Clause 2

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills 11:30 am, 12th June 2007

That clarification is helpful, but I genuinely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The critique that usually comes from Opposition Members is that we legislate too often when it is not necessary. To move the system in a more demand-led direction one does not need to legislate; we have already committed ourselves through the “Further EducationWhite Paper to moving to 50 per cent. of provision being  demand-led by 2015. There is a debate to be had about how much further and more quickly we can go in that direction, but it does not require legislation. That is why I said that there is nothing in the Bill that contradicts Sandy Leitch’s recommendations.

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth talked about the importance of centres of excellence and how they can be recognised within the revised structure. I refer him to the previous debate; it is clear that we have a unitary council structure and there will be a national overview. If we had accepted the amendment, it would have been more difficult to ensure genuine national co-ordination when responding to the issue of centres of excellence. The hon. Member for Daventry raised concerns about centres of excellence. I remind him that we are moving forward with national skills academies, and we are committed to there being 12 by 2008. We also have an excellent network of centres of vocational excellence, which are developing the kind of best practice model that we need to see across the country.

I have made clear the importance that we attach to the work and role of the sector skills councils. They are the key to articulating demand for skills, to identifying priorities and to stimulating increased demand for skills among employers. Hence, they are a vital plank in the creation of a more demand-led system, as we outlined in last year’s White Paper on further education. Indeed, the importance of that role was acknowledged and asserted by Sandy Leitch in his recent report.

We have already ensured that the LSC involves the sector skills councils fully in delivering its functions, including regionally. The LSC works with the SSCs through sector skills agreements, which also bring together employers and other key partners, including the awarding bodies. The agreements set out each sector’s needs and provisions and the action needed on the supply side to meet skills gaps and shortages.

The LSC rightly consults widely with SSCs nationally and regionally through the regional skills partnerships, enabling it to respond effectively on skills priorities. In addition, the new LSC structure will allow it to work much more effectively in partnership with SSCs and employers and its many other partners. The nine regional councils, which will be given statutory underpinning under clause 2, will have a key role in developing strong collaborative relationships with key partners, including SSCs, in order to secure a strong link between jobs, training and skills.

Clause 7 makes it clear that other persons to be consulted may be expressly specified in guidance made by the Secretary of State. We have made available an illustrative draft of the statutory guidance, prepared in accordance with the Bill, to which the LSC must have regard. That draft makes explicit reference to consultation with SSCs and regional skills partnerships. It makes it clear that we expect the LSC to consult with the 25 SSCs and, once it has been established, with the new commission for employment and skills. That genuinely provides the reassurance that hon. Members seek.

Although I agree with the sentiment behind the amendments, I believe that they are not necessary. I would not want to refer in legislation to organisations that are non-statutory bodies. I said earlier that this is the first substantive piece of further education  legislation since 1992. We do not want to pin ourselves down to specific bodies in primary legislation. Such organisations may change, and referring to them in primary legislation could therefore be without meaning. Given that, and given the draft regulations, I hope that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will feel able to withdraw the amendment.