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 Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry 11:15 am, 12th June 2007

It will not have escaped the Minister’s attention that the two amendments bear on two slightly different bodies: one is in relation to the duty or obligation of the regional councils to consult and the second relates the council itself. In a sense that has been brought out in what has already been said. In addition to the other tensions we identified earlier there is also a tension between the council and sector skills councils and the operation of the relationship, such as it is, and whether it should be at a national, regional or local level.

The Minister owes the Committee some explanation of how that should work. Sector skills councils will have an important continuing role, but they need to have the right consultation mechanisms. My judgment is that they should be at both regional and national level. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth pointed out, some facilities cannot operate below the level of the region and may need to have only a small number of centres of excellence. I mentioned the example of stonemasonry, although I do not think that that needs to be exclusive, but certain minority, albeit important, skills may need a single centre of excellence nationally. Those links need to be carefully deployed.

Some of my earlier scepticism about sector skills councils is being dissipated in the event. I am pleased about that. They are beginning to bed down. There was a hurry to move into a national structure. Ministers were rather pressing ahead with it, sometimes beyond the capacity of those centres. Those of us who know the area well will be aware of the strengths of organisations such as SEMPTA and Construction Skills, in the latter case based on a training levy, although we will not debate that issue today. They had some substance before they started. I have been impressed, in my recent work in connection with Pitcom, on the response to e-skills. There are other favourable cases: even Lantra, which I have known man and boy in my professional, as well as my policy, capacity, has now established itself and has a major contribution to make.

In terms of what the Government are proposing, and what Conservative Members are saying, there is a very important role for sector skills councils. They need to have the right relationship with the Learning and Skills Council as it operates nationally and regionally and the Minister should explain to the Committee how that will work in practice.