Clause 2

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 10:30 am, 12th June 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 42 to 48.

We move now to the meat of the Bill, the first part of which deals with changes to the structure of the Learning and Skills Council, in that it proposes that the LSC be regionalised and its local offices come to an end. I know that hon. Members will want to debate the matter at some length, because it was aired on Second Reading in the House and discussed in the other place, where the Bill originated. There are contentious financial, organisational and administrative issues associated with that proposal.

The clause places the LSC under a duty to establish a regional LSC in each area of England specified by the Secretary of State, and to specify functions for those regional councils. Indeed, the regional LSCs will be able to exercise powers and functions outside their areas. This is a probing amendment to draw attention to that provision, because it is not clear what is meant by it. What kind of functions will be exercised outside the areas of the regional LSCs? In what circumstances might those functions apply? How would that be determined? What reporting and accounting would there be for all that process? Does the Minister perceive this matter to be a matter for all regional LSCs? Are all LSCs likely to operate outside their areas, or is this something that he anticipates will only take place in particular parts of the country, perhaps where there is an obvious overlap between responsibilities? It may be that a regional council that is focused around a conurbation may feel that it needs to operate in the suburbs beyond that conurbation. That could be the type of thing that the Minister has in mind andthat the Bill intends, but there is not a clear understanding, certainly among Opposition Members and I suspect across the whole Committee, of precisely how that process will work.

Amendment No. 21 is essentially designed to determine why these regional LSCs need powers outside their area and also to test the legitimacy of  those powers. One might argue that there is a certain type of legitimacy in regional offices, and that there is a certain level of regional representation. I do not want to go down the road of considering regional government and all that that embodies, Mr. Atkinson, because you would not let me. The Opposition believe in proper democratic accountability and therefore, frankly, we are suspicious of bogus structures that offer no real legitimacy. However, notwithstanding that, it is important that the Minister makes it absolutely clear how this particular aspect of the Bill is likely to work in practice. To that end, I am delighted to move amendment No. 21, which stands in my name.