Amendment 1

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 12 October 2021.

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Baroness Barran:

Moved by Baroness Barran

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, after “provides” insert “English-funded”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures that Chapter 1 of Part 1 applies only in relation to post-16 technical education or training that is English-funded, which will be defined by virtue of the Minister’s amendment to Clause 4 at page 5, line 23.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments in my name. Before doing so, I pay tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Berridge. I thank her for all her hard work and the dedication that she brought to this role.

I will speak to Amendments 1, 2, 4, 15, 22 to 25, 51 and 52, which are in my name. The first set of these amendments makes clear that duties related to local skills improvement plans will apply only to relevant providers that deliver English-funded post-16 technical education or training that is material to a specified area in England. “English-funded” is defined as education or training funded by the Secretary of State or an authority in England. This includes student finance provided by the Secretary of State and covers subcontracting arrangements to relevant providers.

These amendments will help clarify and ensure that English-funded technical education and training provision that is material to an area in England is better aligned to employers’ skills needs, leading to good jobs for learners and improved productivity. The amendments also make clear that employers that provide English-funded education and training only to their own employees are excluded from the definition of an independent training provider.

Clause 22 places a requirement on the Secretary of State to take into account any applicable local skills improvement plan when assessing whether the institution has failed to meet local needs. As a consequence of the amendments to Clauses 1 and 4, Clause 22 has also been amended to reference providers of English-funded education and training.

I now turn to government Amendment 49, regarding the list of post-16 education or training providers. First, I want to set out that the Government strongly value the role of independent training providers in helping to provide a diverse and innovative learning offer.

Amendment 49 ensures that regulations setting up the list of relevant providers can allow the Secretary of State, or any other suitable person or organisation identified in regulations, to exercise discretion about whether certain conditions have been met by relevant providers. This is required to ensure that any conditions set are practically workable and that there can be legal certainty over whether a provider meets some of the criteria.

For example, if the regulations set out that a provider must have a student support plan in order to be on the list, this amendment ensures that it will be permissible for the regulations also to set out that the Secretary of State or other suitable person may determine whether that plan is of reasonable quality. The ability to exercise such discretion would be introduced only after consultation, which is required for the first regulations made under this clause. The nature of any such discretion would be subject to additional parliamentary scrutiny and debate, given that the relevant regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure. This amendment will help to ensure that this policy can be applied in a workable, certain and proportionate way, helping to preserve the continuation of study for learners and keeping learners engaged in the event of a provider exit.

Amendments 5 and 6 in my name relate to climate change, net zero and the environment, and to the skills needed to support the transition to a net-zero carbon economy and to recover our natural world. The Government recognise the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. We will need a workforce with the right skills and expertise to support and build a net-zero carbon economy and restore nature. To this end, we are working closely with BEIS and Defra to ensure that skills are at the heart of the Government’s environmental agenda. This will be emphasised by the proposed amendments, which will reflect our aims within legislation.

The amendment provides that the Secretary of State may approve and publish a local skills improvement plan only if satisfied that the skills, capabilities or expertise required in relation to jobs that directly contribute to or indirectly support the net-zero carbon target, adaptation to climate change and other environmental goals, have been considered in the development of the plans. This will ensure that employer representative bodies consider such skills needs when developing the plans. Through this amendment, local skills improvement plans will be an important tool supporting the Government to meet the new legally binding environmental targets being set via the Environment Bill, which will include a target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. Moreover, it will also aid the progress on environmental improvement plans, the first being the 25-year environment plan mentioned in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

We will set out further details in statutory guidance, working closely with BEIS and Defra. These amendments, in addition to the statutory guidance, will support our collective efforts towards achieving our ambitious climate change and wider environmental objectives. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. Together with the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan of Cotes and Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, I have tabled Amendments 3, 7, 17 and 64 in this group. Amendments 3, 7 and 17 were tabled and discussed in Committee, but I am delighted that I do not have to press them and the case for them in the House today because of Amendment 6, to which the Minister has just spoken.

I record my gratitude to the Minister, her predecessor and the Bill team for listening to the points made throughout the House in Committee, and for the very productive meetings that led to the Government recognising the need to acknowledge the challenges and opportunities of our commitments to net zero and biodiversity loss in setting local skills improvement plans. In one amendment they have managed to cover comprehensively—and rather more elegantly and effectively—all the points in the three amendments we put down.

