Clause 6

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry 12:15 pm, 12th June 2007

I very much echo the comments that have been made and, in a sense, I rise only to reinforce those that were made about clause 5. We are talking about a mixed economy, which will function best if people have the widest variety of institutions and vehicles, including workplace institutions, in which to carry out their studies and the widest range of modes of delivery to help them to do so, including distance learning, which we have not discussed but which is important.

There are some structural questions about the way in which the Government channel the money, and I have some slight reservations, although not in a contentious way, about train to gain. I agree with the Minister that we need to put the emphasis on business employment, which he discussed under the previous clause, and the train-to-gain mechanism, although it has not yet been fully tested, is at least interesting. However, what I would not like him to do—I do not think that he has done this yet—is to put all the funding into that mechanism and leave nothing for other activities.

As we have discussed, Ministers may need to reserve some money for national competencies and networks of vocational excellence. However, it is extremely  important and in the spirit of clause 5, which we have just debated, that we consider the position of the individual learner. I still have considerable sympathy with the concept of individual learner accounts. We will not debate what went wrong last time—I am not sure whether any of us quite knows—but it is valuable to give people the opportunity to unlock their own potential and to make their own choices as stakeholders in the process. We should facilitate and celebrate that. The clause is facilitative and positive, and I therefore welcome it.

We need a market-driven system, because we live in a market economy and have competing providers. We also have competition in the choice available to individuals, whom we need to empower particularly in relation to the social return of their own learning. It may be that those at later levels can cope with the process and self-fund, but we need to keep all that in mind. The clause should help us to deliver that mixed economy or at least to debate whether it is taking place. It is important for us to encourage that, and when Ministers get something right, we should encourage them in doing so.