Amendment 9 (to Amendment 8)

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 12 October 2021.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle:

Moved by Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle

9: Clause 1, after paragraph (d) insert—“(da) the food system,(db) ecosystem management, and”

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise briefly to move Amendment 9, which could be described as a friendly amendment to Amendment 8; I hope its mover will agree. Proposed new paragraph (db) has already been supplanted by government Amendment 6, but I will speak to proposed new paragraph (da) on the food system, because the kind of shortages that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, identified in areas such as engineering and technical skills are also very much reflected in our food system.

We recently heard the Prime Minister say that it is not the job of government to feed people and that it is up to business, but I hope the Minister will acknowledge that it is crucial in this age of shocks—where, as we see from our empty shelves, we cannot be guaranteed that the market will feed us—for the Government to see that we have the skills available right through our food system. The obvious area for this is farming, but we must also think about training people, in schools and communities, how to cook; that is why I used the term “food system”, which is something the Dimbleby report identified. We have many faults in our current food system which need to be fixed, and lack of skills is certainly one.

It is now obvious that the market on its own will not guarantee food security; it has also not guaranteed a healthy supply of food, and we need to think not just about the supply of calories but about a healthy food supply and healthy food preparation. Of course, we have the problem that, in our current food system, one in six workers is not paid enough money to be food-secure themselves. Upskilling the food system and providing those skills in local plans is absolutely crucial. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 4:30, 12 October 2021

I want to support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, but probably from a slightly different angle. People who end up doing apprenticeships and going into vocational work often had problems at earlier stages in their education. I am speaking from my own experience. We have to recognise that 49% of employers say that they do not quite believe in the curriculum that children follow before they go into apprenticeships, or even to university. We always seem to be behind—we run our education system preparing children for jobs that often disappear before they come out of school. I was one of those people: I was trained in a very careful way to be a builder’s labourer when I left school at 15, but unfortunately, they had brought in all this gear, so I had to do things other than dig holes and lay concrete. I am being a bit facetious, but the point is that we have to make sure that, for the period before people enter an apprenticeship and before they wonder whether they are going to go to university, we look at reinventing that kind of education.

The biggest ask among most employers is more creativity, because they know that, with 65% of the jobs not yet invented when children are at school, we need to find a way to up our game. We have a skills shortage now which has led to the fact that there are 1.4 million jobs. If we did not have that—if we had made the adjustments many years ago—we would not have the problem of the law of unintended consequences, which means that we cannot even get gas or petrol from our local garage.

I believe that, if we are to go anywhere, we have to reinvent the whole way in which children are taught creatively. I declare an interest, in that I put my children through the Steiner system: on the first day of school you are taught about nature, on the second day you are taught about making things, and you go on and on. They put enormous emphasis on chess and maths and various other things, and the children who come out at the end are the children people want in the industries of tomorrow.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I declare an interest as an engineer and project director for Atkins, and as a director of Peers for the Planet. I am delighted to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, to which I have added my name. I apologise to noble Lords for not speaking at earlier stages of the Bill, but I have followed its progress closely and am really pleased to be able to speak on this amendment today. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, to her post in the DfE. It is great to see her in her place.

Amendment 8 seeks to ensure that some critical skills development for long-term national skills needs are taken into account in local skills improvement plans.

On digital skills and innovation, these skills areas are critical to the recovery of the economy following the pandemic and to the future, yet we are seeing a crisis in digital skills, with the number of young people taking IT at GCSE falling by around 40% since 2015, and high rates of digital exclusion; 20% of children in one class in a secondary school local to me do not have access to the internet, which is a shocking statistic. Digital skills cut across all areas of the economy and will be part of the key to addressing the flatline in total factor productivity growth across the economy that we have seen since 2008.

I will give noble Lords a simple example. In my consultancy business a few years back we were commissioned to do a project to undertake a large data transfer activity. On reviewing the task, one of our young engineers proposed using robotic process automation techniques to complete the task instead of the original manual approach, whereby an advanced computer script undertook the task in place of engineers. This allowed it to be completed in a third of the time and cost, saving hundreds of thousands of pounds. That is productivity growth in action. In addition to improving productivity, such a process frees people from mundane and repetitive tasks and enables them to take on more value-added work; I liken the technology to the modern equivalent of machine automation, saving people from the drudgery of Adam Smith’s pin factory. Robotic process automation is already leading to data and finance sectors repatriating work that had previously been offshored, and to significant productivity gains, with work being undertaken by teams of software robots overseen by humans.

Time and again I have seen the ability of advanced software skills to automate tasks and radically improve the productivity of teams and projects, yet in my business and in businesses across the UK we are struggling to attract these skills. I am currently building a software team to design the control system software for a new nuclear reactor, and our job adverts for software engineers go largely unanswered. It is possible that this reflects my limited aptitude for advertising, but, in all seriousness, we must ensure that digital skills are prioritised to enable our businesses to grow, innovate, compete, create the jobs of the future and create the high-wage, high-productivity economy that we all want.

Our economy has long seen a shortfall in engineering skills. EngineeringUK estimates an annual shortfall of around 59,000 people in meeting an annual demand for 124,000 core engineering roles requiring level 3-plus skills. As our economy undergoes one of the biggest transformations in its history, engineering will become more important than ever. For example, it is estimated that between nine and 12 gigawatts of new generating capacity must be installed every year between now and 2050 to meet our net zero goals. New gigafactories will need to be constructed and immense infrastructure programmes completed to decarbonise heat and industry. All this will need to be accomplished by engineers. Again, in my consultancy business we are struggling to grow to meet demand from clients because there are simply not enough qualified engineers to go around. This is just to meet current demand. As engineering is a key enabler for the future economy, it too must be prioritised in LSIP developments.

I second the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, on the built environment and will not expand on them here, but I congratulate the Government on bringing forward amendments on alignment with climate and net zero goals in response to the work led by my noble friend Lady Hayman. Our amendment complements these by focusing on the key enablers for our future economy. I note the synergies with the green skills strategy amendment proposed by my noble friend.

Finally, I have a question for the Minister. I had an excellent skills review meeting with stakeholders from the Midlands Engine yesterday—I declare my interest as co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group. Given the importance of SMEs to the region and indeed nationally, there was some concern that their voices would not be heard, and that employer representative groups would be dominated by large corporates. This follows on from amendments raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, among others in Committee. Can the Minister provide some reassurance that those important voices will be heard in LSIP development?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, it is very hard to disagree with anything that has been said in the last hour. Obviously, we all want to see that skills are promoted. We all agree that we need more green skills. We all agree with Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that we want to see more digital innovation, engineering and built environment skills. She has a catch-all of

“any other fields the Secretary of State deems relevant.”

So, in case the noble Baroness feels that she does not have enough powers in the department, she can have almost anything she likes under paragraph (e). Who would want to disagree with Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that we should include the food system and ecomanagement systems? We all agree with all those things.

