Clause 2

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 11:15 am, 12th June 2007

The Minister is a good and diligent Minister, and I am delighted that we will hear from him at length over the coming hours, days and weeks. May I also take this opportunity to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Corby, who will no doubt be assisting the Minister with his usual skills? However, the beginning of this Committee has been a disappointment. Ihave been disappointed with his combination of obfuscation, rhetoric and assertion. We have also had some smear from the Minister about the record of the previous Conservative Government and about the content of speeches that were made on Second Reading. We need a little more accuracy in the way in which we deal with these affairs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth has made a revelation in the course of this debate, which is that the savings that the Minister reported at the beginning of his speech were a combination of savings already made and savings expected to be made. Given that my hon. Friend made it clear that the savings already anticipated as aresult of the reorganisation that he mentioned were£40 million, one wonders what contribution the new savings will make to that combined total, as £40 million plus zero comes to £40 million, does it not? £40 million plus another amount would come to something more than £40 million. We are not absolutely sure where those savings come from, how much more we expect to save, and what the LSC budget will be like at the end of next year as a result of these changes. We have had more heat than light from the Minister on that subject.

Turning to the two other matters of substance that have been debated, the Minister has made a good case on why, in certain circumstances, a regional LSC might need to act outside its area. That is the issue at the heart of the amendment, and I anticipated that to some degree—the hon. Member for Brent, East said the same—when I said that it was likely that in city areas one could understand that the employment base might not be coterminous with the regional structure, and that it would therefore be necessary to have some flexibility in the way that the organisation operated. To that end, the amendment has done its job, and as a result of probing, we have discovered what we need to be assured of. However, the other point that the Minister raises about the exact nature of these regional organisations and their relationship to localities gave cause for concern once again. If we are going to have this panoply of local bodies sitting beneath the regions, we may be reinventing the structure that we are now reforming. I can see a burgeoning of organisations and individuals that fill the gap that has been created by the very change to regionalisation that the Bill proposes. Is it not really the case that what is required here is a root and branch reform of how we fund and manage matters of the kind that the Leitch report recommends, and to which the Government will no doubt respond.

I recommend to the Committee—the Minister may not have had the chance to see it and it is highly relevant to this part of the Bill—the report published today by the Opposition’s economic competitive policy group, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), on skills training for a more competitive economy. In that document, hot off the press, a case is made that is rather similar to that made by Sandy Leitch, that we need a fundamental rethink of how we fund and organise the management of skills, rather than this re-arranging of the deckchairs as we head for the iceberg that the Minister has articulated, and I am being generous by saying “articulated”. I shall withdraw my amendment because I do not want to start the Committee in an unnecessarily antagonistic vein. However, I hope that some of those matters will be clarified as the work of Committee develops, because I am still very concerned about the financial and organisational effects of some of the proposals that we have begun to tease out this morning.