million more”, and that,

“while many firms do a brilliant job training their workforces, too many … leave the training to others so we are going to take a radical and, frankly, long overdue approach … an apprenticeship levy on all large firms”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/7/15; col. 328.] to ensure 3 million more apprenticeships. Very few policies which came out of the Government during the past 11 years, which have been a bit of a wasteland for public policy at large, have I applauded more warmly than the apprenticeship levy. It looked to be, and I think George Osborne intended it to be, a bold step forward to raise significant additional funds that would have been available for training. The CBI was not wild with excitement when that policy was announced because it thought that was to be the case.

What then happened is what always happens when there is no one in government who really gets a grip on these things: the policy was essentially abandoned and became an orphan. As we know, Mr Osborne left the scene a year later—one of the many casualties of the Brexit disaster, which has managed to consume all its children during the last five years. The Chancellor of the Exchequer who had been behind the policy vanished and there was never an Education Secretary who was behind it. The noble Lord said that vocational education is the lesser priority of the education department, but among recent Education Secretaries I am hard put to see that it is a priority at all. As I said during the first day in Committee, there has been one Minister of Further Education each year since 2010 and the only one who showed any interest in apprenticeships, Robert Halfon, was promptly sacked because he was becoming too enthusiastic, and was shunted off to become chairman of the Select Committee in the House of Commons. There was nobody taking a grip on this policy and, as a result, two fatal flaws developed in its evolution.

The first, which the noble Lord highlighted, was that firms themselves were allowed to define what constituted training—as he said, it was anything up to and including MBAs. This is why there has been a massive decline in entry-level and level 2 and 3 apprenticeships, while all the emphasis has been on high-level apprenticeships. It is only large firms that pay the levy and that is how they best use the money which they have hoarded for apprenticeships.

The figures speak for themselves. The number of apprenticeships actually being provided is far from George Osborne’s 3 million extra. In the last four years it has declined from 213,000 to 161,900. This is a decline of nearly 50,000 apprenticeships from a policy that was supposed to increase the number by hundreds of thousands: it has moved in exactly the opposite direction to the one intended.

These figures are all taken from a House of Commons research paper from 30 March this year. For the under-19s, the fall has been catastrophic: the fall over that four-year period is more than one-third. The number of under-19s going into apprenticeships has declined between 2018 and 2021 from 66,000 to 39,000. That is a colossal tale of human deprivation and misery, because this means there are 17, 18- and 19-year olds who are basically going on to no proper training whatever.

That leads to the second flaw of the apprenticeship levy. It was a design flaw that I put to George Osborne at the time; he said he was prepared to look at it but, again, things moved on. The apprenticeship levy is not, in fact, a levy. Again, I look to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, as a former Chancellor. When the Government introduce a levy, normally—in almost every other case that I can think of—the levy is Her Majesty's Government by Act of Parliament requiring other bodies to pay a contribution to the Government or a public body for the delivery of a service, or to go into the Exchequer.

This is not a levy of that kind; it is a requirement on large firms to undertake training up to a certain level, which is the amount of the levy as a percentage of their turnover. Only if they do not provide training up to that level is the money then supposed to be volunteered under a scheme, which is very haphazard, and go to the Treasury or a designated public authority.

That was a fatal flaw in the design of the levy. It is like stamp duty being given to estate agencies, which have to pay the money to the Treasury only after they have paid all their expenses, paid into every imaginary marketing scheme that they can think of and paid vast salaries to all the agents. It was a fatal flaw and was done as a concession to business because the deal was that, if the money was first made available to the employers, this would be less of a burden on the employers. As a result, it was a huge incentive to the employers only to train their own workforce—which, by definition, was the existing workforce—so there were not many of those at entry level. This included training up to level 4, MBAs and bespoke training courses at vast expense.

There was no incentive to increase the number of apprenticeships and no mechanism for taking any of the money away from them and distributing it more fairly, nor, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, so rightly said, a provision for small and medium-sized enterprises to get the money either because they do not pay the levy. It applies only to large employers, and SMEs only get any of the proceeds by the process of redistribution if money is returned to the Treasury over and above what companies spend, which is virtually nothing. SMEs are the major employers in this country and should be providing an army of new apprenticeships.