However, in essence, this is all fiddling while Rome burns, because the Government do not require any of these powers to promote skills. They have all the powers they require to promote skills. They do not need any additional funding powers. They have funding powers, and they directly control all the funding levers. They appoint all the people to the various quangos. The whole of Clause 1 on these local skills improvement plans appears to me to be a substitute for actual action on improving skills.

Obviously, we will have a lot of generation of plans now. Consultants are salivating; I know because I spoke to one last week who told me that he is already starting to put bids in writing. The people who will actually do these skills improvement plans are not all the big employers and those others we have paid tribute to. They will be consultants, who will be paid by those people, who want to start bidding for the money to start producing all these plans. Now that they might have an even longer list of things they have to produce—particularly with the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—my goodness, the fees these consultants will charge will go through the roof as they start to produce them.

It is motherhood and apple pie. No one is going to disagree with any of these things. The fact is that they will not make any difference: the Government could do it all already. They have had years to do it. They do not require any of these powers. They do not require local skills improvement plans for employers to be brought together locally. Indeed, as we ascertained in Committee, the actual groups of employers that are going to be brought together do not exist at the moment. In the White Paper, which I recommend that noble Lords read, there was a great tribute to chambers of commerce. They might be able to bring these together—except that the box on page 15 of the White Paper says:

“Case study: German Chambers of Commerce”,

because, for the most part, chambers of commerce do not exist in this country due to chronic failure of policy over the last 150 years.

This is all fine; we can carry on like this and make all these legal provisions and probably nothing much will change. But we face a real crisis in the real world. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, referred to apprenticeships. The route by which most young people who do not go to university get on a career ladder to get well-paid jobs in this country is, or should be, apprenticeships. While we are talking about local skills improvement plans and new employers’ bodies that do not currently exist and which are going to produce all these plans, in the real world there is a deepening apprenticeship crisis at the moment. I looked up the figures before coming into the House. The latest figures published by the ONS in May this year show a 19% drop—I repeat, a 19% drop—in the number of apprenticeship starts in the first two quarters of 2020-21 compared with a year before. The drop in intermediate-level apprenticeships, which is by and large those people who most noble Lords would think of as apprentices—that is, school leavers who are getting on a work and training route which will get them an apprenticeship—dropped by even more. The apprentices mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, are now few and far between.

By the way, none of these local skills improvement plans will make much difference to this, because apprenticeships are largely created directly by employers, whereas the local skills improvement plans we are talking about are guidance to public providers, predominantly FE colleges, on what sorts of courses they should provide. But the number of actual apprenticeships—which are the things that, for the most part, will get young people jobs—is declining. We went through the reason why they are declining earlier, but we have not yet had any satisfactory account from the Government about it. It is because of the chronic misdesign and failure of the apprenticeship levy. The apprenticeship levy, which was dressed up by George Osborne as a levy on all employers to require them to train more apprentices, has led to a systematic decline in the number of apprentices, for two reasons.

Unless and until their own training needs have been exhausted, employers keep the money from the training levy. They have had an incentive to gold-plate their own training, because if they do not do that, they must give the money to the Treasury or to other employers. I can assure noble Lords that most employers are much keener to keep the money themselves. Therefore, we have had an explosion in management courses and have even had MBAs being paid for under the apprenticeship levy. The Government have limited the ability for this top-level management executive education to be done on it, but none the less, the number of higher-level apprenticeships—which are basically the high-level training which employers were already doing but with more money put into them, so that they do not have to give the money to generate more apprentices—have been systematically undermining what was already a weak apprenticeship system.

None of these skills improvement plans give any confidence whatever that a difference will be made to this situation. When it then comes to the wider range of skills, it is all very well having consultants producing reports saying all kinds of motherhood-and-apple-pie things about digital innovation, engineering, the built environment and any other fields that the Secretary of State may deem relevant, but unless there are employers out there offering these apprenticeships, and with the incentives to do so, particularly to create new apprenticeships, nothing will change and the last hour, the eight hours that we spent on amendments such as these in Committee, and the long debate at Second Reading, will have been entirely wasted.

The reality of the crisis that we face is accepted by the Government. The way that Governments allocate money is always the best indication of what they really care about and what their priorities are. The Chancellor, the guy who controls the money, in his Budget this year highlighted the problem concerning the creation of apprenticeships despite the apprenticeship levy, so even though there is formally more money going in, there have been fewer apprentices. He introduced, separate from any of these local skills improvement plans or anything of that kind, new incentives for the creation of apprenticeships. I ask the Minister to give an account of this to the House, because this is the acid test of what is going on in the real world.

Under the Chancellor’s Budget, a £3,000 special incentive was going to be offered to employers for each additional apprentice taken on between 1 April and 30 September this year, in addition to the numbers in the previous year. Since 30 September has just passed, we should now know what has happened in the real world as a result of actual government policy with actual financial incentives for the last six months, as opposed to what may happen at some point in the next five to 10 years when all these employer bodies have been set up, the consultants have been paid, and they have started producing reports.

Can the Minister tell us, so that we can be sure that we are not completely wasting our time this afternoon, how many of these £3,000 incentive payments were made in respect of apprentices under the Chancellor’s Budget this year for new apprentices? That is the acid test that things are going in the right direction, because the great and depressing feature of this Bill is that, with the best will in the world—and all of us here have the best intentions—we are presiding over an increasingly failing state and state-led apprenticeship system which will further widen the gap between the opportunities that graduates have in our economy and those of non-graduates, and nothing that has been said so far during the Bill’s passage gives any confidence whatever that this situation is not going to worsen.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 4:45, 12 October 2021

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 11, which I have put my name to, and regret that the rules on Report do not allow the noble Lord, Lord Watson, to launch into his exposition of it before the end, unless he wants to rise now.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the noble Lord. I did intend to speak before the end of the debate.

I will speak to Amendment 11, which has cross-party support and has also been endorsed by the Local Government Association and the Association of Colleges. We support the Government’s ambition to give local employers a strong role in the skills system through local skills improvement plans, but we believe that it should be done as part of an integrated place-based approach to deliver sustained outcomes for local people and local businesses.

I cannot understand the Government’s determination to exclude major players in the localities where the employer representative bodies are based. There needs to be a much more clearly defined and significant role for local and mayoral combined authorities, as well as colleges and other training providers. There has to be an appreciation of differing labour markets, and the way they have developed and are likely to develop. Surely that is best understood at local and regional level. I suggest, as I did in Committee, that it is impossible to prescribe the skills needed for the whole of England from DfE headquarters, yet that is what the Bill’s measures effectively currently propose.

There has been a change since then because we now have a new Secretary of State, who, we are led to believe, has less centralising tendencies than his predecessor. Making the role of local authorities, MCAs, colleges and training providers clear and more effective would be a positive sign by the new Minister to that effect.