So I am extremely grateful, but when the Bill was introduced, yet again, as we have seen time after time—in the Pension Schemes Bill and the Financial Services Bill—there was no mention at all of net zero, climate change or the challenges for the green agenda of the future. On each of those Bills, we managed to persuade the Government to come forward, but we should not need to do this through a laborious process of Back-Bench amendments. If the green agenda is as high among the Government’s priorities as they say it is, they should be looking at every Bill and every policy and making sure that they are taking the opportunities and doing what is necessary to further the broad aims in this area. The economy of the future will mean a shift to green jobs and a sustainable industrial model, which requires a skills and education framework that aligns with our net-zero and environmental goals. The Government’s amendment now ensures that local skills improvement plans will be approved and published only where green jobs have been considered in the development of the plan.

With climate and nature considerations factored into the new jobs and skills framework at local level, we can ensure that we have the right skills and education to meet our key national commitments, including achieving net zero by 2050. It is extremely encouraging that the Government have now recognised the importance of embedding net zero and nature considerations into the framework. Doing so will contribute to a successful economic future and employment opportunities across the country, and to achieving our climate and biodiversity commitments.

The Minister will not be surprised, having given us something, that we ask for more. I therefore turn now to my Amendment 64, which proposes the publication of a green skills strategy so that, as well as ensuring that the issues raised are considered at local level, we have a national forward plan for the jobs and skills of the future. This will be essential if the UK is to take advantage of the great opportunities for young people and those wanting to reskill and retrain, and it was highlighted as a priority for 2021 by the Climate Change Committee in its progress report to Parliament this year.

There are real competitive advantages for the UK in being an early mover in developing the skills and innovations needed to transition to net zero. The think tank Onward predicts that 1.7 million jobs could be created in net-zero industries by 2030, and the Government themselves have set an ambition for 2 million green jobs in the UK by 2030. But we now have to plan ahead if we are to enable a just transition, so that those in high-carbon sectors can reskill and have certainty about their futures. By linking local skills development with a national strategy, we can avoid locking in carbon-intensive career options that will not have a long-term future in the net-zero world.

As I said, there is great and widespread backing for a green skills strategy, not just from people interested in the “green” bit of skills, such as the Green Jobs Taskforce, which recommended in its report that we must develop a comprehensive and holistic view of green jobs and skills challenges. The Institute for Government has recommended that the Government should develop a green skills plan. Business groups such as Aldersgate and the CBI have called for a skills strategy that would embed sustainability and net-zero delivery, provide certainty and encourage inward investment. A national skills road map would enable and encourage different sectors, businesses and education providers to plan ahead. This is something that the further education sector has also asked for: an overall 10-year education and skills strategy.

I recognise that there might be different views on which would be the correct body to introduce and develop such a strategy, but it is really important that the Minister gives us some insight today into the Government’s thinking in this area, and some recognition of where skills gaps have led to real problems in delivery—goodness me, we have seen that in recent weeks. We need to understand how the Government are thinking about taking this forward and whether they would support the Green Jobs Taskforce’s recommendation of a UK-wide body with national representation to co-ordinate between central and local government and business to ensure momentum and coherence on workforce, including progress on delivery. I know that in Committee the Minister suggested that the Skills and Productivity Board might be the appropriate body, but I was concerned that the remit letter to that body again did not have any mention of green skills and net zero. I wonder whether the Minister could comment on that and whether it could be included.

In conclusion, to tackle the challenges and to benefit from the significant economic opportunities of the transition to net zero, we need an ambitious strategy. We have been promised an overall all-encompassing net-zero strategy from the Government before COP 26. Will the Minister commit to including a green skills strategy as part of that overall one?

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Cotes Baroness Morgan of Cotes Conservative 3:45, 12 October 2021

My Lords, I support the amendments that the noble Baroness has put forward. I draw attention to my role as a non-executive director of the Careers & Enterprise Company.

I very much welcome my noble friend the Minister to her place on the Front Bench. I wish her all the luck and enjoyment in what I know is a fantastic department. Like her, I also thank her predecessor for her hard work and commitment to the role when she held it.

I will speak very briefly in support of Amendments 3, 7, 17 and 64, to which I added my name with great pleasure. I also welcome government Amendments 5 and 6 and thank my noble friend and her civil servants for the discussions we have had. As she said in introducing those amendments, we will need a workforce with the right skills. As we just heard outlined so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, local skills plans should take into account national skills strategy requirements, particularly on green jobs and net-zero strategy.