The apprenticeship levy is a complete catastrophe of a policy. It has significantly reduced the supply of apprenticeships, even though it was meant to increase them. It has particularly done so in respect of small and medium-sized enterprises and young people. Therefore, the third part of the amendment of the noble Lord and learned, Lord Clarke, which states that any employer

“receiving apprenticeship funding shall spend at least two thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25” is vital. I would take it further and take the funds out of the hands of the employer and see that they are distributed on a fair, national, basis including to SMEs.

I look forward to the Minister’s response, particularly on what steps the Government are proposing. It is a very basic question: what steps are the Government going to take to ensure that the number of apprenticeships in this country goes up rather than down? Each year at the moment the numbers are going down and we need them to go up.

What I would most like to see is the Minister accept the amendment put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke. It is an excellent amendment and comes with the great pedigree of a former Chancellor; he was not a notable high spender as Chancellor but was quite discriminating in the object of his affection when he was in charge of the national money bags. If he thinks that this should be a big imperative national priority, then we should think so too. I very much hope that something like his amendment becomes the law of the land.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 3:15 pm, 19th July 2021

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in such fine form, but I am going to argue with his conclusion on degree apprenticeships and other higher apprenticeships. They have been a great boost to the quality of British management. We have needed for a long time to put more effort and skill into that level of business. We needed better management; we needed more and better managers. The money going in that direction has not been a waste—it is just that we needed rather more money in addition to go towards young people.

I am not sure whether the pattern of apprenticeship that we dreamed up, and now have some experience of, has really proved itself. If I understood the Minister aright on a previous day, we are going to make a serious attempt to provide apprenticeship-style funding and opportunities for people in the creative sector where the pattern of employment has so far precluded apprenticeships. We are going to look at, I believe, something much more akin to a series of shorter-term training opportunities, with something that glues it together into a career progression, such as a relationship with a learning provider or someone else independent of an employer.

That is a much better pattern for a lot of young people than an apprenticeship. They can get the skills they need to get into a job and to regularly have opportunities to upskill, not a year or three years at a time, but two or three months at a time. It is a pattern that has evolved quite successfully in the IT and creative industries. The lack of support and effective government funding has had some unfortunate socially exclusionary consequences—people have to be able to afford the training themselves rather than having support. I am delighted that the Government are coming into that area.

I do not think we should assume that, just because we dreamed up apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3, in a lot of cases they have proved themselves. They have in some places, but it would suit young people in particular and employers better to have something made up of shorter-term elements with the pastoral care—particularly for small companies—being provided by experts rather than randomly through an overstressed corporate HR department.

That would provide quite a good structure for looking after the interests of returners and career changers. We ought to be providing these people with a real opportunity to contribute to the economy in the way they can. That will involve a degree of retraining. There should be no hurdles as to the level someone has reached previously. They might well have a degree in Greats but want to retrain as a motor engineer, and it does not help if they are not able to access the right level of provision for that change. We ought to be supporting that.

We ought to do it through grants initially. I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke that for someone coming out of education and into their early years of economic life with no substantial qualifications, to have a chance to get something under their belt is important. However, it should be what is necessary to get on the ladder for the career they are looking at. That may well be a level 2 or 3 qualification, or it may be something much shorter.

If you are looking at doing something more substantial than that, I do not think that we need do more than make sure that people can access the loans system to get themselves on track. However, we ought to be being fair. I like the spirit of these two amendments, and I hope that the Government will move in their direction.

Photo of Lord Layard Lord Layard Labour

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 76. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, has argued so powerfully, we are, as a nation, very good at producing graduates and pretty bad at producing skills for the other 50%.

I start with a quite extraordinary statistic: if you ask what proportion of all the 18 year-olds in our country are not in any form of education or work-based learning, the answer is 30%. That is an absolutely incredible situation, and it really is time that we addressed that problem. It is a problem for our national productivity and, of course, it is a big problem for the subsequent incomes of those people. If we are looking for priorities, which is what this is all about, the central aim of post-school policy development must now be to deal with that problem and get more of our young people up to level 3—or at least level 2.