To achieve the best outcomes in every area, local authorities and providers should be named as a core and strategic partner in the LSIP process alongside employer representative bodies. To that end, Amendment 11 would provide for ERBs to develop LSIPs—sorry about all these contractions—in partnership with local authorities, mayoral combined authorities and further education providers to ensure that they reflect the needs of learners, employers and, as I said, the local community. Adults and young people have the right to expect access to quality education and training opportunities provided by a joined-up, place-based employment, skills and careers system. Integration at the local level will be vital to support the skills talent pipeline and to join up those skills and occupational pathways of progression.

Amendment 11 would also require local skills improvement plans to consider social and economic development strategies in the local area and long-term national needs that may not apply to local employers. Unless local authorities have a meaningful role in the development and approval of LSIPs there is a risk that these reforms could create further fragmentation within the skills system, which may result in further education providers being subject to different skills plans, disruption of progression pathways for learners and a lack of local democratic accountability, which I do not think we should lose sight of.

I can tell the Minister that local and combined authorities are ambitious to do more to join up local provision to create integrated skills and employment offers tailored to the needs of local economies and residents. This amendment would make use of local government’s expertise to deliver the best outcomes for every community.

Finally, Amendment 11 would require LSIPs to identify actions that relevant providers and other local bodies can take regarding any post-16 technical education or training that they provide. This is drafted to avoid being too prescriptive but would allow LSIPs to work closely with other agencies, including Jobcentre Plus and careers advisory services. As Amendment 12 from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, says, bodies providing careers information, advice and guidance, and independent training are also crucial to the development and success of a local skills improvement plan.

I want to mention the LSIP trailblazers. Less than 24 hours ago, the Minister circulated to noble Lords a 20-page draft guide for employers on LSIP trailblazers. This was promised by her predecessor in Committee 12 weeks ago, so I have to ask why we received it quite literally at the 11th hour, which was not helpful. I do not claim to have gone through it in depth, partly because I was still trying to digest the 69 pages of additional policy notes I found on the DfE website last week that had not been drawn to our attention—yes, I do sometimes have trouble sleeping. There are ways in which communication of some of these papers could be improved, not least in their timing.

Colleges and employer representative bodies in the recently announced successful LSIP trailblazers and strategic development fund pilots will be considering how best they can work in partnership and how they can work with other key partners. There is considerable scope for the sector to lead the way in building new linkages between colleges, universities, schools and other providers; strengthening relationships with mayoral combined authorities and local government; and embedding the voice of students, staff and the wider community in all of this, in so doing demonstrating and strengthening the new environment that they want to operate in. The Government should do everything that they can to facilitate that. It would be to everybody’s benefit.

I am very sympathetic to Amendments 10 and 66 in the name of my noble friend Lady Whitaker, who is yet to speak to them, which aim to ensure that the DfE has a plan for closing the attainment gap and that employer representative bodies have regard to it. The latest annual report from the Education Policy Institute found that the gap between what poorer pupils and their richer peers achieve at school had stopped closing even before the disruption of the pandemic. Disadvantaged pupils in England are now 18 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs—a huge gap, but the same as five years ago. Disparities at primary school age are also widening for the first time since 2007.

However, a plan will not be worth the paper it is written on unless it includes substantive proposals backed by funding. Noble Lords will be well aware that the Government’s education recovery plan has been roundly criticised as insufficient, including by Tory Members of Parliament and the Government’s own, now departed, Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, who said that it did not come close to what was needed. I do not expect the Minister to answer me on that point now, but it is an issue that had an impact on Oral Questions earlier today and which must be taken forward and dealt with if the full effects of the pandemic are to be dealt with. I like to think that we might see a much-needed policy change shortly in the spending review, although, like other noble Lords, I obviously will not hold my breath.

Finally, the development of local skills improvement plans must be inclusive by demonstrating an awareness of and commitment to equality and diversity. It is crucial that those with learning and other disabilities can benefit from the measures in the Bill and that support for schemes that help, especially supported internships, are on the face of the Bill. It requires a focus on making all the so-called three ships—traineeships, supported internships and apprenticeships—more accessible and widely available, opening up pathways into long-term employment for people with a learning disability. Apprenticeships need to be made more flexible; this should be included as part of reforms to the post-16 education offer. Additionally, we want to see more of a commitment to people with education, health and care plans, as well as those who have disabilities but do not qualify for such care plans. Leaving these groups out will only further entrench the current barriers that people with learning disabilities face in finding sustainable paid employment.

There is much for the Minister to respond to in this group of amendments. I do not expect her to respond to all of it in detail but it would helpful if she could follow up on some of my points by letter after the debate. However, let me be clear: we want both employer representative bodies and local skills improvement plans to be successful but we believe that, as it stands, the Bill will limit what can be achieved. There are so many people and organisations with much to offer. They should be encouraged to play their part fully in developing skills for the future.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, I want to go back to Amendment 10. I assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was going to speak to Amendment 9—my apologies. I will speak to Amendments 10 and 66. In doing so, I declare my interests as chair of the Department for Education’s stakeholder group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma and a former chair and current fellow of the Working Men’s College for men and women.

I am grateful for the advice and support of the Association of Colleges. I was also grateful for the sympathetic response to my amendment from the Minister’s predecessor—the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge —in Committee, and even more so for her positive letter to me and others last month. However, we must look at the facts, not just the aspirations.

All the amendments in this group, particularly Amendment 19 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, are worth pursuing. I turn to Amendments 10 and 66. Again, they are aimed at enabling the missing third to gain the skills to earn a good and useful living. They respect the decision of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, not to proceed immediately with a national plan for those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in GCSE maths or English. However, they would oblige the Government to find out what is actually happening.

In her letter, the noble Baroness again promised the publication of the long-overdue national strategy for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, which will inter alia address the widely acknowledged educational attainment deficit. Can the Minister give us the date of publication and specify what consultation has taken place? The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, also said that tuition for 16 to 19 year-olds has been expanded for those who need help to catch up in English, maths and other vocational subjects. How many Gypsies, Travellers and Roma have been given this tuition, and with what results? Similarly, what has happened with the additional funding of small group tuition?

Finally, on the assurances in the letter, how will the department make the new centres for excellence in mathematics accessible to disadvantaged minorities? As I said in Committee, there is no evidence that such minorities lack the requisite ability—– something else is at play.

Most importantly, in what terms have the Government made it

“clear to employers that we will fund apprentices without English and maths to achieve Functional Skills qualifications during their apprenticeship”?

Frankly, without the review that my amendment proposes, we shall, as usual, not know what is happening to the missing third. This would enable something to be done about the plight of thousands of our young people who should be entering the world of work.

Colleges are at the last stage of the journey for English and maths, and they have to pick up the pieces of the many shortcomings in pre-16 education. For T-levels, the requirement is for students to have achieved level 2 English and maths by the time they have finished, but, at present, only students who already have that enrol. I am told by the Association of Colleges that the results, so far, therefore end up with informal self-selection, so those sectors of the student population with low maths and English achievement will not apply for T-level courses.

