Clause 4

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 11:45 am, 12th June 2007

I shall not add to what the hon. Member for Brent, East said about her amendments, although I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to her interesting and useful comments. I take her point that they are probing amendments, designed to elicit clarification.

On amendments Nos. 23 and 24, section 24A of the 2000 Act allows the Secretary of State by order to specify a body to formulate a strategy in relation to specified functions of the LSC for the whole of England or part of it. However, it contains no provision about consultation to determine demand, in line with the Leitch review. In tabling the amendments we are anxious to insert the term

“the level of demand for specific skills in the economy”.

Perhaps I should remind the Committee that the Leitch review says that

“analysis shows that previous approaches to delivering skills have been too 'supply driven', based on the Government planning supply to meet ineffectively articulated employer demand. This approach has a poor track record—it has not proved possible for employers and individuals to collectively articulate their needs or for provision to be effectively planned to meet them. Employers are confused by the plethora of advisory, strategic and planning bodies they are asked to input to. Under a planned system, the incentives are for providers to continue doing what they have done in the past so long as that meets the requirements of planning, rather than responding flexibly as demand changes”.

Our concern is that the system should provide what the economy needs. Like Lord Leitch, we believe that a demand-led system, with employers in the driving seat, does that best. I do not say for a moment that that does not depend on there being a partnership between educators and employers; of course it does. I said at the outset that I value immensely the role that further education and other training providers play in equipping our people with the skills that they need if they are to make a worthwhile contribution, as well as those that add to their well-being.

However, in an advanced economy, in which need is dynamic, it is critical to communicate demand as effectively as possible to trainers so that what is provided through the system accurately reflects real economic need. That is fairer to trainees and to employers, because all too often, people who have been trained have to be retrained when they obtain employment because the training with which they were provided was not up to date. It is difficult to be  absolutely sure of achieving that, but it is most likely to be guaranteed, as Leitch argues, by a demand-led system. Our purpose is to assert that decisively, hence the wording of the amendment.

Amendment No. 24 concerns the function of the council in London when the LSC’s powers are delegated. It would require the body established by the Mayor to consult SSCs to determine the level of demand in London for particular skills. It, too, is born of our determination to ensure that, in a demand-led system, the needs of a particular locality are transmitted as effectively as possible. We believe that the SSCs will play a critical role in that regard. All SSCs are not equally strong; they are evolving and there will be further changes in the way in which they operate. However, they are the vehicle that should be used as a conduit for the supply of information about demand and to ensure that what is provided meets that demand. The amendments are designed to achieve that outcome and I shall be interested, as ever, to hear the Minister’s response to our helpful suggestions. They would improve the Bill and bring it into line with the findings of the Leitch review which, I can tell, will play a lively part in our deliberations.