The lifetime skills guarantee is of course a very welcome proposal towards that end—giving a first level 2 or 3 to everyone, free of charge, irrespective of age—but it should be put into law. If the Government are serious about it, they should have no reservations on that point. That is covered in the first bit of this amendment. However, the more substantial issue, to which my noble friend Lord Adonis referred, is how to deliver that guarantee. Unless the places are there, there is no point in a person feeling that they have the right to free education if, when they look around, they see nothing that they like. They would not, in effect, have a right—they have that right only if the money automatically follows their choice.

What we are saying to the Government—I hope that the Minister will reflect on this—is that there is actually no chance that the guarantee can be delivered through the existing system of contracting with the colleges. In that system, each college has a capped budget, the size of which it negotiates annually with the Education and Skills Funding Agency. That agency, in turn, has a capped total budget, which, currently—even taking into account recent increases—is half of what it was in 2010. So that is what our present funding system enables us to do for the other 50%. We can do whatever we will, but, unless we do something about that funding system, we will not be able to deliver the right to a lifetime skills guarantee.

The contrast between what faces those people and what faces people going down the academic route is extreme because if you go to university or sixth form, the money of course follows you automatically. That is why our academic education is among the best in the world. It is difficult to think of anything more completely unjust in our social arrangements in this country than the comparative treatment of people going down the academic route and of those wanting to go into further education.

We have to dynamise the system of further education in the same way that we have dynamised universities: by enabling any institution that thinks that it can attract the people who are entitled to put the course on, knowing that the money will automatically follow. It is very nice that we have the “lifetime skills guarantee” expression because we can say that any student who is accepted by a college should automatically be funded for exercising their guarantee. What is a guarantee if the money does not come with it? It should be a guarantee of free education, funded in an automatic fashion. We want our colleges to lead in transforming the skills of our non-graduates, which, as I say, is more important than any problem relating to graduates. Let us take the colleges off the leash and pay them for any eligible student who they can attract—that is the only way that we can implement the lifetime skills guarantee. I hope that the Minister can reflect on how that guarantee could be implemented in any other way.

I turn finally to apprenticeships. Again, as many noble Lords have already said, we have to be clear about what the really big problems are, as opposed to other things that would also be desirable but are not of the highest priority. As I said at the beginning, the biggest problem is that so many young people are entering adult life without any proper training—we absolutely have to address that. The key moment occurs before people are 25; we must do better for people at that stage. To put that in context: 30% of people have had no form of work-based training or education. This is a problem of opportunity and of places. We are still trying to get the figures, but we know that there is huge excess demand from young people for places on apprenticeships. There are people who want apprenticeships and cannot get them. Finding a mechanism to generate those places is absolutely critical. At the Youth Unemployment Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred, we constantly have evidence of this huge excess demand. We are trying to get the numbers; we do not have them yet, but everyone says that that demand is there.

We can only solve that problem if we use the apprenticeship levy to generate those places. One could imagine all kinds of subtle ways to incentivise employers to spend the apprenticeship money on younger people, but I do not think that they would work. That is why this very simple rule—two-thirds of apprenticeship funding going to people under the age of 25—is the most direct approach. Of course, it has to be for people taking apprenticeships at levels 2 or 3 because, if we said “under 25” but not the second part, we would see that they would want to fund degree and graduate apprenticeships. They would want to recruit bright young graduates and not bother about the other half of the population.

I stress the need to focus not just on the places but on the money for the places, because places for younger people are cheaper than those for the older people. As the amendment says, two-thirds of the money should go to people starting at levels 2 or 3 when aged under 25. Of course, I am very keen on degree and graduate apprenticeships but, if employers want to do those, they should come from the other third of the money or their own resources.

This whole amendment is about how to generate the places for young people to get the proper start in life that we want them to have and, thereby, earn a decent wage and contribute to national productivity. Such things do not happen just by saying, “You’ll have a guarantee”; you have to put it into law, as the other amendment also says, and then have proper ways of funding both the guarantee and the apprenticeship.