After seven years of conditional funding, there is ample need for a review to see how the current policies are fitting, or not fitting, students for work. For many years this significant proportion—the missing third—has been most damagingly neglected. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 5:00, 12 October 2021

My Lords, I will pick up where I left off on Amendment 11 and also speak to my Amendment 20. I welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench. There was a period when she was my Whip; she probably thought that she had finally escaped having to deal with me, but now she is back, front and centre of my interests.

I apologise that my first action will be to vote with the noble Lord, Lord Watson, if he pushes his amendment. Like him, I absolutely support the objectives of the Bill, but I will vote with him because I am really unhappy and unclear about it in its current state. I want us to be able to continue this conversation as the Bill winds its way through the Commons. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, the key element of this discussion—the local skills improvement plan trailblazers document—arrived today, at least for me, and I have not managed to look at it properly. There is a lot there that needs attention.

I thoroughly support the idea of local employer involvement in skills provision. For a long time, local employers have complained to me that their local colleges and other providers are not doing the courses they need: the engineering kit that the FE college has is 20 years out of date, and graduates have to be completely retrained if they enter engineering; the building courses do not align with the methods used at the moment; nothing is available for the local foundry; and so on. The need for local employers to be involved in local skills provision is very clear to me.

However, to get successful employer engagement you need both status and longevity. You are asking employers to get senior, good and effective members of staff to spend time on collaborative bodies and arriving at results. They need to do that over a period of years to build up relationships and understanding with each other, among the employer community as much as with education providers. That takes time and an attitude to these bodies that is not, “Oh, we’ve had this for five years—let’s throw it out of the window and start again”. Starting again takes you back to zero.

If I have understood the document right, the trailblazers will exist only for a year or two. Why will any sensible employer spend time trying to make something right when it will be torn up after two or three years? There will be a few, but there will not be the comprehensive effort that would be made if the Government gave themselves a bit more time and, when they know what they want to do, set out to provide employers with something that has a hope of lasting 10 or 20 years.

We have a new ministry for levelling up, which gives it an opportunity to make a decision about what is happening to local enterprise partnerships. These are a source of relationships, understanding and established ways of doing things which might well be drawn on to make a success of local skills improvement plans, but they appear to be ignored entirely. Why? Let us have some coherence in this across government. This is already at least the second way in which the Department for Education is proposing to consult employers; it already has a reasonably well-established network in IfATE, but it does not appear to be tying that in at all to what is happening with local skills improvement plans. There are also networks based in BEIS and in the Department for Work and Pensions. There needs to be more thought and coherence before we set out on this, so that we can really make a success of the idea.

If I read this document right, there is a budget of £4 million for the seven trailblazers, so that is about half a million quid each. In our local area, this is the whole of Sussex, and because of the way Sussex has evolved, the Sussex Chamber of Commerce knows very little about what happens down at the town level. There is almost no relationship between the Sussex chamber and Eastbourne; Eastbourne is dealt with by the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce. There is also very little relationship between the Sussex Chamber of Commerce and that huge employer of people in Sussex: London. So you are asking this body to build from nothing a knowledge of the skills needs of a very large area—four or five million people’s worth, if you embrace the south of London—on a budget of half a million quid. It is a comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that there is no possible way they will have money to pay consultants; they will be really pushed to do this on a few local people. It does not seem to be a recipe for success.

To pick a quote from the document, these partnerships are supposed to look at

“opportunities created by emerging technologies, cleaner growth and new global markets.”

How can you do that based in Sussex, for goodness’ sake? You are not exactly at the middle of any of these industries. Where is the source of knowledge and information to enable them to do that? That sort of thing requires national co-ordination and there is no sign in this plan of how that national understanding will develop.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, you need an organisation which is looking ahead; ideally, 10 years ahead—though it is getting pretty speculative—but certainly five years. If you talk, as I do, to the jobs board providers, they will say, by and large, that employers look at what they want today and, if you push them hard, they will look a year or so ahead. Local employers do not have that understanding of where their whole industry is going; they have to deal with the problems of today. You need to build in something which is looking further ahead, and there is no reason to try to do that locally. Also, there is a lot of commonality between local problems: the problems we face in Sussex will be replicated in East Anglia, the north-east and elsewhere, one way or another. We do not want to have to create individual, from-the-ground-up solutions to each of these problems; we want to have a mechanism for sharing the problems and approaches and putting the best solutions forward, rather than just creating new things locally. Again, I do not see a sign of that in the Bill.

The system of careers advice for children at school set up by this Government in the Careers and Enterprise Company, of which I have a high opinion, is based on their relationship with local enterprise partnerships. What is proposed under this new system to enable them to continue the rollout of local career hubs? Again, I do not see anything. Where in this structure do we encounter the interests of students? Somewhere in Eastbourne is the engineer that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, wants. Under the LSIP, as described here, the only training available for us will be for hoteliers—that is the main business in Eastbourne. There is no engineering contractor, let alone a nuclear industry. There is not much IT at the moment; there is no obvious source of green growth jobs within our patch. Where is this understanding to come from? Why should our children be restricted in their opportunities to what happens to be available in Sussex? An awful lot of people who live in Sussex work in London. How is the source of demand and need to be factored into the local skills improvement plan in Sussex?

I hope that when the Bill comes back to us from the Commons we will end up with a nationally coherent, long-living system of involving local employers and other sources of information in producing a structure of training that works for local people and local industries. What the noble Lord, Lord Watson, suggests is the right way to do it. As for Boris—if I am allowed that shorthand for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—he was talking about that last time I read one of his speeches regarding raising the leaders of counties to the same status as local mayors and giving them the same sort of powers and ambit. We will see how that direction works out but at least the understanding is there. A lot of support is available at county level, including a lot of knowledge, skills and people in the workforce, which would really support an enterprise like a local skills improvement partnership. If the two aspects are embedded together, they are likely to work together and benefit from each other. In terms of sending a message to our colleagues in the Commons, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, does that pretty well.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 13, 16 and 19, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who is unable to be present because of his other engagements. Along with others, I welcome the Minister to her new role and join others in offering appreciation to her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge. I should also say, as a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change, how much I welcome government Amendment 6, and I add my support to Amendment 64.

The context of my remarks is a general welcome for the Bill and recognition of its role in helping to meet the Government’s ambition on FE and skills. However, there is almost no specific reference to SEND provision in the Bill, despite the significant role that FE plays in provision for students with additional needs or disabilities. Noble Lords will know that around 202,000 students have special educational needs in further education, of whom 90% attend general FE colleges and make up almost one in six of all enrolments. Within those, almost a quarter of students are aged 16 to 18. In contrast to the school sector, there is a small number of specialist institutions. That situation makes a profound difference to the scale and range of support needed in general FE and sixth-form colleges.

During Second Reading, the Minister gave assurances that the overall legislative framework, notably the Equality Act and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, provided sufficiently rigorous safeguards for ensuring that the needs of SEN students were met. It was also most helpful to see the updated policy note and to hear the further assurances from the noble Baronesses, Lady Chisholm and Lady Barran, at their meeting with my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham last week. The Government’s high aspirations for students with learning needs and disabilities is clear, and we warmly welcome that ambition.

