Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 3rd March 2009.

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[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 10:30 am, 3rd March 2009

I have a few preliminary announcements. I apologise that we are in a less spacious room than we would wish. That is due to the pressure on space. The Speaker’s Committee is sitting today and it has priority for the larger room for which we made a bid. Hon. Members may remove their jackets during sittings if they wish. Mobile phones, pagers and so on must be turned off.

I remind the Committee that there are money and ways and means resolutions in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room. Adequate notice must be given of amendments for them to be eligible for selection. For Tuesday sittings, amendments must be tabled by the rise of the House the previous Thursday. For Thursday sittings, amendments must be tabled by the previous Monday. As a general rule, neither I nor my co-Chairman, Mrs. Humble, will accept starred amendments.

Not everyone is familiar with the process of taking oral evidence in Public Bill Committees so I shall explain how we will proceed. We will first consider the programme motion. That debate is limited to half an hour. We will proceed to a motion to report written evidence and a motion to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of oral evidence sessions. I hope that those motions will be taken formally. Assuming that the motion to sit in private is agreed to, the Committee will move into private session. Once we have deliberated, witnesses and members of the public will be invited back into the room and the oral evidence session will commence. We estimate that that will happen at about 11 o’clock.

If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, the Committee will hear oral evidence today, on Thursday and on next Tuesday morning before reverting to the more familiar clause-by-clause scrutiny next week.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I beg to move,

That —

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 am on Tuesday 3 March) meet—

(a) at 4.00 pm on Tuesday 3 March;

(b) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 5 March;

(c) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 10 March;

(d) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 12 March;

(e) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 17 March;

(f) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 19 March;

(g) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 24 March;

(h) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 26 March;

(i) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 31 March;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:

TABLE

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday3 March

Until no later

than 12 noon

Confederation of British Industry; British Chambers of Commerce; Trades Union Congress; Alliance of Sector Skills Councils

Tuesday3 March

Until no later

than 1.00 pm

Association of Colleges; 157 Group; Sixth Form Colleges Forum; Public and Commercial Services Union; National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education

Tuesday3 March

Until no later

than 5.30 pm

Association of Directors of Children’s Services; Local Government Association; Specialist Schools and Academies Trust; The Harris Foundation; Connexions Greater Merseyside

Tuesday

3 March

Until no later

than 7.00 pm

Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator; Qualifications and Curriculum Authority; Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations; Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 10.25 am

Association of School and College Leaders; National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers; National Union of Teachers

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 2.00 pm

Sir Alan Steer

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 3.00 pm

Action for Children; 4Children; Families Need Fathers; Family and Parenting Institute

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 4.00 pm

UNISON; GMB; UNITE; Local Government Employers; Foundation and Aided Schools National Association

Tuesday

10 March

Until no later

than 1.00 pm

Department for

Children, Schools and

Families; Department for

Innovation, Universities

and Skills

(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 39, Schedule 1, Clauses 40 to 56, Schedule 2, Clause 57, Schedule 3, Clauses 58 to 78, Schedule 4, Clauses 79 to 93, Schedule 5, Clauses 94 to 120, Schedule 6, Clause 121, Schedule 7, Clause 122, Schedule 8, Clauses 123 and 124, Schedule 9, Clauses 125 to 164, Schedule 10, Clause 166, Schedule 11, Clauses 167 to 182, Clauses 165 and 183, Schedule 12, Clauses 184 to 191, Schedule 13, Clauses 192 and 193, Schedule 14, Clauses 194 to 212, Schedule 15, Clauses 213 to 252, Schedule 16, Clauses 253 to 256, new Clauses, new Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on Tuesday 31 March.

We all look forward to serving under your chairmanship during the oral evidence sessions and beyond, Mr. Chope. The programme motion was tabled by the Programming Sub-Committee, which met on Thursday and yesterday. It is printed on the amendment paper for the Committee. With your indulgence, Mr. Chope, I would like to move a small amendment to the motion.

I beg to move an amendment, in the third column of the Table in paragraph (2), by the third entry for Thursday 5 March, leave out “Families Need Fathers;”.

I move that amendment at this late stage because Families Need Fathers is unable to attend. I hope that the Committee understands.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

May I use this opportunity to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Chope? It will no doubt be a delight to serve under your chairmanship, as always.

We understand the reason for the amendment to the programme motion and look forward to this stage of our considerations and to the scrutiny of the Bill.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

May I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Chope?

We are happy with the programme motion and are grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for their work in putting the list of witnesses together. They have dealt with some of our initial concerns on that issue.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That —

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 am on Tuesday 3 March) meet—

(a) at 4.00 pm on Tuesday 3 March;

(b) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 5 March;

(c) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 10 March;

(d) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 12 March;

(e) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 17 March;

(f) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 19 March;

(g) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 24 March;

(h) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 26 March;

(i) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 31 March;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:

TABLE

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday

3 March

Until no later

than 12 noon

Confederation of British Industry; British Chambers of Commerce; Trades Union Congress; Alliance of Sector Skills Councils

Tuesday

3 March

Until no later

than 1.00 pm

Association of Colleges; 157 Group; Sixth Form Colleges Forum; Public and Commercial Services Union; National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education

Tuesday

3 March

Until no later

than 5.30 pm

Association of Directors of Children’s Services; Local Government Association; Specialist Schools and Academies Trust; The Harris Foundation; Connexions Greater Merseyside

Tuesday

3 March

Until no later

than 7.00 pm

Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator; Qualifications and Curriculum Authority; Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations; Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 10.25 am

Association of School and College Leaders; National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers; National Union of Teachers

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 2.00 pm

Sir Alan Steer

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 3.00 pm

Action for Children; 4Children; Family and Parenting Institute

Thursday

5 March

Until no later

than 4.00 pm

UNISON; GMB; UNITE; Local Government Employers; Foundation and Aided Schools National Association

Tuesday

10 March

Until no later

than 1.00 pm

Department for

Children, Schools and

Families; Department for

Innovation, Universities

and Skills

(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 39, Schedule 1, Clauses 40 to 56, Schedule 2, Clause 57, Schedule 3, Clauses 58 to 78, Schedule 4, Clauses 79 to 93, Schedule 5, Clauses 94 to 120, Schedule 6, Clause 121, Schedule 7, Clause 122, Schedule 8, Clauses 123 and 124, Schedule 9, Clauses 125 to 164, Schedule 10, Clause 166, Schedule 11, Clauses 167 to 182, Clauses 165 and 183, Schedule 12, Clauses 184 to 191, Schedule 13, Clauses 192 and 193, Schedule 14, Clauses 194 to 212, Schedule 15, Clauses 213 to 252, Schedule 16, Clauses 253 to 256, new Clauses, new Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on Tuesday 31 March.

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Jim Knight.)

AS 01 Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

AS 02 157 Group

AS 03 Sixth Form Colleges Forum

AS 04 Association of Colleges

AS 06 Public and Commercial Services Union

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Copies of the memorandums that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee room. The submissions received so far have been circulated and are available.

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Jim Knight.)

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Just before we clear the room, I would like to put on record my appreciation for the enormous amount of help that the Committee has had from the Scrutiny Unit in preparing all the documents for today and subsequent sessions.

The Committee deliberated in private.

