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 subsection that amendment No. 22 would amend specifies that the LSC must consult regional development agencies and other local bodies on guidance to regional councils. However, it does not specify that the LSC should have a duty to consult sector skills councils. Given the greater role envisaged by the Leitch review for such councils, and their significance in articulating the needs of employers and working with training providers to ensure that what is offered matches those needs, those bodies should at the very least be consultees.

Sandy Leitch—I make no apology for mentioning him again, because the Minister started by referring to the Leitch report in relation to the Bill—and the official Opposition would like sector skills councils to have a much bigger role. The report that I mentioned earlier, which I know will be on the Minister’s bedside table tonight, makes precisely that case. The sector skills councils should be the principal conduit for identifying need, explaining that need to the Department and working to accredit courses that meet that need with training providers in FE colleges and elsewhere.

That is not the Bill that we have before us; it is the Bill that we expect to see in the next Queen’s Speech, when the Government respond to the Leitch review and the new Prime Minister is at the helm. However, in order to reflect the importance of the sector skills councils, they should at least be consulted. Amendment No. 22 provides for that—it would make the sector  skills councils statutory consultees in the process. Let me flesh that out for a moment. The Leitch review says at paragraph 4.25 that

Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) are beginning to effectively engage employers. Over three fifths of employers who have had dealings with their SSC think that SSCs have had a positive impact on skills development in their sector. Nearly two thirds of employers who deal with their SSC are satisfied. This includes those employers who operate across a number of SSCs with different business and occupational areas. The evaluation shows that there are significant variations by sector in performance.”

However,

“employer satisfaction with the labour market information provided by their SSC” is generally good.

In my judgment, the Government also recognise the importance of sector skills councils and are likely to do so all the more when they respond to the Leitch review. I cannot see why, therefore, they should reject the amendment; given the importance of SSCs, it would be perverse to resist it, and I know that the Minister will be eager to accept such a positive contribution tothe Bill.

Amendment No. 25 deals with the duty of the LSC to secure the provision of facilities for education and training. It would provide for the LSC, in performing that duty, to act with a view to encouraging diversityin education and training, and to increase the opportunities for individuals to exercise choice by consulting SSCs in line with the FE White Paper. Paragraph 3 states:

“Alongside learners, employers are the major customers of FE....We have now established a full network of 25 SSCs, led by employers to ensure that their needs and priorities for the skills that will support productivity are both articulated through SSAs and met through more responsive provision.”

In essence, our amendments reflect our determination to ensure that employer-led organisations are at the heart of the process. I hope that the Government will accept them in the spirit in which they are offered. Should the Minister be resistant to my pleas, at the very least I hope that he will take this opportunity to explain what role he sees sector skills councils playing in this consultative process and how he sees them interacting with the newly structured Learning and Skills Council.