Clause 20

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 6:30 pm, 12th June 2007

We have, rightly, had a long debate on clause 17. We now move to a more straightforward but significant part of the Bill. Clause 20 inserts a new section 49A into the 1992 Act, which imposes on the governing bodies of further education institutions a duty to have regard to guidance about consulting with learners or people who would like to become learners, and with employers, in connection with the taking of decisions that will affect them.

Amendment No. 32 would remove the word “or”. It is a probing amendment to ascertain why FE colleges cannot consult students and employers, rather than students or employers. Why not consult them jointly?  Amendment No. 34 inserts “sector skills councils” in the consultation. You will know by now, Mr. Atkinson, for we have made the point—some might say, laboriously, I would say persuasively—that we on this side of the Committee take SSCs very seriously. We want to see them fully involved in the process, and would argue that, as representatives of business, they should be included in the consultation.

Amendment No. 33 would ensure that the consultation with FE colleges would involve local employers rather than just those employers of which the SSCs are representative. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), who is a great champion of small and medium-sized enterprises, being the managing director of at least one business in his locality, made quite a point of that. As a result of his endeavours, we tabled this amendment. He argued that the Bill undervalues the potential role of business managers, especially those from SMEs, particularly with regard to their involvement in the nation’s skills training programme. He wanted business not only to be consulted but to be heavily involved in the process, and he made a strong case to that effect. I shall not go on at great length about it.

We are anxious to ensure that all those with a legitimate role and a voice in these matters are properly consulted and involved in the discussions that affect skills and training in their locality. These three amendments to this important part of the Bill are designed to elicit an assurance to that effect from Ministers. I hope that, because of the probing nature of the amendments, the Minister can, with similar clarity to that which was shown in the debate on clause 17, assure me that SMEs, SSCs and other interested parties will be involved in the way that I have described.