On resuming—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We are now going to hear evidence from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the TUC and the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. I welcome you and ask each of you to introduce yourself.

Richard Wainer: I am Richard Wainer, head of education and skills policy at the CBI.

John Lucas: I am John Lucas, policy adviser on education and skills at the British Chambers of Commerce.

Tom Wilson: I am Tom Wilson, head of the organisation department at the TUC.

Keith Marshall: I am Keith Marshall, chief executive of SummitSkills, the sector skills council for building services engineering. Inside the Alliance, I chair the qualifications reform strategic group.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Before calling the first member of the Committee to ask a question, I remind everybody that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill. We must stick strictly to the timings in the programme motion agreed by the Committee. I hope that I do not have to interrupt mid-sentence to achieve our objective of bringing this section of questioning to a close just before 12 noon. Bearing it in mind that there are four of you, would witnesses please make their responses brief because otherwise we will not cover the range of subject matter that we have before us? I call John Hayes to ask the first question.

Q 1

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

My question is for the British Chambers of Commerce in particular. Are the changes in the management and funding of skills likely to bring greater organisational efficiency? Not that I want to lead the witness in any way, but in your submission you describe those changes as bizarre.

John Lucas: Absolutely. We are very uncomfortable with the state of play of the reform, particularly with the dissolution of the Learning and Skills Council and the introduction of the Skills Funding Agency. We believe that the changes are too bureaucratic and do not address the underlying issues and problems of the education system. Too much management time will be drawn in to oversee the changes, and that will cause serious disruption to long-term relationships and processes that have been established. There were obviously problems with the LSC, but our preference would have been for organisational change to have happened within the existing structures rather than through a complete overhaul.

Q 2

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I recall the very welcome support that the CBI gave to raising the participation age to 18. What is the CBI’s view on the need for local authorities to have at their disposal the tools to make raising the participation age a success by 2013—the time scale set out in legislation? Is that not a good reason for the delegation of 16-19 commissioning to local authorities?

John Lucas: I am from the BCC.

John Lucas: That is okay. In relation to the raising of the participation age, I understand why transfer of funding has happened, but in terms of business engagement it will be very difficult for businesses and employer bodies to engage with the system set out in the Bill. Basically, we believe that the Young People’s Learning Agency will have to intervene so often that that will bring into question the use of transferring funding directly to local authorities, and the point of dissolving the LSC may also be brought into question if the systems stay fairly similar and the national agency has to keep stepping in.

Q 3

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Why do you think the YPLA will have to step in all the time when most of the arrangements for post-16 learning are set for most people? They will either carry on at school or go to college; those are well-established arrangements that are pretty much learner-led.

John Lucas: In terms of funding and its distribution, I do not think that local authorities have a track record of employer engagement and of ensuring that the system post-16 is focused towards equipping young people coming out of the system with skills and vocational qualifications that enable them to work. They certainly do not have a track record of successfully engaging with business, and I think that this will cause an awful lot of bureaucratic change for what I see as little tangible benefit.

Q 4

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

My question is for the CBI, on that subject. When the Select Committee looked at the draft Apprenticeships Bill, you were asked by one of its members what you felt about local authority involvement and whether you thought that the model would be too prescriptive, and you said that it was a concern. Why did you say that?

Richard Wainer: Moving responsibility to local authorities is about ensuring that they take into account local and regional business views and demands. Our members are primarily concerned about ensuring that they get a good-quality apprenticeship programme, so as long as local authorities adequately consult and work with local employers in ensuring that they are putting on the sort of apprenticeship programmes that are in demand, I think that our members will be generally happy.

Q 5

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Would you therefore welcome greater emphasis in the Bill on the quality and standard of apprenticeships?

Richard Wainer: Apprenticeship quality is a very important issue and businesses generally see high-quality apprenticeships as coming from strong employer involvement. So, the priority for our members is to ensure that the apprenticeship programme encourages strong employer involvement and that the programme is more fit for purpose—delivering the sort of skills that are in demand by businesses.

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In my area there is a skills shortage. Apprentices have not been taken on for many years by the larger employers in my area as they have been shedding workers rather than taking them on. Engineering along with textiles was once the largest employer of...

Submitted by Raymond Bray Continue reading

Q 6

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Do you think that the Bill goes far enough in involving employers in that process? We are going to have a very complex new structure—we have mentioned local authority involvement already—and the Bill does not specify much about the issue of quality that you described.

Richard Wainer: No, I think that the Bill is silent on local authorities and the YPLA consulting employers. There is a concern about ensuring that local authorities are required to work with local businesses.

Q 7

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

The Minister has just mentioned raising the participation age in education and training to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015, but the sector skills councils have to move first. The Bill says that apprenticeships should be offered to all young people who want one, which is a hard-to-quantify figure.  Do you think that the sector is up for it? Is there enough capacity among employers to offer sufficient apprenticeships to young people?

Keith Marshall: That is the element that concerns us. An apprenticeship is not an apprenticeship unless it includes learning in the workplace on the job, and you can do that only if you have employers. Although I understand that we need to think about coming out of the recession, with the way that the economy is going and the challenges there, the biggest challenge in the commitment is ensuring that there are enough employers, and in that I return to the issue that has just been spoken about and our real fear that, to hit the targets, quality will be lowered. For us, the maintenance of apprenticeships as a high-standard, valued programme and qualification is absolutely key. We would rather see redefined targets, but maintained quality.

Q 8

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

Are the 25 sector skills councils that you represent all adapting their thinking to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead?

Keith Marshall: Yes, indeed, we are in the middle of working through a programme that we can bring forward to deal with this specifically.

Q 9

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

May I ask the BCC a question? You said that you thought that the arrangements in the Bill for the Skills Funding Agency were too bureaucratic. Can you give us more details about what you think is too bureaucratic and in what way?

John Lucas: Absolutely. I think that the dissolution of one organisation and its replacement with a host of others, including management and set-up time, is a very bureaucratic process in itself.

Q 10

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

You think that the transition will be bureaucratic. You said that the new structure will be bureaucratic. In what way will it be too bureaucratic?

John Lucas: We do not see anything in the plans that addresses some of the underlying problems as our members see them. I must add that our members include a large number of private training providers, which are attached to our chambers of commerce across the country.

Q 11

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Are there any elements in the SFA design in the Bill that you consider too bureaucratic that you can tell us about in detail?

John Lucas: In detail, I would have to go back to our membership. Then I would be able to reply in written evidence.

Q 12

Richard Wainer: It is a mixed bag. There are certainly elements that our members would very much support, particularly on allowing employers to submit their own apprenticeship frameworks and ensuring that those programmes better fit their needs, but there are elements that we are nervous about. The introduction of apprenticeship standards and minimum periods of time off, for example, are making our members nervous.

Q 13

Richard Wainer: A mixed bag.

Q 14

Richard Wainer: It will be a useful measure, certainly, if it takes us away from the sterile debate about whether there should be compulsory training measures. It will be a useful compromise. It certainly goes with the grain of what the vast majority of CBI members are already doing in terms of discussing training needs between managers and employees.

Q 15

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

And has the right to request flexible working been a disaster for British business?

Richard Wainer: Absolutely not. It has been one of those pieces of regulation over the last 10 or so years that has been really successful. It has ensured a good balance between business needs and employees.