The impending COP 26 conference next month would be a perfect place. If the Minister feels unable to accept Amendment 64, perhaps she might be able to encourage her fellow Ministers, particularly in BEIS, that next month’s conference would be the right venue for an announcement on a national skills strategy for green jobs.

As we have just seen in recent weeks, and will continue to see, the transition to net zero is going to be a huge moment of both opportunity and challenges for the whole of our economy. I am pretty sure already from the debate on the Bill in this House that it is agreed on all sides that the education sector is vital in training and retraining the current and future workforce to have the right skills to deliver the transition to net zero—which is why these amendments are important, why I welcome the government amendments and why I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say about Amendment 64.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for all her hard work on this Bill. I appreciated the fact that she seemed to be in listening mode throughout her time at the Dispatch Box on the Bill.

I thank the Minister for taking up the baton so swiftly and meeting representatives from Peers for the Planet to talk about Amendments 3, 7 and 17, tabled in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, comprehensively introduced the thrust behind what we are trying to achieve through these amendments, so I can be relatively brief. They seek to insert recognition into the early stages of drawing up LSIPs of the importance of the skills and retraining necessary to equip people with the skills they need for the green jobs of the future. This is important because, without a workforce equipped with these capabilities, I am afraid we are destined to repeat the fiasco of the green homes grant, which ended in such ignominy.

I welcome government Amendment 6. It is a good amendment which makes it unnecessary to trouble the House with a Division, and I add my thanks for it to the Minister. It encompasses consideration of the net-zero target and the skills needed to deliver adaptation to the changes we are already seeing as a consequence of the climate emergency and takes into account other environmental goals. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm at the Dispatch Box that they include biodiversity, air quality, land use and marine environment targets.

However, despite my welcome of Amendment 6 and the accompanying technical amendments, there remains the niggling absence of a national net-zero skills strategy. This unease led us to table Amendment 64, which would require the Secretary of State to publish a national green skills strategy for net zero within 12 months of this Bill becoming an Act. The Climate Change Committee has called for this and numerous surveys have shown the demand among young people—and older people, in fact—for green jobs. The Government urgently need a strategy that matches supply and demand for green skills. It should clearly outline routes into the green economy and reassure the public that the net-zero economy provides a secure path for their future.

Just a few days ago at his party’s conference, the Prime Minister mentioned “skills, skills, skills” as a key priority for him. Sadly, he has a reputation for not always following through on his rhetoric, so I hope that the Minister can reassure us that on this occasion it will not be the case and give us a clear indication of when we can expect a national strategy for green jobs, as well as reassurance that it will have breadth and depth.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 4:00, 12 October 2021

My Lords, I rise to find myself in the slightly unusual position of warmly welcoming a government amendment. I thank the Minister for the meeting on Friday and the Bill team for the briefing that she provided. I welcome her to her post and offer congratulations to her predecessor.

I do not know whether this is the result of your Lordships’ House making the case so clearly in Committee, of the young climate strikers who were in Parliament Square after our debate finished, or of the young people who have so clearly been delivering the message that they want climate change and the nature crisis at the centre of every aspect of their education—perhaps it is a combination of all those—but this is a real demonstration that campaigning works.

I congratulate all the Members of your Lordships’ House, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who have helped to get us to this point. Had there been space, I would have attached my name to all these amendments, but I agree with all the other speakers who said that, except for Amendment 64, they have now been supplanted by the government amendment.

I will make one small point about how this government proposal should be interpreted. Sometimes, when we think about green skills, a lot of hard hats and yellow jackets are involved. Green skills and preparing to tackle the climate emergency we are now in takes a lot more than simply technical and physical skills. We also need an enormous amount of social innovation.

I was just thinking about my visit to Lancaster after the very big floods up there about six years ago. A couple of years later, I heard how local communities had got together, preparing flood resilience plans and for the next flood, which is very likely coming. Those communities had organised together to make sure that vulnerable residents would be rescued, cared for and supported to make sure that they were ready to do whatever they could to stop the floods. All of that was the community organising. This might not be what you think of as green skills, but it is absolutely crucial to adaptation and mitigation of the climate emergency.

This brings me to Amendment 64, which is about a “Skills Strategy”. Lots of people were talking about green jobs, but we need to think much more broadly than just about jobs. We are also talking very much about preparing our society for living in an age of shocks.

