Clause 16

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

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

This, in a sense, is more of the same, because with clause 16 we are in the business of empowering the Learning and Skills Council and qualifying those powers. Much of this part of the Bill, as I said at the beginning of the sitting, is about changing structure and competence with respect to the Learning and Skills Council. It is important that accountability should be retained, that the circumstances in which the competencies are exercised should be, as the Minister said, transparent and, therefore, well understood by all concerned and that there should be appropriate sets of safeguards to ensure that perverse or unreasonable decisions can be challenged from the bottom up.

My anxiety about this part of the Bill—although the Minister has been reassuring about previous clauses—is that that transparency may not be all that it should be and that the lines of accountability will become more blurred. The amendment is intended to probe in that respect. The clause would make modifications to the 1992 Act, reflecting the transfer of powers to establish and dissolve further education corporations, and we have concerns about that.

We look to a halcyon age of FE colleges. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry has had briefly to leave the Committee, as he has already made a telling contribution to our considerations. He was one of those hon. Members who were pivotal in establishing that halcyon age of incorporation. Many college representatives tell me that they look back to those golden days, post-incorporation, when the FEFC provided light-touch regulation, affording them a degree of freedom to innovate and excel. College principals to some degree feel that much, or at least some, of that has been lost since, with an altogether more bureaucratic structure surrounding them, and an unhelpful level of micro-management.