Q 16

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

So we might expect to have the same hopes for the right to request time to train?

Richard Wainer: Yes.

Q 17

Tom Wilson: It is a very good Bill.

Q 18

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I would be interested to hear from all the witnesses how they think we should balance what I hope everyone agrees is the importance of sustaining high quality in apprenticeships with setting standards. Concerns have been expressed that those standards become too high an obstacle. How do we balance sustaining quality and standards?

Richard Wainer: We understand the desire to ensure that apprenticeships are high quality. How do we think that should be best delivered? Well, that is through strong employer involvement and allowing employers the flexibility to ensure that their apprenticeship programmes meet their individual needs.

We do not see high quality and flexibility as being mutually exclusive. If you ensure that apprenticeship programmes best meet the needs of employers, they will be more encouraged to get involved and that will drive up quality. I do not think that top-down conditions on minimum periods of time off work for training are a good way to do that. Employers already have to ensure that their apprentices have adequate time and resources to undertake the qualifications that are part of their apprenticeship framework. We see no added value in prescribing minimum periods of time off.

Q 19

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Do you agree that apprenticeships need to be mobile so that apprentices can work for more than one employer? In which case, how do you think it is best to regulate the transferability of the quality of an apprenticeship within that flexible framework?

Richard Wainer: Standards are fine. It is just specific standards for minimum periods of time off that are not needed. Each framework has to ensure that it accords to the blueprint at the moment. There are recognised  qualifications within each apprenticeship framework. There are other factors relevant to apprenticeships too. That is the way that you will ensure mobility.

John Lucas: I would like to add that we were very positive about the planned increase in apprenticeships. We think it is a long-term, positive thing for business and for the economy. I would very much agree with what Richard said. We think that apprenticeships need to be employer led and employer focused. Obviously there has to be a high-quality programme element to them too. We would like to see solid growth and development in making sure that apprentices have transferable skills as much as work-specific skills. That must all be within an employer-led framework.

Tom Wilson: For 150 years, unions have been campaigning for apprenticeships. One of the biggest problems has always been the pressure on quality. During the recession, that pressure will become more acute. The reason we applaud the Bill particularly is because it sets in statute both the framework and the standards that will apply to all apprenticeships. That is new and important. It is important because it sets a bulwark against the inevitable pressure, which is always there and is particularly acute in a recession, for some dilution in quality.

As my colleagues have said—we would support this—a large part of the content of the framework and the standards will come from employers through sector skills councils and their trade union colleagues. That is as it should be. They will vary and will need to be adapted to particular sectors. The importance of the Bill is in setting things in a statutory framework, which gives the protection and fall-back that apprentices need.

Keith Marshall: The key to this is the framework. If we get the framework right, it will ensure that the quality is maintained. From the point of view of sector skills councils, that is what we do. We work with employers to identify what the framework is.

I have a slight hesitancy around this flexibility issue because one person’s flexibility is another person’s anarchy. While you need the ability to take account of slightly different circumstances, a young person, or even an adult, will carry this qualification with them throughout their working life, and the apprenticeship must be just as relevant to their second or third employer as it was to the first. The Bill, as I read it, encapsulates what is already happening in many sector skills councils and will ensure that good practice exists and that we share it.

A slight concern of mine is that the Bill does not address sector skills councils enough. Unfortunately, councils that were set up to work with and represent employers, and to identify the apprenticeship frameworks that everyone is working towards, do not rate a mention. Returning to the earlier points on splitting up the LSC and how we are to square off the sectoral special dimension, sector skills councils are very important because if you cut the regional elements and make them too small, you lose a lot of the benefit.

In my own sector, plumbers and electricians working on the Olympics site live in Leicester and travel to work every day. I am not sure whether that is a London or a Leicester skills problem, but it is definitely a plumbers and electricians skills problem, so the sectoral dimension is very important. We must not lose it and must ensure that it pulls in the clear responsibility of the sector skills councils on framework development.

Q 20

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

Often, Government targets in one sector have a skewing or displacement effect—sometimes even an adverse one—on another sector. Given that the Bill places a duty on the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to find an apprenticeship place for every young person who wants one, is there not a danger that that target might be at the expense of post-19 adult apprenticeships? Employers might skew their offer to young people in order to please the Government and funding agencies and so on.

Richard Wainer: I do not think that that will be foremost in employers’ minds when they decide how to best address their skills needs. Adult apprenticeships have been very successful, because employers see real value in putting their older employees through those particular schemes, so we certainly welcome Government moves in that direction. But no, I do not think that employers really worry about Government targets when looking at their individual skills requirements.

Keith Marshall: Although I recognise the point that you make, the fact is that we are running out of young people. It is essential, considering the way that work patterns are changing, that we are able to pull adults—people who are moving from one sector of the economy that is in decline into another that is not—into apprenticeships. Certainly, when I talk to employers in my sector, they say that they are keen to take on adults, so it is important that that element works well.

Q 21

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

May I challenge Mr. Marshall’s assertion that we are running out of young people? I guess that that is a reference to demographic change over the next decade with the number of teenagers broadly falling, but that differs depending on the social sector. Broadly speaking, the number of working-class young people will fall, but the middle-class numbers will remain fairly flat, so university applications may not be affected. Is it implicit in what you are saying that apprenticeships may not be attractive to people from middle-class backgrounds, and is that not the challenge facing the sector? You have to ensure that an apprenticeship is a quality qualification that will appeal to all social categories.

Keith Marshall: Yes and no. You are absolutely right: we must raise the profile of apprenticeships and recognise them as a mechanism for people of all ages right across the social spectrum. I would suggest that there are some quite poor undergraduates who would make very good apprentices, and that is the area on which we need to concentrate very hard indeed. We need to raise the status and the profile, and this sort of legislation will certainly help that.

Q 22

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

On the subject of apprenticeships, what is the TUC’s response to the CBI, which states that apprenticeships should not be prescriptive?

Tom Wilson: I am not quite sure what the CBI means by that, really. Our view is that the great virtue of this Bill is precisely that it is pretty prescriptive that there should be a clear national framework and clear national standards. As I said before, we think that that is very important.

For example, there is a prescription that, to count as an apprentice, there is an employment contract and the apprenticeship is not programme-led or just a college-based  thing. All of that is very important for quality. As the Committee has been discussing so far, there is this enormous emphasis on quality and that is quite right.

I am sure that Richard can speak for himself in a second, but I would guess that what the CBI means is that the Bill should not be too prescriptive and too top-down, and that is right; we would echo that. I think that there is much consensus about the need for there to be considerable flexibility here, so that the content of the programme and what counts towards the standard is developed jointly by each SSC, as my colleague has just said. It depends very much on the sector. On SSCs, I think that you will find that employers and their union colleagues are working well, developing those standards to provide precisely that kind of sectoral flexibility.

Richard Wainer: I certainly do not think that we are arguing for a free-for-all.

Richard Wainer: There should be some form of framework that employers work towards, because there must be some consistency about what an apprenticeship should be delivering. However, our members feel very strongly that the current arrangements, with the frameworks that the SSCs provide, offer adequate consistency, so that everyone knows what an apprenticeship will deliver and what it contains.

Q 23

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Are you so much in agreement therefore that you feel that the regulations that might be established by this Bill would satisfy both of you?