However, the evidence from the Special Educational Consortium and Natspec, which are key voices promoting the rights of disabled children and young people, those with special educational needs and specialist further education, is that far more explicit duties should be incorporated into the Bill to ensure that high ambitions and good intentions are subsequently consistently turned into effective action.

I am sure that Ministers will acknowledge that the SEN review and its associated Green Paper, which we look forward to seeing in the near future, have already identified opportunities to create a much-needed comprehensive and integrated strategy for children and young adults with SEND. There are many points of potential synergy with the national disability strategy, the national strategy for autistic children, young people and adults and in the health and disability Green Paper. Perhaps most of all, a major issue, tackling the disability employment gap, is not yet specifically identified as one of the core tasks of the employer representative bodies and the local skills improvement plans for which they are responsible.

The amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham are strongly practical in scope and would not impose additional duties on the ERB. Indeed, it is clear that the Government regard them as implicit within the ERB’s responsibilities in any case. Rather, each amendment is framed so as to make explicit and much clearer how LSIPs make effective provision for students with SEND, and are much easier to evaluate.

That is the rationale for each of the three amendments. The first, requiring that the evidence used must include views of the relevant community groups, including those representing the interests of people with disabilities, ensures that a full range of robust evidence informs decisions about the LSIP. A very experienced principal in the north-east pointed out that it was vital for her college to have the views of both employers and those of the communities which the college serves in order to make the very best decisions about provision.

The second amendment picks up one of the most important indicators that provision is meeting needs: namely, that it is helping to prepare people with SEND to successfully enter and progress within the employment market and, by so doing, substantially reduce the disability employment gap. Thirdly, in order for ERBs to tackle these issues effectively, it is crucial that the LSIPs are informed by the employers among their number that have the expertise and track record to ensure their plans are genuinely inclusive in respect of disability.

At this stage in the Bill’s passage, it would be most helpful if the Minister could indicate how the review of the current trailblazer pilots could be used to inform the Government’s evolving view of how ERBs might best operate, with specific reference to the amendments I have outlined and what future discussions with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and other interested Peers might be a fruitful way of following up these issues. We even suggest that the Government might adopt the amendments themselves, since hope is considered one of the virtues on these and, indeed, other Benches.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 5:15, 12 October 2021

My Lords, before speaking to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, to which I added my name, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for the work she did on this Bill and wish her well.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, uses the word “integrated”; I would use “partnership”. What the Government are trying to achieve, which we want to achieve, will fail if we do not get the local skills improvement plan right. To do that, we must have a partnership of people. A key factor in that must be the local combined authorities. It is not just me saying that. Your Lordships may remember when a former Chancellor, George Osborne, set up combined authorities. He said that they were a “devolution revolution” and gave them extra powers involving the provision of skills training, business support and economic development.

Indeed, the powers of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, where I live, include apprenticeships, grants for employers, an adult skills budget, post-16 FE and oversight of skills and advisory panels. Combined authorities have a wealth of experience, yet we are pushing them to the side. We are marginalising them. I just do not get it at all. It is not just me saying that, or the combined authorities saying that, or Peers saying that. It is interesting to see that message coming loud and clear from employers themselves. You have only to look at the comments from the Food and Drink Federation, which has again said that it is really important that there is a partnership across all areas.

Interestingly, the Energy & Utility Skills Partnership talks about the need to look not just at local skills but at those skills which are nationwide and at how they will be swept up or dealt with if there is just a local focus. I hope that when she responds the Minister will be positive. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that when this goes to the Commons it will be sensible enough to realise what we have said, and that changes will be made if we are able to give it those changes.

I end by saying how much I support Amendment 19 from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. He is right to say that if we are to have these representative employer bodies, they must have a record of showing that they care about diversity, equality and disability and that should be an important hallmark of these bodies. If that amendment is not agreed, I am sure that if the Government saw a body set up that was not equal or concerned about diversity and disability, they would have the sense to step in.

Photo of Lord Aberdare Lord Aberdare Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, have added my name to Amendment 11, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and to the amendment to it, Amendment 12. I shall speak also to my Amendments 14, 18 and 21, which are mainly concerned with the overall coherence and effectiveness of the skills systems of which this Bill will be such a major part. Many aspects of that system lie outside the Bill as drafted, but are essential for it to achieve its aims, so Amendment 11 and my amendments seek to fill some of the more important gaps that need to be addressed in the Bill. Others will no doubt be covered in the forthcoming guidance for employer representative bodies, which I have been no more successful than the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in absorbing since I received it this morning.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, lists a range of bodies whose views rightly need to be taken into account in LSIPs. My Amendment 12 adds two more categories to the list: bodies providing careers information, advice and guidance and independent training providers. I have previously expressed my view that the importance of high-quality careers guidance should be more explicitly covered in the Bill. Every LSIP should surely take account of the status of careers guidance provision in its area through drawing on the views of those responsible for it, including careers hubs and careers leaders in local education institutions. Seeking to ensure that all schools and colleges in its area are meeting the eight Gatsby careers benchmarks and complying fully with the requirements of the Baker clause as, I hope, amended by the Bill.

Given the importance of informing young people about their career choices and options early on, will the Minister tell us how the Government are ensuring that chambers of commerce currently delivering trailblazer LSIPs are engaging with local careers hubs to ensure that careers provision in schools is aligned with local labour market skills needs?

Could she also say whether there are any plans for a new careers strategy, to revive the terrific impetus provided by the previous one in improving the careers situation, and what the Government are doing to ensure that careers hubs will be an established part of the future careers landscape right across England, with sufficient funding to support careers activities in schools and colleges and enough qualified careers professionals to deliver them? Finding those professionals seems an increasing problem for some schools.

My Amendment 12 would also add independent training providers. I will spare noble Lords a repeat of my spiel on independent training providers, but I do believe that no LSIP can afford not to take account of their role in meeting the skills needs of its area.

My Amendments 14 and 18 seek to ensure that LSIPs take account of UK-wide standards developed by national employer groups, picking up on what the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said. Either of the two might meet the need, although the first relates to the actual content of an LSIP, and the second to the characteristics of the employer representative body which develops it. I apologise to your Lordships if this seems like trying to get two amendments for the price of one.

There will be many areas of technology where there is a pressing need for LSIPs to upskill and reskill the existing workforce in their area but there are no associated apprenticeship standards; for example, because they would not support a full year of study. Examples include some of the key green technologies, such as installation of ground source heat pumps or electric car charging points. In the absence of formal standards, LSIPs will need to assure themselves that training provision and assessment is of the right quality and meets agreed industry standards. This assurance could be provided by recognised national not-for-profit employer bodies representing specific sectors, such as the Energy & Utility Skills Partnership, again mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for whose briefing I am grateful. I would welcome the Minister’s views on how this need might be met and whether she might consider establishing a reasonably short list of recognised sectoral employer bodies capable of supporting LSIPs in this respect.