It is true that the Government now have the right aspirations. We are in a new situation with huge opportunity, and the skills White Paper absolutely heads in the right direction, but this amendment is, in a sense, a test of how serious the Government are about actually realising their admirable aspirations. I hope that the Minister will find the amendment helpful.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 80 from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, but I also strongly support Amendment 76 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, and the noble Lords, Lord Layard and Lord Rooker. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Layard; we are among some of the giants of the education world here.

If the Government are serious about wishing to reskill and upskill the nation, lifelong learning is an absolutely essential component. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that “lifelong” is the word we are more used to—but I agree with him that we should sort out before we go much further whether it is lifelong or lifetime. As we shall discuss later, adults are much less likely to wish to take on repayable loans, so the right to free education up to level 3 is a very positive measure.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, set out so eloquently, we also strongly support the idea that apprenticeship training funding should be spent on those beginning levels 2 and 3. These are essential stepping stones to higher levels, but too often overlooked. Apprenticeships always used to be about people starting out in employment, not about middle managers. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, set out, the numbers of young people starting apprenticeships has declined appallingly; government policy is simply not working in this respect.

I would also like to see support for level 1 qualifications, which can be the eye-opener for people who have been left behind by traditional education, who have never been awarded any national certificate but find themselves with a first taste of recognised educational achievement. It can be a really powerful incentive. I remember when NVQs first came out and we were giving NVQ level 1 to care and health workers, there were people with tears in their eyes because they had never before been awarded a national qualification. It can be an incentive; we must not overlook the lower levels in the interests of looking after the higher levels.

Amendment 80 refers to a qualification up to level 3 which, again, would cover the early stages of training. I tend to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that we should not really have stopped at retirement age—just think of the number of skills that we pensioners in this Chamber have had to learn over recent months. It also makes provision for those who need to retrain in another business or discipline, whether or not they already have a level 3 qualification. The old system of ELQs should be a thing of the past.

We need to make provision for people to acquire new skills as the employment market changes. Currently, for instance, the hospitality sector is woefully short of workers, so why could not someone who has been an office worker, possibly made redundant, not be given the opportunity to reskill where there are jobs, even though they may have substantial skills in a different field? But of course employers—particularly SMEs, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, pointed out—need to be incentivised to take on younger people. The funding proposed in these amendments should significantly help in enabling them to do so. The Government need to look positively on all the issues that are encompassed in these two amendments, such as lifelong learning and reskilling.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 3:30 pm, 19th July 2021

My Lords, again, we have had a stimulating debate, with many insightful contributions. I have to say that we support Amendment 76, in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, and my noble friends Lord Layard and Lord Rooker. It is similar in its first provision to ours, which references

“All persons aged 19 or older”, while theirs states:

“Any person of any age has the right to free education … up to Level 3”.

Below the age of 19, that right is already there through school or college or via an apprenticeship, although I accept the points made by my noble friend Lord Adonis about apprenticeships since the levy was introduced.

I acknowledge the important point about the pension age made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, reinforced by my noble friend Lord Adonis. As they rightly said, many people now have no alternative but to work beyond—perhaps in some cases far beyond—that point in their life. That has given food for thought for these Benches, if we decide to return to this at Report. It is a valid point.

We also support the other two provisions in Amendment 76, the first concerning funding through the adult education budget. Of course, what happens to the adult education budget is a great unknown, as much of it has been devolved to the metro mayoral authorities, which we know the Government, probably for political reasons, want to keep at some distance from this Bill. We think that is a great shame and is quite wrong, but perhaps the Minister can clarify the Government’s view of the role of the adult education budget going forward.

The third provision in Amendment 76 relates to the apprenticeship levy and attempts to right a wrong that has developed since the levy was introduced in 2017 that not enough of it has been used to pay for apprenticeships for young people. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, highlighted some of the anomalies that have resulted, for instance, with MBAs. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the points made in the amendment point to a more important misuse of the levy. I really do not think that MBAs were anybody’s intention when it was introduced.