Richard Wainer: No. We feel that introducing the standards is an issue. If you look at the consultation document that is out at the moment, you see that a huge part of what those standards will include is minimum periods of time off for training. We think that that is going too far to the other side. It is too prescriptive in outlining how employers will have to deliver their apprenticeship training.

Q 24

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

So we have heard from Mr. Marshall that there is not a sufficient role for SSCs, and we have heard from the CBI and the BCC that there is inadequate concentration on employers. Indeed, the BCC briefing says that

“there have been constant changes to the further education public funding system during the previous 20 years. The shifting complexity of the further education system has served to disengage employers. Time should be spent on improving and reforming existing structures rather than creating new ones.”

So, there is an insufficient role for both employers and SSCs, and yet Mr. Wilson says that this is a good Bill.

Should SSCs have a bigger structural role and should employers be mentioned in more than two clauses in the Bill, which, as far as I can see, is the only mention that they get?

John Lucas: Certainly our comments, which Mr. Hayes has just read out, focus very much on the machinery of government changes. Regarding apprenticeships, we are broadly supportive of what the Government have outlined here. I agree with Mr. Wainer that there should not be too much prescription of the minutiae and detail of how much time off there should be for employees to train; that becomes counter-productive. However, the broad structure for apprenticeships is the way forward.

Q 25

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Can the entitlement to an apprenticeship, which I think is what you are referring to, be delivered, in terms of the availability of apprenticeships, without a system that is built from the bottom up and that engages small and medium-sized enterprises? Also, on that specific point, should we see an equalisation of funding between adult apprenticeships and other apprenticeships, which is further to the point that Mr. Marshall made? Furthermore, should employers receive a direct cash bonus for every apprentice that they take on?

John Lucas: It is fair to say that if funding, financial incentives and financial support for employers were equalised across the whole apprenticeship programme, both pre-19 apprenticeships and post-19 adult apprenticeships, employers would be happier. However, it is also fair to say that the raising of the participation age will provide a pool of people who will hopefully take on apprenticeships and take on some of these new routes that are being provided.

Q 26

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Labour, Wakefield

I have several questions and would like to begin with Tom Wilson of the TUC. What difference is the ability to request time off, time to learn, going to make? In particular, how do your members, who have been very proactive in introducing union learning representatives, think that it will change things? I have seen some of the work that has happened in my constituency and it is transformational, so are there any plans afoot for members?

Tom Wilson: There certainly are and thank you very much for that endorsement of union learning representatives; we are very proud of them. There are now 22,000—an astonishing achievement given that we started from something like only 2,000 at the millennium.

Yes, we have plans to equip and train ULRs to accompany people exercising their right to request. I was at a meeting of ULRs last week where we outlined the likely nature of the right to request and the kinds of things that they could do to help people to formulate a request in terms that would, perhaps, be more accessible to an employer and would be something in tune with the criteria that are likely to be in the Bill. People were very enthusiastic—they could see that this is a tremendous role for ULRs. It is the next step up for many ULRs, and they are enthusiastic, keen and tuned in to the kind of training that both the employer and their members want. So, we see the potential for this part of the Bill as enormous, possibly far greater than the other right to request, for flexible working.

Q 27

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Labour, Wakefield

Richard, you talked about time off. It is not time off: these people are not going off to sit and smoke cigarettes and read newspapers; they are going off to study. Do you think that the employer attitude to young people’s time off for study will change as a result of the Bill? What steps are you as an organisation taking to encourage employers in non-traditional apprenticeship sectors to offer apprenticeships? Fifty per cent. of the vacancies in the Wakefield constituency today are in the care sector, which, as far as I am aware, has no apprenticeships, no training pattern, and no skills and qualifications—though there are level 3 and 4 qualifications in that area. What are your employers doing, particularly on new growth in non-traditional apprenticeship sectors?

Richard Wainer: To take your first point, are you specifically talking about the right to request training?

Richard Wainer: The vast majority of CBI members train. They have training plans and, as I have said, this regulation really does go with the grain of what is already happening in the vast majority of cases. That is exactly what happened with the flexible working regulations; there were lots of good employers doing that and they felt that they could cope with it.

On the issue of non-traditional apprenticeship sectors, the issue for companies is primarily to ensure that young people of all abilities are encouraged to see an apprenticeship as a good opportunity. Careers advice needs to improve to ensure that young people are not just presented with the GCSE to A-level to university route without hearing about the other side as well. There is a clause in the Bill on careers advice which, we feel, does not go far enough. We think that it will still allow teachers and careers advice professionals the discretion to decide whether it is in the best interests of a young person to hear about the benefits that an apprenticeship can deliver. We think that it should be a requirement that all young people, of all abilities, should understand the opportunities available in terms of apprenticeships.

Q 28

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

To follow up those questions on the right to request and Time to Train. We have heard from the CBI that they are fairly relaxed about the proposal and that, not to paraphrase too much, this is already practised by most of their members. In your experience, is it practised among employers? How big an impact do you think it will have on firms, in terms of the numbers of people who will take up training in the future?

Tom Wilson: I think that it is true that it is probably good practice in some good firms. I would not say that it is widespread, frankly; it is hard to tell. Certainly, our impression from our members is that many feel a bit hesitant about asking for training if they are not quite sure exactly how it is done, whether it is okay to ask, how the employer will react, who they should ask and what kind of criteria there might be. All those things dissuade people from asking. That is understandable if you put yourselves in their shoes. We think that this measure will make a big difference.

Q 29

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

This is a tough question, but what increase do you think the proposals will lead to in the numbers of people who ask for time off to train and have that permission granted?

Tom Wilson: It is impossible to put a figure on that, but we think that millions of people could exercise the right to request and take up training who would not otherwise have had the opportunity.

Q 30

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Will the training be relevant to their existing employment or will it be something that helps them to move on?

Tom Wilson: Very often, training is both. When people exercise such a request, they typically look at training in areas such as IT. That benefits not only them, but their employers, enormously. Similarly, customer care training often improves people’s soft skills in communication and relationships. That directly helps the employer.

Q 31

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

John, your organisation is not as enthusiastic about this part of the Bill.

John Lucas: Obviously, employers are behind training. Skills are key to employers and their employees are their biggest resource. We think that the proposals seek to formalise a process that already takes place constantly. We question the need for legislation and the use of parliamentary time to push forward an intrusion into normal business practices and normal relationships between businesses and their employees. There is also a philosophical question about regulation and the degree to which the Government should intervene in normal relationships through legislation. We think that this is a step too far.

Q 32

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Do you think that the measures will simply be a waste of time because they will ratify something that already happens, or do you agree with Mr. Wilson that a lot of employees will ask their employers for the right to train and take up training, making life more difficult for employers? Will the proposals have a dramatic impact on employers or will they just bureaucratise what happens already?

John Lucas: I think that they will just bureaucratise and formalise what happens already. I do not foresee an upsurge in training because of these proposals. Lots of training happens already. It is in the interests of employers to invest in training. When we surveyed our members in 2007, about 83 per cent. said that they invested in external training and had training budgets.

Q 33

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

So do you disagree with Mr. Wilson that these measures could be quite radical?

John Lucas: I do. I think that the proposals seek to formalise a process that takes place already.