I finish by again commending the Minister and her team. We are making great progress but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, the next step in the scale of our progress will be when we open a government Bill and the climate emergency and the nature crisis are addressed in Committee and we can then say, “Well, how do we make this better?”

Photo of Lord Aberdare Lord Aberdare Crossbench

My Lords, as a member of the Parliament Choir I am happy to join the chorus of welcome for the Minister in her new role, which is at least as important to the issues I care about as her previous one. I also thank her for helpfully including me in one of the very many meetings she has obviously been having in the last few days, along with members of the Bill team. I shall speak mainly to the Government’s Amendment 49 and very briefly in support of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

I do not quite know what to make of Amendment 49, despite the Minister’s helpful introduction. I very much welcome what she said about the Government’s support for independent training providers, but I remain concerned that they are sometimes viewed mainly as gap-fillers in the training system, as being of secondary importance to colleges and other statutory providers, and as having an unfortunate propensity to abandon their learners, which, in reality, happens only very rarely. As a result, they often seem to be at the back of the queue for the allocation of government funding for skills training, and they may have to cut the amount of training they are able to offer.

I understand that Amendment 49 aims to ensure that conditions specified for inclusion in the list of relevant providers allow some flexibility in determining whether they have been met. This is welcome if it gives independent training providers some wiggle room in meeting conditions, but less so if it results in judgments—for example, on the quality of the student support plans the Minister mentioned—which could have a degree of unpredictability or subjectivity.

Apart from that, independent training providers have continuing concerns about the implications of the list and the conditions for inclusion in it, such as the suggested requirement for a form of professional indemnity insurance which does not currently exist, and about the fees and other costs involved, which may restrict access to the market for smaller providers. West Midlands Combined Authority has also expressed the concern that mayors of combined authorities may be prevented from funding providers they deem suitable but which are not on the centrally approved list.

I welcome the Government’s intention to ensure that this measure does not impose an unreasonable barrier to market for training providers while protecting the interests of learners, and their commitment to continuing to engage and consult with a wide range of stakeholders. I hope the Minister can give some reassurance that the discretion allowed by this amendment will be used wherever possible to facilitate inclusion for ITPs in the list, and that their contribution will be duly recognised in the new arrangements under the Bill, including within LSIPs and in the allocation of funding for skills training.

Finally, I add my support particularly to Amendments 17 and 64 in this group, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman and others, which require the Secretary of State to report on how each published LSIP takes account of any national skills strategy and aligns with UK climate change and biodiversity targets. This is the sort of joined-up thinking needed to ensure that the different parts of the new system operate in a coherent way to deliver the skills and training needed by the nation as a whole, as well as in the local areas covered by LSIPs.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, I too welcome not only the Minister but the Government’s recognition of the vital importance of a climate-oriented curriculum. I support Amendment 64, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others. This amendment should succeed because it places the policy of integrating the national response to the climate emergency even more solidly into the education and skills process. Without it, we risk not having an entrenched capability to cope with the most long-lasting peril of our times.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, on her appointment and thank her for meeting with us to discuss the Bill over the conference Recess. I was very impressed by the rapidity with which she got up to speed on this complex Bill. As always, I am grateful for the engagement of officials and other stakeholders in the system who have briefed us. I would also like to place on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for her thoughtful engagement.

Although most of the government amendments are necessary and technical, we were delighted to see on the face of the Bill the need for future skills, capabilities and expertise to align with the UK’s net-zero target. I pay tribute to Peers for the Planet and other Members across the House who argued so persuasively at Second Reading, in Committee and behind the scenes for green jobs to be formally recognised in legislation; and indeed to the further exhortation today of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, not to let pass an opportunity to ask for more.

It is imperative that consideration of climate change and environmental goals be embedded in skills strategies, and that LSIPs plan to deliver the high-skilled jobs our countries and our planet so desperately need. This is the right thing to do for so many people who are facing unemployment; it is the right thing to do for our economy to get a lead in the industries of the future; and it is the right thing to do in order to build a better quality of life for people across the UK.

Thus the devolution interactions with my colleagues in the Welsh Government should be resolved with this amendment, while the environmental issues with the requirement for consideration of net zero, the adaptation to climate change and other environmental goals are now in the Bill. They must be considered in the development of local skills plans, together with the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a national green skills strategy that will include skills and will directly contribute to or indirectly support climate change and environmental goals.