We also support the stated objectives of the Bill as a whole to

“make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly - allowing them to space out their studies, transfer credits between institutions, and take up more part-time study”.

The Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee was a central plank of the Queen’s Speech and the build back better and levelling-up agenda. Last week, we hoped to find out more about levelling up and what it actually meant, when the Prime Minister made a speech, but I have to say that, having heard that speech, we are still waiting. The lifetime skills guarantee forms an integral part of this legislation but, to the disbelief of many people across your Lordships’ House and the FE sector, the Government’s flagship policy is not in the Bill. Our Amendment 80 aims to rectify this oversight by placing the lifetime skills guarantee on a statutory footing. As the Federation of Awarding Bodies has said:

“Support for adult education in future could be as comprehensive as access to the NHS, but only if we get the passage of the legislation right.”

The lifetime skills guarantee is welcome, but it needs to be a much wider guarantee, supporting retraining and learning in a range of levels. It is beyond my comprehension why the Bill is silent on qualifications below level 3, as other noble Lords have said. At present, 13 million in the UK do not have a level 2 qualification, and around 9 million adults lack functional literacy and numeracy skills, leaving them more vulnerable to job loss and making it harder for them to secure alternative work if that happens—yet they are being offered no support in this Bill. Why?

There is no recognition of the value of qualifications below level 3 in creating progression pathways for students. The report from the Department for Education, snappily titled Measuring the Net Present Value of Further Education in England 2018/19 and published two months ago, revealed the return on investment of these qualifications and concluded that the net present value of qualifications below level 2 is actually higher than for level 3. Why have the Government ignored their own evidence?

Six million adults were identified in the Augar review as not having qualifications at level 2, yet the total number of adult learners has fallen in recent years. If we want people to reach level 3 and above, surely more of them need to achieve level 2. To repeat: we are particularly concerned that no support is provided for any qualifications below level 3, despite lower level qualifications offering many adult learners key progression routes.

Nor do the proposals support subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines. A list of 400 qualifications is too restrictive; 1 million priority jobs will be excluded from the lifetime skills guarantee in sectors facing a major skills shortage, including retail, hospitality and the arts. Jobs in sectors such as veterinary care, building and architecture, as well as computer programming, which have been designated by the Government as priority for work visas, are also excluded from the guarantee offer.

Last week, we saw the Government’s response to the level 3 qualifications reform. Despite all the consultation responses that the Department for Education received, it was disappointing to see the Government continue to focus on the number of regulated qualifications instead of supporting course diversity and real careers choices for young people post-16. The suggestion that the number of qualifications made available can be reduced from around 75,000 to a mere handful is surely fanciful. If the Government listened to college leaders, learners and parents as much as they do to employers, they would know that. As the Federation of Awarding Bodies also said

“The outcome of this particular review”— that is, the level 3 qualifications reform—

“is taking the country in the wrong direction. It will not help level up across the regions of England and it will result in less opportunities for disadvantaged learners in future.”

We are seriously concerned by the Government’s intrinsically flawed conception of how to measure value in post-16 education and that it will prevent the proper funding of socially useful and valuable, if lower earning, professions and paths in life. Our Amendment 80 ensures that all adults aged 19 and over without an A-level or equivalent qualification, or who hold such qualifications but would benefit from reskilling, can study a fully funded approved course, and requires the Secretary of State to consult on and review the list of approved courses to ensure that they are compatible with national skills strategies.

We also believe that the lifetime skills guarantee should be extended to include subsequent level 3 courses to unlock retraining for even more people. Eligibility for retraining is all the more important given the impact of the pandemic and ever-changing market needs. This is why the amendment allows for flexibility for a provider, perhaps on the recommendation of a Jobcentre Plus work coach or a qualified careers adviser, to allow for a subsequent level 3 course of study if the person would benefit from retraining in an area where there is a demand for skills. This is more important than ever before, given rapidly changing market needs and to support industrial decarbonisation goals.

