New Clause 7

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 14th June 2007.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills 10:15 am, 14th June 2007

I hope that it will report back within a relatively short period, to Ministers and then to the House. There is also a bureaucracy reduction group, which is making significant progress. As an example of that, the number of documents sent out by the Learning and Skills Council to colleges between January and March this year was 60 per cent. lower than in the same three months last year. It is a simply unsustainable contention that progress is not being made.

I turn to the hon. Gentleman’s point about annual reports. I genuinely do not believe that the new clause is necessary, as robust mechanisms already exist to hold both Ofsted and the LSC to account for how they discharge their responsibilities. Both have a statutory duty to publish annual reports and for the reports to be laid before Parliament. The LSC must ensure that is makes the best use of its resources when carrying out its duties, and the chief inspector of Ofsted must perform all his functions efficiently and effectively.

Parliament also recently established new governance arrangements in the form of a statutory board for Ofsted to hold the chief inspector to account for its  work. The bureaucracy reduction group, to which I referred a moment ago, produces an annual report on the progress of our large non-departmental bodies. Important progress is being made and accountability structures and reporting mechanisms are in place. That should provide the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman is looking for.

As well as that, we said on Tuesday that we would return to the matter of efficiency savings. I want to set the record straight: the creation of the Learning and Skills Council was a significant step forward for the further education sector. We would not have had such a degree of progress in improving performance were it not for the work that the LSC has undertaken. It brought much-needed coherence to post-16 learning, with year-on-year improvements in performance, and it makes more than £50 million of year-on-year savings compared with its predecessor bodies, which existed when the Conservative party was last in government, when more money was spent on bureaucracy and administration than today. We therefore know that we have saved the equivalent of £50 million a year by merging the TECs and the Further Education Funding Council. Since 2001-02, the percentage of total LSC expenditure spent on administration has gone down from 4.6 to 1.9 per cent. That clearly represents the ongoing commitment of both the Government and the council to ensure that as much funding as possible gets to the front line of FE.

The theme 7 restructuring will save a further £40 million a year—savings that are already being redirected to the front line. We have always made it clear that that is the same £40 million that has been mentioned frequently during the Bill’s passage through this House and the other place. The £40 million is a combination of the statutory and non-statutory changes dealt with in “Agenda for Change” theme 7 and the measures in this Bill. I am talking about the abolition of 47 local learning and skills councils, the creation of a regional structure, non-statutory local partnership teams and a slimmer national office, facilitating reductions of 1,100 staff and 600 non-executives.