Q 34

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I have a final question for the CBI. Does the disagreement between your two colleagues on the panel indicate that there are different expectations of what this right means? We have heard increasingly about Mr. Wilson’s staff, who are trying to improve the skills of the work force. With their encouragement, will there be a big upsurge in the demand for training? Will there be a clash between the many employers who will not wish to grant these training rights and the unions and others who will try to ensure that the rights are taken up?

Richard Wainer: First, we must remember that we are discussing a right to request, not a right to have. If the right to request training encourages more employees to have informed and considered discussions with their employers about their skills needs, that can be only a good thing. The legislation is drafted so that if the training will not improve the business or the employee’s productivity, the employer is within its rights to reject the request. We believe that that is right.

Q 35

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

So you do not think that the right will have a dramatic impact on your members because they are already delivering about as much training to employees as you would expect under the new system.

Richard Wainer: As Tom said, it is difficult to know what the impact will be. However, I believe that the vast majority of our members already hold these discussions, whether formally or informally. They sometimes take place through performance development reviews.

Q 36

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

As Richard has just highlighted, the grounds on which an employer can refuse a request for training are quite wide. My questions will be directed to John Lucas and Tom Wilson. Tom, do you think that those grounds are too wide, and that the Government have gone too far? John, what other grounds could be included to give employers the right to refuse those training opportunities?

Tom Wilson: In an ideal world, we would have preferred narrower grounds for refusing a request and we would have liked a right to paid time off. However, we live in the real world and accept that the Government need to make a judgment about balancing employer needs against employee desires. We are comfortable with the judgment that the Government have come to, even if it is not ideal. The same sort of balance was struck with the other right to flexible working and that has worked pretty well. It has shown that with a bit of common sense and sensible judgment, people can work a way through. There are always exceptional cases and requests that cannot be anticipated, but it provides a framework for a serious conversation. That is the important part. Once you have the framework, the serious conversation can accommodate all sorts of requests.

John Lucas: No one can deny that the grounds to refuse are fairly comprehensive. We are broadly happy with that within the terms of the Bill. It would perhaps have been useful to have more provision for employers about the grounds for withdrawing permission once granted. I think there was a conscious decision—I hope that I am right in saying this—not to include that in the Bill. If the Government are set on pursuing this policy it would be good to let employers know where they stand and how they could withdraw that right once a request has been granted. I am sure that there will be instances where employers may want to withdraw that right—out of business necessity, because of a breakdown of the relationship with the employee or because an employee leaves—and I do not think that the Bill sets that out properly.

Q 37

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

Supplementary to what Sharon was asking, the last Education and Skills Bill that we considered was about raising the participation age of young people. Suppose an employer refuses a request for time off for learning. Does that not put the young person in a catch-22?

John Lucas: We are talking about people who are over the compulsory age. As an organisation, we are positive about raising the participation age, as Mr. Knight suggested. With this, we are talking about employees above that age.

Q 38

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Assistant Whip, Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

You refer to good employers. What about the employers who are not as good? How would you suggest that we try to disseminate good practices to them?

John Lucas: There are obviously employers who do not train, for whatever reason. The Government have worked hard on Train to Gain during the past three or four months and, as a network, we have seen an increase in uptake. If that sort of scheme is made efficient, easy to access and, more importantly, if the further education skills system is simple and stable—which I do not think Government changes are providing for—employers will train, if it is an easier process to undertake.

Q 39

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Assistant Whip, Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Do you think that the Bill will not encourage those employers, who are not doing as well as the good ones you talked about, to participate in Train to Gain and to look at it more favourably than they do now?

John Lucas: It is undeniable that those two conditions of simplification and stability are not being met by the Bill. There is an awful lot of change. We do not see some of the bureaucratic processes that were endemic in the Learning and Skills Council being addressed. I hope that once the SFA has been established we can work with Government Departments to try to iron out those processes.

Q 40

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Assistant Whip, Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

My last question is, which of you and Tom Wilson has most contact with employees?

John Lucas: It is a mixture. Obviously, we represent employers but that is 100,000 businesses with about 5 million employees across the chamber network. So we have a lot of contact with employees. Employees are a key resource for business. It is vital for business that we have a skilled work force—nobody can deny that. I just do not believe that some of the provisions in the Bill are the right way to go about that.

Q 41

Tom Wilson: We have 58 affiliates who represent 6.4 million employees, with whom we have a great deal of contact virtually every day in all sorts of ways. On the point about the reasons for denying the request and whether it would be sensible to tighten those up the other way, the TUC would find that extremely difficult. A kind of settlement has been reached, and were we to go down the kind of road that the BCC has suggested and, for example, tighten up the provisions and be more prescriptive—it is interesting how on this occasion you referred to more prescription—that would be a major problem for us and would not be sensible at all. It would also lead to complication—too much detail and complexity, and over-bureaucratisation of the whole thing—which is counter to what the BCC has said it wants. So it is important to keep it relatively simple.

John Lucas: Going back to my point about the philosophy of how much Government should intervene, once it has gone past a certain point—I think that this really is going past a certain point with Time to Train—the rules and the state of play have to be set out, otherwise you enter a wholly bureaucratic system, which can become acrimonious and difficult. We need to avoid that if at all possible.

Q 42

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Sir Michael Rake, chairman of the Commission for Employment and Skills, and of BT, recently said:

“There is no one I’ve met who doesn’t think the current system”— for the management of the funding of skills—

“isn’t incredibly overcomplex.”

He went on to say that the system

“is ridiculous, both in cost of delivering, effectiveness of delivering and so on.”

Is he right? Presumably, Mr. Wilson, you are not a person whom he has met, as he has said that he has met no one who does not think that.

Tom Wilson: To a large extent we would agree with him. I have met him. The three trade union commissioners on the UK commission who work with Sir Michael endorsed the commission’s recent simplification proposals, which adopted the approach of hiding the wiring as it were, rather than trying to rearrange lots of the agencies, which is complex. That approach is probably right, and what has been proposed by Sir Michael and the commission is that Train to Gain should become the new all-encompassing brand and the single portal through which people, particularly employers but also other stakeholders including unions, could access the system. Behind that wiring the approach has done the job of the agencies to route people to the correct part of the sector. Employers and agencies should not themselves necessarily have to know every detail of how it all works, because it is complex.

But, to some extent the system is necessarily complex. These are very large sums and it is important that they are allocated fairly and that taxpayers secure good value for their money. The economy is a complex place; there are 25 different sectors, with different needs and different skill levels, and so it is not sensible to expect that you could have a simple all-encompassing system. We need something that is simple to access and for which there is adequate guidance. That is the important approach and the right approach, and the one that the commission has taken.

Q 43

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Is not the point that the Bill does not do that job of simplifying the structure? I accept that the economy is complex, but Sir Michael said that the system for the management of the funding of skills was over-complex. So, does the Bill simplify the system, making it less bureaucratic and more employer-friendly, or does it reinforce some of the complexities that Sir Michael complained about regarding the old regime?

Richard Wainer: There is a lot more work to do to achieve that aim than just what is in the Bill, but we support the move to the Skills Funding Agency, and the desire for it to be more demand-led. I think that that will be in the medium to long term. There will be disruption over the next year or so, and our concern is to ensure that the front-line delivery that employers experience remains good. There is a lot more to do to ensure that the system is in place than just getting rid of the LSC and creating the Skills Funding Agency, but this is a step in the right direction.