The entitlement to a first full level 3 qualification for those under the age of 25 was introduced by a Labour Government in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. As things stand, the Bill would do away with it. The Augar review recommended an all-age level 3 entitlement, and the Government have now put this into effect with a guarantee, but only to a limited list of level 3 qualifications and only for those who do not have one. An adult who is made unemployed and needs to retrain but already has a level 3 qualification—an A-level perhaps, or BTEC equivalent—will not be able to access the entitlement.

Why are the Government shutting the door on people who want and need to retrain for the future needs of the economy that the Government tell us the Bill is intended to prepare for? It simply does not make sense. These amendments are necessary if, as my noble friend Lord Layard said, the Government’s stated aim of parity of esteem between the academic and technical routes is to be meaningful. I look forward to the response from the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the opportunity for this important debate on the provision of skills to those who may not have got them earlier in their lives or who are seeking to retrain. I hope I can give noble Lords quite a bit of comfort in that the Government broadly concur with many noble Lords’ ambitions around lifelong learning in this area. That is backed up by some clear policy statements and funding commitments. It is not necessary to specify such requirements in the Bill.

Amendment 76, tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, seeks to provide free access for approved courses up to level 3 for any person if they have not already studied at that level, including automatic in-year funding to providers to cover these students. It may help if I explain the current position. Up to the age of 18, participation in education and training is fully funded. For adults aged 19-plus, the adult education budget fully funds or co-funds provision from pre-entry to level 3, to support adults in gaining the skills that they need for work, an apprenticeship or further learning. This includes a significant amount of fully funded provision, including English, maths and digital courses, the first full level 2 and level 3 for learners aged between 19 and 23, and fully funded training up to and including level 2 where learners are unemployed or in receipt of low wages. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, referred to this category of learner, which includes learners who have already achieved level 2 or above but need to retrain to improve their job or wage prospects. I will cover my noble friend’s final but important point about level 3 funding for those aged 24 and above, which I have not covered yet, when dealing with Amendment 80, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson.

A number of noble Lords spoke to the part of the amendment relating to apprenticeships. From August 2020 to January 2021, 16 to 24-year olds accounted for 53% of apprenticeship starts. In the same period, level 2 and level 3 starts made up over two-thirds of starts, so across the programme we are already meeting the aims of this amendment by focusing on younger and entry-level apprenticeships. However, that does not mean that every employer should meet that goal. Legislating in the way proposed will reduce employers’ ability to meet their individual skills needs, and reduce opportunities for individuals, including older workers who may need to retrain or want to progress in their career.

Noble Lords made a number of further points around apprenticeships. I was sad that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was not here in Committee on the day when we had an in-depth discussion in response to his question about what the Government are doing to encourage the take-up of apprenticeships. However, I am happy to repeat some of that for him today. Since last August, as part of our plan for jobs, the Government have had incentive payments in place for employers taking on new apprenticeships: £2,000 for under-25s to focus more support on younger apprentices, and £1,500 for those aged 25 and over. Over 52,000 incentive payments have been claimed so far and, from April until the end of September, that incentive has been increased to £3,000 per apprentice of any age.

As my noble friend Lord Lucas alluded to, we are also launching a £7 million fund to support more apprenticeships through the flexi-job apprenticeships scheme, which is aimed at sectors with more flexible employment models, such as the creative industries, to encourage them to take up the apprenticeship offer. All small and medium-sized enterprises can now reserve funding for up to 10 new apprenticeship starts in 2021-22, and from August, employers who pay the levy will be able to transfer levy funds in bulk to other employers, including SMEs, with a new pledge function supported by a new online service to match them with SMEs. Noble Lords are right that we must do more to have a wider range of employers and to encourage young people to take up the opportunities of apprenticeships. The Government are very conscious of this and are acting on it.

Amendment 80, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, among other things, seeks to put the lifetime skills guarantee on a statutory footing and provide retraining opportunities. Noble Lords will know that, in addition to the entitlements through the adult education budget, which I have just described in response to my noble friend, as part of the Government’s skills reforms and as in the skills White Paper, any adult aged 24 or over can access about 400 free, fully funded level 3 courses, as part of the lifetime skills guarantee.