Amendment 21 addresses a related issue. The Bill says remarkably little about accountability and reporting requirements of employer representative bodies, apart from developing their LSIPs in a form that the Secretary of State is prepared to approve and publish. Perhaps the Minister could say something about how the subsequent progress and implementation of the plans will be reported and monitored; how information from LSIPs across the country will be aggregated to assess their impact on national skills needs and objectives; and how the Secretary of State will determine whether the new arrangements in specific LSIP areas are working as intended, bearing in mind the point that noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others have made, that chambers of commerce in England vary considerably in size, scope and capacity, and may not always be the right body to lead ERBs.

Amendment 21 addresses only one specific aspect of this broader issue of reporting accountability and two-way flows of information between local plan areas and the centre. The amendment would ensure that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has access, via reports from ERBs, to information on the activities and outcomes of the upskilling and reskilling programmes being pursued through their LSIPs, to inform its own work in identifying and approving needed apprenticeship standards and other technical qualifications for the future.

I do not anticipate pressing any of my amendments to a vote, but if the noble Lord, Lord Watson, decides to seek the opinion of the House on his Amendment 11, I shall gladly support him.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, if I may say a few words now, let me first say that I will speak to Amendment 26 in my name. It was originally in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, who has just sent me a note saying that he wishes me well but he has an appointment he must go to in the City. All right for some, but it was his idea in the first place.

Anyway, I have a few comments about the clerical Bench’s series of amendments here. What I like about these is that when we deal with special educational needs, often it is as special educational needs going forward into the outside world. The fact is that talking about the employment gap for people with disabilities is something we should spend more time on and is sometimes a better way of looking at it to get clarification.

There is no point in having training if it does not have a result; otherwise, you are just marking time and keeping people off the streets. There is enough of that in the system at various times and we all know it has happened and is going on. If they are being trained, people should have some end product from it. They should have the dignity of being able to sustain themselves.

In the disabilities sector, across all the myriad bits of it, there is a shared problem of underemployment. We do not seem to be getting that right; we do not seem to be getting the information across correctly that people who have minor disabilities can do ordinary jobs. It is not happening and consistently does not happen. This is not the problem of this Government; it is the problem of Governments over a long period of time. I hope that when the Minister responds she will give her full attention to this because it is a very good way of looking at an existing problem. I salute those who have raised it and brought it forward. It brings the point home very clearly.

I turn to my pirated amendment: the review every three years to look at what SEN is achieving and how it is going. Something like that must be in the Bill because we talk too much about SEN. The Government tend to retreat into saying, “We have got lots of legislation, if it all worked properly and people refer back to each other and do other things they’re supposed to do, we will have a look at it and we will change it.” They do not. The SEN sector is in crisis at the moment. We have punched through the £100 million barrier that local authorities spend on appeals to stop people getting the high end of education and healthcare plans. They lose about 85% of these on a good day, more commonly 90%. That is at the high end. Further down—this is something that has come out in this Bill—those who are not going to get this are getting ignored a lot of the time.

The language has improved over this Bill, and I salute the Government Front Bench and the noble Baroness’s immediate predecessors for this. They actually helped and recognised this, which is a step in the right direction. But can we make sure that we are looking at this in the round so that you do not have to be a tiger parent in the future? We need to look at this properly and review it, both in terms of the final product and the process which brings people forward. It is something that must be integrated if it is to work.

We have been doing this for too long. I have been here for more than 35 years and I think it is nearly 35 years since I made my maiden speech. That was on SEN and the problems of it. One lifetime is surely enough for this.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:30, 12 October 2021

My Lords, I will say a few concluding remarks before the Minister speaks. As I look around the Chamber, there are numerous former Secretaries of State and schools Ministers, including myself, and many others who have grappled with skills and post-16 education over a number of years. Why are we back here again? It is because, frankly, there is still a major issue and a major problem. This is one thing all of us want to do something about and yet we grapple with the fact that whatever we do does not seem to work in the way we want it to. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned his maiden speech 35 years ago when he talked about special educational needs with reference to this. I have heard many noble Lords speak on this issue and some of the things being said now could have been said by them decades ago.

I have one simple question and some comments for the Minister. The Government are attempting to grapple with a problem that has bedevilled our education system and our country for decades, so why will it be different this time? Why will it work in a way that it has not under other Governments—despite the best intentions—this time? There has been some progress. there are powers, as my noble friend Lord Adonis pointed out, ad nauseam for the Government to use should they choose to. So, why will it work?

This is a crucial issue. I was at Thales and Leonardo yesterday. They have graduate skills programmes and apprenticeships, but they struggle to fill them. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, talked about his own company. They cannot fill the vacancies, yet there are people who need skilled jobs, and they cannot be matched. Everybody knows it is a problem. Everybody knows it is an issue. Why has it not been resolved? It is not through lack of intent, desire or passion; it just has not worked.

This debate is crucial because the vehicle the Government are going to use is local skills improvement plans. The Government are saying, “Through our local skills improvement plans, this time it will be different. This time it will work. We won’t need to have another skills Bill in three, four or five years’ time, because this time it will work.” I say this to the Government: if they turn their backs on some of the amendments being put forward by all sides of this House today, whether they be on creativity or special needs or the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and others, the Government—whichever Government it is—will be back in two, three or four years’ time and the same debates will be replayed.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, must be sitting there wondering. I remember talking to him goodness knows how many years ago. I remember talking to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, when he was my MP, about these sorts of things. He has been saying it for decades in his own constituency to his own schools: we have a skills shortage. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has been saying, “What’s happened with technical education?” The fundamental question for the Minister is: why will these local skills improvement plans work, when they did not in whatever guise they were in in the past and, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, the present? Why will these work? Why will they make a difference? Why do they mean that we will not be here again in a few years’ time?

Amendment 11, in the name of my noble friend on the Front Bench, is fundamental. Why on earth would you have a local skills improvement plan that does not include local authorities, the mayors or all the providers? Why would they not—unless it is the Government’s view, which it should not be, that local authorities, the mayors, or the other things mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are an impediment to it? If the Government are really saying, “The local authorities are in the way, we want them out of the way and we’re going to do it without them,” that is is ludicrous, and I do not believe that is what the Government think.

I finish with this; it is a plea from the heart. I was a careers teacher. I remember we had women into schools and engineering buses coming round. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has spent decades trying to get people into creativity. We cannot get people. We are crying out for lorry drivers, bricklayers, and graduate skills. Our country, our Government and our education system have failed. There have been improvements and there has been progress, but it has been so slow. I do not want to be here in five or 10 years’ time having the same debates and discussions again.

So, I say to the Minister: why will it be different this time? Why will local skills improvement plans work when others have not? I say to the Minister, who I know listens and takes all her responsibilities incredibly seriously, that Amendment 11 is one example and is fundamental, but so are many of the other amendments noble Lords across this House have tabled. If the Government do not listen to them, we will be back in five years’ time debating another such Bill, and none of us wants that.