John Lucas: I think that it is a bureaucratic muddle, I am afraid.

Q 44

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I am sorry to interrupt with a supplementary question. When you said that last time, I asked whether you could give us any detailed information at all about what aspect of this very lightly sketched agency is bureaucratic. Perhaps since you said it the first time you have thought of some. It seems a bit odd to keep saying it, but to have no substantive explanation of what you mean.

John Lucas: It is undeniable that the dissolution of one agency and its replacement with—

Q 45

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Not the transition—the new agency. You keep saying that it is bureaucratic but you refuse to say how.

John Lucas: I do not see anything in the Bill that seeks to remedy some of the bureaucratic paperwork issues that many of our members and particularly our learning providers found. The contracting arrangements, the paperwork, the bureaucracy, the time—

Q 46

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

That is because they are an agency and they are not in the Bill. You would not expect to see that in the Bill.

John Lucas: This is a key time for employers. Let us face it; the economy is not going very well. To disrupt normal relationships between LSCs, businesses and learning providers is not going to be a positive thing. Mr. Knight said in some of his speeches recently that companies that train are two and half times more likely to survive the recession. I do not think that we are going to see an increase in training at this key time because of these changes. We are disrupting a whole system. That is problematic.

Q 47

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Do you have some evidence or examples of disruption that you have encountered so far?

John Lucas: Certainly we could furnish you with those from our network. I do not have any in my paperwork here. We are certainly concerned that some of the processes about setting up the YPLA and the transition of funding to local authorities have not been taking place properly on the ground. For example, we know that colleges in many areas have not been contacted at all by local authorities. The relationships that are going to be the key underpinning of the early part of the system are not being established. That is a real problem.

Q 48

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

If you could send me some details of disruption that you have encountered on the adult side I should be very interested. I have not heard of a single instance as yet.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

If you are going to communicate further information it would be better to communicate it to the whole of the Committee, either in the form of a letter or a memorandum. That applies to other witnesses who may feel at the end of the session that there is something else that they would like to contribute in writing.

Q 49

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

Continuing on the theme of the change in agencies and the abolition of the LSC—this is a general question and I have a more specific one on another matter—is there a danger that we are focusing too much on apprentices and to some extent will disregard the needs of adult learners?

Richard Wainer: Clearly, the progress we have made on adult apprenticeships is important. As John was saying, from an employer’s perspective, the other ways that Government can support employers’ training, such as through Train to Gain, really need to fit the bill. There is still a way to go to ensure that that programme meets what employers are looking for in terms of their skills need for their employees. Perhaps that is a discussion for another time.

Q 50

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

My second, more specific, question is directed initially to Mr. Wilson. One innovation in the workplace in the last 10 years or so has been the introduction of trade union learning representatives. They have played an enormous role in getting people to undertake national vocational qualifications for the first time. How do you see the Bill enhancing the role of trade union learning representatives under the new structure?

Tom Wilson: Primarily, it will give ULRs a clear role in accompanying people who make their request or even accompanying groups of people. Many employers might find it more sensible and convenient to handle training for a group of people. A ULR could help the group come together to formulate a request like that. That is the first way. Secondly, there is the added emphasis that it will put on training more generally. That will help ULRs to boost their role and profile in the workplace, and help to encourage employees to be aware of the help that ULRs can give them.

To take apprenticeships as an example, as a union movement we are trying very hard to persuade employers to do more to back apprenticeships, and with a great deal of success. We are pushing at an open door. That in turn will also help ULRs and Union Learn to provide the wherewithal to employers to help to explain the world of apprenticeships. It is very much a partnership approach.

I would also like to return to your previous question, which is relevant. I am aware of the existing concern of a possible displacement of adult learners by the emphasis on apprenticeships, but, to be honest, that concern is not shared by the TUC. Certainly, we strongly welcome and support the enormous emphasis on, and importance attached to, apprenticeships. It is perhaps rather unfortunate that, at the same time, there has also been a decline in some courses for adult learners, but I do not think that the emphasis on apprenticeships has anything to do with that. It is not as if there is a zero-sum game and one exists at the expense of the other—far from it.

We very much support equal emphasis being placed on adult learners, which I think the Government are doing. We would like to see more attention being paid to English for speakers of other languages, and those things will be caught up and brought forward by the Bill.

Q 51

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

I wonder whether the CBI and BCC representatives have something to say about the role that ULRs can play in the workplace in promoting suitable training opportunities for the businesses that they represent.

Richard Wainer: Most employers with ULRs on site are generally positive about the effect they have had. On the basic skills agenda in particular, ULRs have often done a great job in making employers aware that they may have literacy and numeracy problems in their work force. There is clearly a big stigma attached to illiteracy and innumeracy, and I think that ULRs have done a pretty good job on that particular issue.

John Lucas: We would certainly agree with what Mr. Wainer has said.

Q 52

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

Following on from the question on ULRs, when I was on the same Select Committee as Jeff, I was impressed by the evidence given by ULRs with large employers. But small businesses, of course,  do not often have unions, nor are they obliged to recognise them. Mr. Wilson, might not the duty, or the ability, for an employee to be accompanied by a union representative be too onerous for small businesses? Perhaps they should be exempted from that obligation.

Tom Wilson: On the contrary, it is our experience that employers generally find it helpful to have a ULR, perhaps to articulate a case a bit more effectively.

Q 53

Tom Wilson: Even in small businesses. When a small business, due to time pressures, has only an hour or so to hear an employee’s request, that hour will be much more effectively used if the employee is accompanied. I can see that this might seem rather bureaucratic on the face of it, but I think that small businesses that experience it will see that, on the contrary, it makes a lot more sense.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

For the record, the Federation of Small Businesses is not here to give evidence itself, but that answer is directly contrary to what the FSB provided in its evidence.

Q 54

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

Richard, on behalf of the CBI, will you tell us the LSC’s strength and weaknesses?

Richard Wainer: That is a difficult question. Perhaps we can frame it in terms of the way the Government are moving towards the new situation and identify where change is needed. On the adult side, the move towards a more demand-led system, which will offer more flexibility for providers to deliver to the needs of their local regional employers, will certainly be of benefit from the current situation, although it will take time for us to achieve that. As I said to Mr. Hayes, it is important that focus is maintained on ensuring that Train to Gain apprenticeships and similar programmes continue to meet business needs.

Q 55

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

Do you support the idea of a wholly integrated education and training system for all children and young people aged from naught to 19? Also, do you support the idea of a post-19 training system that is demand-led and that creates a one-stop shop of support for employers?

Richard Wainer: Clearly, you have to ensure that those are not seen as two distinct systems and that young people do not fall off a cliff when they get to 19 because the next system has not picked them up. But, as long as the Government maintain focus on ensuring that that does not happen, yes, absolutely.

Q 56

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Briefly, Mr. Wilson, you said that you did not think that the decline in adult learning was related to the focus on apprenticeships, but is it related to the focus that the Government have placed on accredited level 2?

Tom Wilson: Part of it may be. It is very complex and many of our members would be the first to say that they like accreditation and value the opportunity to gain qualifications. There are mixed views and I am not sure that we can provide simple answers.