It is right that we focus first on those who have not already achieved these advanced level skills, as they have a significant amount to gain. An estimated 11 million adults aged over 24 are currently without a level-3 qualification. We know that there are real benefits to people getting a level 3. Achieving a full level 3, on average, gives an adult wages that are 16% higher, and a 4% increase in the chance of being employed. However, I know from the amendment that noble Lords have a keen interest in ensuring that people can not only train but retrain throughout their lives. The lifetime skills guarantee offers opportunities not just to gain a level 3 qualification through this “free courses for jobs” offer but to train and retrain in digital, construction and other technical skills through expanded skills boot camps, which are co-designed with employers and offer a guaranteed interview to participants. Those who wish to retrain through studying for a further qualification at level 3 may apply for an advanced learner loan, for which repayment is dependent on income.

Additionally, my noble friend Lord Baker raised the skills gap at level 5. The Bill is bringing forward the legislation to incorporate levels 4 to 6 in technical qualifications into the lifelong loan entitlement, as part of the lifetime skills guarantee. As noble Lords will be aware, this will be introduced from 2025, providing individuals with a loan entitlement that is the equivalent of four years of post-18 education, to use over their lifetime.

I will now respond to a few more specific points raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, asked some questions about the national skills fund, on which I hope I can give him some reassurance. We launched a consultation on the national skills fund, which will run until 17 September, to gather evidence that will inform future investment in adult further education. That is focused on the free courses for jobs offer, skills bootcamps and meeting critical skills needs. However, funding is still available through the national skills fund this year while that consultation is under way, including £95 million for the free courses for jobs offer, which is the level 3 entitlement that all adults can access.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to the fact that the level 3 entitlement is an entitlement to a level 3 course from a list produced by the Government; he said that there may be gaps in that list or other courses that are not addressed through that offer. We have focused the level 3 offer on courses which offer good wage returns or meet strategic skills priorities, or offer a combination of both, and which are focused on skills that employers need. However, we have committed to regularly reviewing the courses included, twice over the coming academic year, to ensure that the list continues to meet labour market needs. Where mayoral combined authorities, the Greater London Authority or others have suggested additions to the list, they should make submissions supported by evidence and of course we will consider those as part of our review work.

Finally, on the point about the FE funding system, which is also covered in the initial amendment from my noble and learned friend, we recognise that the system is often perceived as complex and inflexible. That is why the White Paper published earlier this year committed to reforming the system. We are looking at how we can deliver a funding system which is simpler and clearer, places fewer burdens on providers, is more closely aligned with the needs of the economy and society, and delivers high-quality outcomes for learners. So, while we may not agree with the precise mechanism in this amendment to address funding, we are committed to looking at that through the skills White Paper.

I hope my remarks have provided noble Lords with some reassurance that the Government are looking at improving the skills offer for those who will benefit from it most, that the new lifetime skills guarantee extends level 3 qualifications to those aged over 25 who could not previously access a free entitlement to a level 3 qualification, and that we are doing more to encourage apprenticeship opportunities and support employer choice. I therefore hope that my noble and learned friend will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment and that other noble Lords will not feel the need to move theirs when they are reached.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that there was now a scheme for enabling large employers to transfer part of the proceeds of the apprenticeship levy to SMEs. What is the incentive for them to do that? It was not clear to me why they would do it, apart from just good will—they may do it for good will, but it is good to have some incentives. Also, although she issued a lot of warm words about younger apprenticeships, she did not—unless I missed it—directly address the third part of the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, which requires employers receiving apprenticeship funding to spend

“at least two thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25.”

What is the Government’s view on an actual requirement that two-thirds of the funding be spent on those who are under 25?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

As noble Lords will be aware, when large employers pay the apprenticeship levy, those funds stay in their account for up to two years and, if unspent, return to the Government. They fund wider apprenticeship provision, such as the provision of maths and English tuition, the administration of the scheme and other aspects of it. However, we know that large employers have unspent funds. They may, for example, want to transfer those to other businesses in their supply chain that would benefit from taking up apprenticeships in that form. That is one incentive they may have to transfer the levy funds.