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

My Lords, I shall speak very briefly, because we have spent a long time on this very important group of amendments. I added my name to Amendment 20, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to ensure collaboration between the Departments for Education and for Business, and local government. Of course, this is hugely important, because there is little point in encouraging students into work-based qualifications if there are no jobs for them to fill either locally—which is where the local government people come in—or nationally, where the Business Department should have an overview of the skills the country needs. We desperately need a long-term coherent strategy.

I so agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his plea for creativity in education. I have long espoused the idea that education should be fun and that every child should be encouraged in their own skills and interests to try to get confidence that they can contribute to society, and I do not think that our education system does that.

I also support Amendment 66, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, putting in a plea for vocational English and maths. GCSE English and maths are academic and are absolutely not appropriate for a whole load of people whose skills are more practical. The noble Baroness is quite right to press for support for those for whom literacy and numeracy are real difficulties and challenges. Without those basic skills, people have such difficulties in every aspect of their lives. They need all the help they can get from the nation and community. There are some really valuable amendments in this group, and I hope that the Minister sees that and takes them on board.

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

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this group of amendments. If I may, I shall start by responding to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and his challenge to the Government. I do not want to be flippant, but there is nobody in this Chamber more aware than me of just how many former Secretaries of State for Education and former Education Ministers I am surrounded by. In listening to the noble Lord, I was reminded of the time when I worked in the City, where I was advised early on that “This time it will be different” were the most expensive words for an investor—so I hear him.

In trying to answer the noble Lord’s point about why it will work this time, I am grateful to him for pointing out that this is an enormously difficult and challenging area. He will be aware that, in the White Paper, we set out a number of planks through which we will try to address the entrenched issues that he raised. LSIPs—I think that by this stage in the debate I am allowed an acronym—are an important plank, and our reform of technical and vocational qualifications is another, along with how further education is funded in this country. I shall come on to the points that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised about accountability, and the fact that we need to stay honest and keep checking how this works in practice, if necessary course-correcting to make sure that it delivers what the House resoundingly wants it to deliver. That is also an important part of it, albeit in future. So I thank the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to set that out.

I turn to the detail of the amendments, and first to Amendments 8 and 9 from my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on consideration of skills deficiencies in specific fields when developing local skills improvement plans—skills described as absolutely crucial by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. I know that my noble friend brings enormous experience from boardrooms around the country to her amendment; she rightly raises the importance of digital skills and innovation. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has great insight into the issues surrounding the food system and biodiversity. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, about his very practical and relevant expertise and experience in engineering skills. These are all areas that the Government are actively trying to address in our skills policy. We have introduced, as noble Lords know, digital and other skills boot camps, covering construction and, most recently, HGV. So we are trying to be responsive to needs. On T-levels, we have introduced them recently in engineering and other related areas.

Of course, it is really important that designated employer-representative bodies take into account robust evidence on national and local skills needs and priorities, as well as employer and stakeholder views, when they are developing their local skills improvement plans. This will be made clear in the statutory guidance, which is in turn informed by the work of the national Skills and Productivity Board. We are trying to link in a coherent way local with national needs, which I think is at the heart of these amendments.

We believe that strategies and priorities are likely to change over time. Indeed, my noble friend referred to her own experience in relation to the need for energy-related skills. We feel that referencing them in statutory guidance which can be updated regularly, rather than in legislation, which cannot, will ensure that key relevant skills needs and priorities are considered when developing and refreshing local skills improvement plans.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for sharing his personal experience. The building industry’s loss is this House’s gain.

I shall respond to some of the questions posed in relation to this group. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe asked why net zero and environmental goals were in the Bill but not digital or other crucial areas. We believe that through our amendment local skills improvement plans will be an important tool supporting the Government to meet our legally binding environmental targets, which have been set via the Environment Bill. As I have touched on already, other current priorities and skills shortages are likely to change and evolve over time, so we believe that describing them in guidance that can be regularly updated, rather than in legislation, is the best way in which to future-proof the Bill.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked how the Secretary of State would monitor designated employer-representative bodies and their plans and hold them to account. I absolutely agree on the importance of this; designated employer-representative bodies will be accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, and those arrangements for effective monitoring will be informed by evidence from the trailblazers that are running at the moment and will be set out in the statutory guidance.

My noble friend asked how the geography for a local skills improvement plan will be determined. This will be based on functional economic areas. The prospectus for the trailblazers sets out the

“geographical area that is sufficiently compact and coherent to enable effective decision making and delivery, while also encompassing a critical mass of employers and providers needed to make a demonstrable impact”.

The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, asked about the role of SMEs. Obviously, that will vary depending on the geographic make-up of the local skills improvement plan area. We clearly expect the designated employer-representative body to draw on the views of a wide range of local employers of all sizes, reaching beyond their membership, if it is a membership organisation, and covering both private and public employers. We will set that out in guidance. I spoke to one of the trailblazer areas last week, and the vast majority of its employers locally have 10 or fewer employees—so they may be even at sub-SME level—and it is very much incorporating those views in its plans.

I turn to Amendments 11 and 12 from the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Aberdare, regarding local skills improvement plans. Forgive me; I do not know if there is a particular technical definition of “place-based”, which the noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to, but with our local footprint we are looking very much at a place-based approach. We absolutely agree that local is an important part of the answer.

As well as engaging a wide range of employers, a designated employer representative body should work closely with all relevant providers, local authorities—which the noble Lord stressed—mayoral combined authorities and other key stakeholders to develop the plan. Without such widespread consultation and engagement, the plan will not be effective. Mayoral combined authorities play a particularly important role as commissioner and convener in their areas, and their views and priorities need to be brought to bear. Other key stakeholders with valuable local intelligence include the Careers & Enterprise Company, local careers hubs and National Careers Service area-based contractors. As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, predicted, this will be set out clearly in statutory guidance. As mentioned earlier, this guidance can be updated regularly to reflect evolving needs and priorities as well as best practice. It also enables the required level of detail to be captured.

Clause 1 already places duties on relevant providers to co-operate with employer representative bodies, to ensure that their valuable knowledge and experience directly inform the development of the plans so that they are evidence-based, credible and actionable. Clause 4 makes it clear that relevant providers include independent training providers.

I turn to Amendments 13, 16 and 19 from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham on local skills improvement plans and the employment prospects of people with disabilities. The criteria for designation of employer representative bodies in the Bill are intentionally focused on the most important characteristics and capabilities required for the role. Of course we want all employers to demonstrate best practice in equality and diversity in employment, including in relation to disability, but the designation process for employer representative bodies to develop local skills improvement plans is not the best mechanism to achieve this.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked what we expected to learn from the trailblazer pilots. This is an important area in which to explore their experience and, as appropriate, include it in the statutory guidance.

The disability employment gap, while absolutely still too large, has narrowed significantly in recent years, from 33.8 percentage points in 2014 to 28.6 percentage points in 2021. However, since it is still too large, the Government’s national disability strategy, which the right reverend Prelate referred to, sets out how we will help disabled people to fulfil their potential through work and reduce this employment gap still further.