Q 57

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

How far is non-accredited adult and community learning a route back to employment?

Tom Wilson: It certainly can be and we would be the first to say that. A fairly extreme example is someone who I know recently attended a salsa dancing class and said that that had got her back into education and learning—bizarre as it might sound—and helped her back into learning at work. I am not saying that that is a reason for the taxpayer to fund all salsa classes. It is more complicated than that.

Q 58

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Should sector skills councils have a bigger structural role than they are given in the Bill?

Keith Marshall: Yes. I can amplify that. We have links with employers right across the piece, whether or not they are members of membership bodies. We are required to consult and engage with them all and develop frameworks, which satisfy the employers’ needs in England and UK wide. To my mind, the sector skills councils are key to apprenticeships in general and the way that the Bill is intending to move in particular.

Q 59

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I have several questions; one is supplementary to that last question. As opposed to the liberal mention in the explanatory notes about the importance of sector skills councils in the delivery of apprenticeships and how we effect the legislation, how do you want us to legislate on sector skills councils?

Keith Marshall: The areas in which I think the sector skills councils are particularly important are development, publication and implementation of frameworks.

Q 60

Keith Marshall: You specifically mentioned other organisations and agencies in other parts of the overall system, but not there.

Q 61

Keith Marshall: I would, yes.

Q 62

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My first general question expands that asked by Sharon to try to bottom this out in terms of the LSC reforms. Do the witnesses support the general principle of an adult learning agency in the form of a post-19, demand-led skills funding agency and a naught to 19 structure? Having moved from a divide at 16, wherever the divide is you need to ensure that the arrangements bridging it are smooth.

Richard Wainer: I will start with a supplementary to my previous answer, which goes back to previous comments that it is fine to have a separate naught to 19 agency, but clearly when young people are looking to move into the workplace, whether that is through an apprenticeship or otherwise, it is important that local authorities or the national agency take into account what local employers and businesses are looking for.

John Lucas: The tenor of our problems with this has been the primary position given to local authorities. We are also worried about the possible split and impact on colleges that are sixth forms as well as further education centres. We want to ensure that colleges are not split and that their valuable work is not damaged.

Tom Wilson: To go back to the original question about the pros and cons of the LSC, one of its great advantages over the Further Education Funding Council  is that it is wider and embraces a wider conception of adult learning than just FE. While it provided a lot of clarity and consistency in funding allocations and so on, it was a very large agency. To their credit, the Government have tackled that.

The division between the funding of youth and adult skills makes sense to us, and I am not sure that it makes the situation much more complicated to split the body in two. We welcome the inclusion of the National Apprenticeship Service in the SFA because it gives a clear focus. We welcome the statutory requirement on the chief executive to be responsible for certain elements of the apprenticeship service. We warmly welcome those elements of the Bill.

The devolution to local authorities in the YPLA proposals is sensible. One criticism of the LSC was that it was not sufficiently responsive to localities and regions. Many local authorities complained that it was too bureaucratic because it did not pay them enough attention. These proposals give them a bigger slice of the action, with more latitude and freedom to develop programmes and funding patterns that suit their circumstances.

The transitional period will be messy, but once things have settled down the situation should be a lot better. It will not be perfect, but it will be better.

Keith Marshall: The element that concerns us most is the transition.

Keith Marshall: As far as we are concerned, the benefit of the LSC is that we have a single organisation with which to engage. We recognise the regional and local structure, but I am talking about the sectoral and spatial balance. We can talk to the LSC nationally about sectoral issues, which will then apply across the piece. Our concern is that once the LSC is dissolved, we will end up having not one sectoral conversation, but dozens of them with different local authorities.

Q 63

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

On the transition, I am interested in whether you have any evidence to contradict my impression that, despite all the upheaval, LSC staff are doing a good job of sticking to task. They continue to deliver good outputs in their jobs. The period of transition and upheaval will continue as the Bill goes through Parliament this year and through its implementation next year. There will obviously be a relationship between that and the economic problems we are going through. People have different predictions about how long those problems will continue, but the implementation phase will go on at the same time. Have you any evidence of a disruption to the service because of the changes?

Richard Wainer: I do not think that there is any evidence of that at the moment, but that does not mean that our concerns are any less valid. It is important that the Government prioritise ensuring that they do not neglect front-line delivery when the minds of staff might be on other things. I cannot point to any evidence at the moment, but these are big changes. Our membership includes a lot of further education colleges and private training providers that are nervous about how local authorities will group together.

John Lucas: There is certainly nervousness within the LSC. I am afraid that I do not have any evidence, but it would be interesting to see the retention figures for LSC staff in various posts. Those would show whether the uncertainty and change have caused a loss of staff in key areas. It would be interesting to find that out. However, I have not put in any freedom of information requests to do that yet.

Tom Wilson: I would like to put on the record the TUC’s warm support. I appreciate the Minister’s words of praise for LSC staff, who not just through this transition, but through previous transitions, have performed remarkably well and done a terrific job.

The TUC has held two meetings between the representatives of the Public and Commercial Services Union and Unison, which are the main unions involved in local authorities and the LSC. Officials from various Departments have come along. Those meetings have proved helpful in fostering good exchanges and relationships. I know that the PCS in particular, which represents the majority of LSC staff, has worked pretty well through this process with managers. I am not saying that it has been perfect; these things are always difficult. Having said that, the process is proceeding pretty much as well as could have been reasonably expected.

Keith Marshall: Some LSC colleagues might smile when they hear me say that there has been no impact of that sort at all. In fact, the key issues for us continue to progress as they should. We are already talking in detail to the National Apprenticeship Service about how we will work with it as the rest of the system gets rearranged around it. The NAS is already there and clearly it is going to be a key agency for us. We are already talking to it at a variety of levels to do what we can to ease that transition.

Q 64

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I want to come back to you, Mr. Wilson, about the practicalities of the right to time off. As I think you indicated earlier, some employers may not be as enthusiastic as others about training opportunities. Also, as Mr. Lucas indicated, clause 39, which gives “permissible grounds for refusal” of the time off to train, is pretty sweeping and pretty subjective and general. What will you and your learning reps do if you have one of these meetings with an employer about training and the employer says, “Sorry, we will have to turn this down,” under one of those many categories—for example, “detrimental impact on quality”, “detrimental impact on performance”, “burden of additional costs” or “inability to re-organise work”? What happens if people just stick two fingers up, basically?

Tom Wilson: Given the way that the Bill is framed, I do not think that they can just “stick two fingers up”. They must give a written rationale of some kind and they must root it in one of those reasons. So, they could not just say, “Sorry.” They would have to explain a little more about why it was not appropriate.

Q 65

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

What if they cite two or three of these fairly subjective categories?

Tom Wilson: They would have to provide a bit of evidence under each category; it would not be enough just to cite a one-line defence and say, “No.” That has been our experience with the other right-to-request flexibility. The point about a learning rep is that they can then engage an employer and say, “Look, you say  that this may not be practicable”—let us take that example—“but actually here are 101 ways in which we could perhaps think about rearranging the way that this work is done,” and they can then enter a conversation that would explain and show to that employer that it was practicable in a way that the employer had perhaps not thought of.