On the point about obliging employers to have two-thirds of their apprenticeships filled by young people, while we want to ensure that young people and employers are incentivised to take up apprenticeships and are working towards that, one piece of feedback we get from employers about the unspent levy is a lack of flexibility on how to spend it. There is always a balance in ensuring that there is sufficient flexibility for how employers can use their levy while making sure that it delivers on the aim: high-quality, technical apprenticeship schemes that deliver the skills that employers need.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have received no further requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the mover, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, I asked specifically about the skills fund. When it was published, the fund said that it had four items of expenditure—it is a huge fund of over £2 billion, and the first item was £93 million to pay for free training for A-levels. The Government are consulting again on the skills fund; is that proposal on ice or has it been withdrawn?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I will have to undertake to get more detail for the noble Lord on that specific point. I can confirm two things: the current consultation on the skills fund does not mean that existing funding committed under that fund for this year has been put on ice. I referred to the national skills guarantee for level 3 qualifications—of course, a full level 3 is equivalent to A-levels—and the skills bootcamps, which are also funded this year. I undertake to write to him to address his specific point about A-levels.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I believe I have no further requests to speak after the Minister. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Baker; I am afraid the message arrived rather tardily, but I am sure that that was the technology. I now call the mover, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Nottingham Lord Clarke of Nottingham Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her reply, and I realise the constraints a Minister has in replying to a debate of this kind in the Lords. She was obviously trying to be helpful. I was very grateful for the wide level of authoritative support that the amendment received. I hope that, before we return to this subject on Report, she will try to come back with a little more substance in response to the points that were made.

Very briefly, on the first point in the amendment, that we should put the Government’s lifelong learning guarantee on a statutory basis, my noble friend’s only reply was that she saw no need to put it in the Bill. Well, given the problems that often arise between Governments announcing noble intentions and the actual delivery of things on the ground, I beg leave to doubt that. Of course, one can ask the opposite question: what exactly is the reason for resisting putting it in the Bill if the Government are all in favour of it? Given that I so welcome the lifelong learning guarantee, perhaps the Government would consider signing up to it—not in blood exactly, but at least putting themselves under a legal obligation to those who should be entitled to it.

On the questions of expenditure that we have been asking, it is certainly the case that noble Lords kept referring to my being a former Chancellor. I am also a former Minister of Employment and Secretary of State for Education. As a former Chancellor, I am quite traditional; I am fiscally responsible—a bit of a fiscal hawk, sometimes—but I do think there are two subjects on which it is unavoidable for the present Government to spend more money. That means I would probably be at least as hawkish as the present Chancellor in resisting all the other lobbies which are inevitably piling in as the atmosphere of free money prevails. Social care and skills training—filling the skills gap—are irresistible things to which we must devote more resources.

I shall consider the Minister’s reply carefully. She explained some of the financial help that is now given. Somebody—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but it might not have been—gave the figures on the effect of the levy scheme in practice; the decline in opportunities and the number of apprenticeships for younger people seems to show that this is somewhat inadequate. I hope that, between now and Report, she will see if she can put more substance on her response to the very large number of young people who really are not going to do well if they think they are going into the lifelong employment market, as they leave their youth, completely lacking the level of skills that so many have. The figures have been given, and they are pretty bad. Of course, I will withdraw my amendment, but I think we should return to this because it is a hugely important social and economic issue.

Two groups of people have been particularly hit by the Covid pandemic, which has made things worse. The first are the young people leaving education expecting to go into the job market. They could not have had a more terrible time to blight their prospects; there is no worse time to leave education—school, or even university—if you have a rather inadequate level of skills. The others are those made redundant at the age of 50, or thereabouts, who thought they had secure, lifelong jobs and desperately want to get back into employment but need the retraining that my noble friend Lord Baker emphasised.

I hope that the Government can come back on this. As I said before, it is plainly in line with the Government’s stated principles and intentions, but there can be a big gap between policy declarations and substantial delivery on the ground. Some more substantial response to these amendments might reassure us that the Government are more likely to achieve that.

Amendment 76 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:00 pm, 19th July 2021

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 76A. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Clause 22: Further education in England: intervention