I turn now to Amendments 14, 18 and 21 from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, which in effect would require designated employer representative bodies to take account of and inform employer-led occupational standards approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education. We expect designated bodies to engage effectively with other relevant employer and sector groups and to have regard to employer-led occupational standards, among other things, when developing local skills improvement plans. For example, a plan might point to existing employer-led occupational standards and the related technical education and training that relevant local providers can start offering, or offer more of, to meet new or changing demand for skills in the local area. However, rather than in primary legislation, the best place to set this out is in statutory guidance that can be updated as needed as we move towards a national system where the majority of technical education and training is based on employer-led standards by 2030.

Amendment 20 from my noble friend Lord Lucas, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, was about consultation with other government departments when designating employer representative bodies. I fully agree with him that we need a coherent approach to designating them. I also reassure him that in delivering this policy, which was introduced in a government White Paper, and in exercising the power on behalf of the Government to designate an employer representative body, the Secretary of State for Education will continue to work closely with the Secretaries of State referred to in the amendment to give, in my noble friend’s words, a coherence across government.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked about the future of the trailblazer sites. Their purpose is to test and understand how the employer representative bodies can best work with employers, providers and key local stakeholders, including local authorities, mayoral combined authorities and career hubs, to implement an employer-led approach to skills planning. Although the trailblazers themselves are time-limited, they will be subject to an independent evaluation which will feed directly into the plans for the future rollout.

I turn to Amendments 10 and 66 from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, regarding a national review and plan for addressing the attainment gap. I hope this House will agree that supporting students who are yet to achieve a GCSE grade 4 or above, or equivalent level 2, in English and maths is fundamental to building a strong and productive labour market. That is why we already have a clear plan to support those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths GCSEs, whichever pathway they are on, both while in full-time education and training up to 19 years old and into adulthood. This includes a study requirement for all learners on 16 to 19 year-old study programmes who do not currently hold a GCSE grade 4 to 9 in their English and maths. We also apply this policy to transition years, such as the T-level transition programme and traineeships.

Advanced apprenticeships and T-levels have exit requirements so that all learners must achieve a level 2 in English and maths via GCSEs or functional skills qualifications to complete the programme successfully. Apprentices at level 2 need to complete functional skills qualifications at level 1 to achieve their programmes. We also support adults by fully funding GCSE and functional skills qualifications in English and maths up to level 2 through the adult education budget.

In response to the disruptions to education during the coronavirus pandemic, a further £222 million—

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 5:45, 12 October 2021

I am grateful to the Minister for her response—fairly grateful—but I had a number of other very specific questions. May I take it that she will write to me on those?

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

I had not forgotten, so I absolutely undertake to write on the noble Baroness’s specific questions in relation to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and on the other points that she raised.

In response to the disruptions to education during the pandemic, a further £222 million has been provided to continue the 16 to 19 tuition fund for an additional two years from the 2022-23 academic year. It allows students to access one-to-one and small group catch-up tuition in subjects that will benefit them most, including maths, English and vocational courses.

Amendment 26 from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is in essence consistent with our approach set out in the draft statutory guidance published alongside the Bill. However, enshrining the minimum frequency for reviews as three years in legislation would remove important and necessary flexibility for colleges. The needs of learners with special educational needs and disabilities are, as my predecessor set out in an earlier debate, already protected in legislation through the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Equality Act 2010. Further education providers must use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision called for by a student’s special educational needs, and make reasonable adjustments to prevent such students being placed at a substantial disadvantage.

Before closing, I would like to try to respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about new apprentices. He referred to the end of September data; we should be pretty pleased that we have data to 10 August, which I hope he agrees is timely, but we can of course write once we have more up-to-date figures. The latest figures show that over 101,000 apprentices have been supported through the apprenticeships incentive scheme, of whom 76% are aged between 16 and 24. As he is aware, the Chancellor has recently announced that the incentive scheme has been extended and will be available for employers who hire new apprentices by 31 January 2022.

I hope that my remarks have provided your Lordships with some reassurance on the important issues about how local skills improvement plans will work in practice, how different key stakeholders will be involved in their delivery and how the delivery of our local and national plans will be linked. I therefore ask my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe if she would be able to withdraw her amendment, and other noble Lords not to move theirs.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 6:00, 12 October 2021

My Lords, three days off my second anniversary in your Lordships’ House, I occasionally think that I am on top of procedure and am then comprehensively disabused of that fact. I thank the noble Lord the Deputy Speaker for his advance guidance on this matter; I was not aware that my modest little Amendment 9 would put me in this position, for which I feel particularly ill equipped, given the distinguished nature and level of experience of so many people contributing to this debate.

However, I shall do my best, briefly, and begin by thanking the Minister for her comprehensive wrap-up of this long group. If we look at the group’s nature, it makes some kind of sense despite its large size. Amendments 8 and 9 are addressing the gaps in the matter—the skills needed—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, said, we need to prioritise the jobs that need doing. Many of the other amendments—I particularly highlight those from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the right reverend Prelate—address the need to ensure that all humans in our society are able to contribute to the fullest extent, to meet the needs of our society and develop their own human potential.

I should declare my position here as a vice-president of the LGA and the NALC. I will briefly address the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Amendment 11. I agree with him that there was lots of criticism of the apprenticeship levy, but where there is hope is that this is working through the local level and local steps. I had a debate with the Minister in her kind meeting last week about which decisions should be made at a local level and which at a national level. There is a green economic theory about bio-regions; different regions have different skills needs, and Amendment 11 addresses the way in which local government fits together in making these decisions.

In saying that briefly, I have one final sentence. I am going to keep to the battle by saying that skills are not just about jobs; skills are about providing the individuals in our communities with preparation for life in our difficult world. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 9.

Amendment 9 (to Amendment 8) withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

I thank all those who have taken part in such an interesting and wide-ranging debate on the content and creation of local skills improvement plans. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his contribution on both the need to look ahead and the importance of creativity. I agree, and creativity and innovation are clearly linked. We should all emphasise creativity, including in arts, music and innovation, when we visit schools and colleges. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his emphasis—coming from an expert position—on the crisis in digital skills, especially digital engineering, and the need to listen to the voice of small business.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was his usual challenging self but he is right to be concerned about the decline in apprenticeships. It is very good to hear from my noble friend the Minister that the Chancellor is on to this.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, said that we needed more flexibility in apprenticeships; perhaps we could think about that one. He is also right that local and mayoral authorities are keen and ambitious to do more on skills and they should be consulted, as the Minister has said that they will be. I do not support the precise terms of the noble Lord’s amendment, which would slow down the reforms that we need and lead to a patchiness in provision, as I have seen with the local enterprise partnerships. We need to avoid slowness and bureaucracy, and—responding to the oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—get on with the skills revolution.

Above all, I thank the Minister for her helpful and concrete responses. I very much look forward to having the opportunity to see the statutory guidance—and to quizzing her on the subject of monitoring—but for now, with many thanks, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 10 not moved.