Noble Lords are well aware that we face a jobs emergency and a climate emergency. More than 75,000 green jobs were lost from the UK economy in just five years under this Government. This includes thousands of jobs lost in solar power, onshore wind, renewable electricity and bioenergy, and a huge fall in the number of jobs in the energy efficiency sector. These figures throw into light the huge chasm between rhetoric and reality, with huge falls in low-carbon employment alongside pledges to deliver green jobs but without a genuine green stimulus.

We further see a technical fix in the list of post-16 education providers to allow conditions for being on the list to contain discretionary elements. Thus, an employer is considered an independent training provider only if education and training is provided exclusively to its employees.

We would have preferred a wider range of government amendments to be included in the list, and it will be the Opposition’s position to continue to persuade the Government that previously rejected amendments are crucial for inclusion in this important Bill, to ensure that the upskilling that is so desperately needed across our nations and regions is given the best possible start, and that post-16 education is enhanced and not limited by excluding certain learning pathways and is properly funded for both academic and vocational courses, to improve the life chances of young people and adults alike in the UK.

I hope the Minister can assure the House that this Government are ready to start delivering. It is what the British people deserve and what the crisis we face demands.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I now turn to Amendments 3, 7 and 17, from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which seek to ensure that local skills improvement plans consider the skills needs required to support the transition to a net-zero carbon economy to achieve our climate change and biodiversity targets. This was a topic of considerable interest in Committee and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions then. I cannot comment on whose persuasive powers were the greatest—whether it was the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett’s, protesters in Parliament Square, if I can describe them as such, or the persuasive powers of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, representing the Opposition Front Bench.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for acknowledging that the government amendments meet the aims of the amendments in her name—Amendments 3, 7 and 17. At this point I also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that the Government are of course committed to delivering—but we are also committed to continuing constructive conversations about how we can deliver the best way forward on the issues that we all care so much about.

Amendment 64, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, seeks to ensure that a green skills strategy is published within 12 months of the Act being passed. The noble Baroness gave us a comprehensive view of a range of organisations which see this area as absolutely critical to address. My noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes also made the important link with careers guidance, and the Government absolutely recognise the importance of working with industry to boost green skills. Last year, BEIS and the Department for Education invited experts to form the Green Jobs Taskforce, helping to build evidence on skills gaps in key green sectors and to advise the Government and industry on how to tackle them.

The Government have also committed to publish a net-zero strategy ahead of COP 26, which will set out the steps the Department for Education is taking, through its reforms to the skills system, to boost green skills in line with industry needs and support the labour market transition to net zero. I hope that helps to address the very valid point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on addressing both the supply of and demand for green skills.

Furthermore, the role of the Skills and Productivity Board will be to provide independent and actionable insights to help shape skills policy, focusing particularly on longer-term strategic issues and how they will affect productivity. Therefore, throughout its work, the board will consider the Government’s net-zero targets, alongside other factors impacting labour markets and skills.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked for clarification on the geographic footprint of the Skills and Productivity Board. It is England only, but the net-zero strategy articles will assess at a UK-wide level the jobs market and the skills that we need to adapt to a net-zero economy. The Skills and Productivity Board will publish three analyses this year on three questions put to it by the Secretary of State, the first of which is to consider the most significant skills shortages that we face in the economy. However, I would stress that the board is independent of government and therefore I cannot speak directly to its outputs and likely findings.

Furthermore, the department is developing a sustainability and climate change strategy that will focus on four key strategic aims: excellence in education and skills for a changing world; net zero; climate resilience; and a better environment for future generations. A draft strategy is due to be published at COP 26 next month.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised points regarding the role of independent training providers. I would like to reassure him that the Government absolutely recognise the importance of an inclusive and collaborative relationship with ITPs. Placing duties on them, alongside colleges and higher education institutions, recognises absolutely that they are an important provider, and we hope this will support greater collaborative working.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour 4:15, 12 October 2021

What the Minister said about the net-zero strategy and the Skills and Productivity Board was really reassuring, but how does that work connect directly to local skills improvement plans, so that we can be sure that there is join-up?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The aim for how local skills improvement plans will work—the noble Lord will be aware that we have trailblazer pilots running at the moment—is that the Secretary of State will ensure when signing off on a local skills improvement plan that it pays due regard to the national picture and all the different elements that input into that.

The Government recognise the importance of achieving our target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and our wider environmental goals. I hope my remarks have provided the reassurance that the noble Baroness needs and that she will not press her amendments but will accept the proposed government amendment.

Amendment 1 agreed.