Clause 2

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry 10:45 am, 12th June 2007

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Clearly, I do not want to caricature the position of Ministers. Ministers do not want everything to happen at the regional level, and they know that education and skills delivery will be local, but the important thing is how the links are articulated. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster has eloquently mentioned education business partnerships, and I know that one or two of those have operated at a county level.

Employers’ organisations are also important. I used to be involved with the National Farmers Union. It tends to operate at a county level and also at a three-county level—it is clear that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Corby has some sympathy with the points that I am trying to make. We all agree that we need local delivery. We want to strip out as many layers of bureaucracy as we can, but we need to feel that there is some local ownership.

My final point concerns cross-boundary arrangements. Because of the geography of my constituency I take a particular interest in this. I have already mentioned that some of my constituents travel to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth for schools, college and further education. It is very important that anomalies donot prevent the application of perfectly sensible arrangements for families—dad should be able to drop off a teenager at a particular college on his way to work, for example.

In conclusion, we can always play games in this area. We can devise ideal structures and they may not work. We can have ramshackle structures and, given good  will, they may work. I am not caricaturing what the Ministers propose as one or t’other. We want the structures to work, and what has happened in the past has not been ideal. I am prepared to give a fair wind to what Ministers are now proposing, and I hope that it works. It is important that they are aware of the sensitivities and the history of debates on the matter. I would be grateful if Ministers were to consider the relationship with national level employers.

As I did not mention it earlier, perhaps I can also chuck in the issue of specialist or heritage skills. In my constituency, for example, there is a stonemason who has a very good operation and who takes on about three apprentices. That is difficult to deal with at a local level, because there is a small national need for such skills. Perhaps Ministers will add that to the list.

To summarise, my concerns are national employers, specialist skills, the relationship with SMEs and the way in which one achieves outreach to contact them however far from the regional centre of government they may be, and, finally, an assurance on cross-boundary issues. I have nothing but good will for the Ministers, if they can get this right and if they can simplify things. I hope that they will remember the maxim, which I quoted in those exchanges seven years ago, about Occam’s razor: it is unwise to multiply entities beyond the necessity for doing so. The less bureaucracy and the more delivery we have, the better.