Just to complete this point, our experience of the other right-to-request is that this was very much the type of anxiety and concern that employers had before that right-to-request was implemented, but the practice has been that concerns of that sort were unfounded. The latest figures show that about 75 per cent. of all requests were granted immediately and of the other 25 per cent., the great majority were also granted after further discussion.

Q 66

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

So you do not anticipate that you will need to take any action through tribunals or other methods?

Tom Wilson: We would certainly hope not.

Tom Wilson: We are optimistic. We always believe in the goodness of British employers. [Laughter.] We are also quite sure that our learning reps have the capacity to persuade them to see the error of their ways if they do not see it themselves the first time round.

Richard Wainer: The evidence, in terms of tribunal claims on the flexible working side, shows that the system is working well. Our survey results also show that the vast majority of requests are accepted. About 95 per cent. of requests are accepted, either, as Tom said, immediately or through a compromise being agreed. There are very few tribunal claims. So, if we can replicate that success with this legislation and if it is generally framed in the same terms, I cannot foresee too many problems.

Q 67

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

John, from your position of somewhat greater scepticism or distinct lack of enthusiasm, can you envisage a large number of claims against the judgments of employers that will be made under the “permissible grounds for refusal”? Do you think that this will be an area of dispute between employers and employees?

John Lucas: I do not think that there will be a massive tribunal process related to this and I think that that reflects what is perhaps the needlessness of this legislation as part of the Bill. Employers are very committed to training and it is important for them to have a skilled work force; I underline that point. As I said before, I do not think that this is the right way to go about achieving that. As a result, I do not think that there will be a large number of appeals going through because of this piece of legislation.

Q 68

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

I apologise for being late; I was in a Delegated Legislation Committee. If these questions have already been asked, please disregard them.

My first question relates to the Select Committee report on the draft Apprenticeships Bill, which commented that the relationship between diplomas and apprenticeships  was not entirely clear. Do you have a view on whether that situation has changed as a result of this legislation, or do you think that there needs to be further amendment?

Keith Marshall: The situation with regard to fitting diplomas and apprenticeships together is improving because of how the frameworks are being developed, taking into account the fact that people now have a better understanding—where diplomas are in place—of what they look like and the progress they are making. I am not necessarily certain that it is an issue for this particular legislation; I think that it is happening anyway.

There are six skills councils very heavily involved in the development and implementation of diplomas and they are developing frameworks with detailed knowledge of what the diplomas look like and the direction of travel, so it makes sense to ensure that they fit together.

Q 69

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

So, you see the linkages moving forward positively?

Keith Marshall: Absolutely.

Q 70

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

Would employers have any views on that?

Richard Wainer: Clearly, progression between diplomas and apprenticeships is important. The issue is ensuring that apprenticeships are designed with diplomas in mind.

Q 71

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

May I come back to the capacity for assessing a significant number of new apprentices? Are there sectors where there are capacity issues in terms of the assessment of a significantly larger number of apprentices coming into the system?

Richard Wainer: The frameworks, as they stand and are likely to be in future, consist of a number of different qualifications. The assessment of those individual qualifications tends to be done by the awarding bodies. There are issues around assessment, but this goes wider than that, with the changes in the qualification frameworks that are happening at the same time adding to the complexity. However, I do not think that there is necessarily an issue simply because of the number of apprentices. No, there are issues, but that is not the reason.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We have time for a very quick last question. Does the Minister want to have the last word?

Q 72

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Richard, the new SFA will consist of Train to Gain, which is all about the National Apprenticeship Service making apprenticeships work for employers. The SFA design seems to me to be a really business-friendly, business-focused organisation, which is intended to work for business and will be demand led and employer led. What do you think?

Richard Wainer: In principle, that is right. The issue for employers will be how Train to Gain, the NAS and the national employer service work together to ensure that employers are not receiving phone calls from different agencies about different things.

The issue for employers is to make sure that, wherever they go within the system, they are either dealt with or directed to someone who can help. It does not really matter what the SFA is doing behind the scenes or what the wiring looks like.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That conveniently brings us to the end of this evidence session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank our four witnesses for the evidence that they have given. You have helped enormously in our deliberations and scrutiny. May we now ask for the next witnesses to come forward please?

Q 73

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Good afternoon. Thank you for coming along. We have just one hour with this panel of witnesses. I hope that you will be able to keep your responses to our questions succinct so that we can cover the material. Can I begin by asking you to introduce yourselves so that it is on the record?

Ruth Serwotka: I am an employee of the Learning and Skills Council, but I am here as a PCS staff-trade union representative.

David Igoe: I am the executive chair of the Sixth Form Colleges Forum, which represents all the sixth form colleges in England.

Julian Gravatt: I am the assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges, which represents 360 colleges which educate 700,000 young people and 3 million adults.

Ann Robinson: I am the director for sixth-form college and sixth-form issues at the Association of Colleges and, until very recently, a principal of a London sixth-form college.

Alan Tuckett: I am the chief executive of the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.

Graham Moore: I am the chair of the 157 Group of large general FE colleges. My day job is principal of Stoke-on-Trent college.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I shall ask John Hayes to ask the first question.

Q 74

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

My question is aimed at Graham and Julian. Do you welcome the new involvement of local authorities in dealing with colleges and directing them to some degree?

Julian Gravatt: The colleges that we represent see many positives in the involvement of local authorities, particularly if it gets us towards a common system of 16-to-19 funding and performance management so that every young person in an area gets the same resources and the same treatment, regardless of where they study. We have some concerns about the 300,000 young people who travel across local authority borders to a college or a school in different areas. The important thing is the structure that sits above local authorities to make sure that we do not get a form of nimbyism into 16-to-19 education, because there have been some positives in the national funding of the planning system. We are concerned to make sure that there is an appropriate balance.

Graham Moore: There is quite a lot common ground there with the AOC. Our concern is whether local authorities will be able to co-operate in the model that has been set up for sub-regional groups. It is important for colleges—sixth-form colleges and general FE colleges—which recruit over quite a wide area, that we do not revert to the situation pre-incorporation when every local authority had to have every bell and whistle. I am  not yet confident that that structure is meaningfully established. Local authority politicians quite rightly feel very strongly that it is their area and their decision to commission. That issue has not been resolved. It certainly adds considerable complexity to the way in which colleges have to operate. If the prize of consistency at the local level can be achieved, maybe that is a price worth paying. But I think that we need to be convinced yet.

Q 75

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The operation of FE colleges will surely be complicated by the statutory rights of local education authorities to fund and plan education and to direct colleges to accept particular students. Indeed, the AOC brief, reinforced by the 157 Group brief, makes it clear that that is a concern. You talk about not confusing the role of LEAs with the leadership of colleges. Clearly, there are profound concerns about that. What is your estimate of the number of local authorities a college would have to deal with? Will that not be a bureaucratic muddle?

Julian Gravatt: Just about every single college, apart from a couple in Cumbria and one on the Isle of Wight, recruits people from elsewhere. Every college in a sense has to pay attention to other local authorities. The system will be that the college will deal with its own local authority. We think that that is right, given the decision to have the funding. We have worked hard in the last year to ensure that colleges and local authorities understand each other and that there is a stronger relationship. Our concerns on the Bill are that some of the demarcations between colleges and local authorities are not that clear and there are quite a few things that we would like to have had clarified; for example, the contractual relationships, the audit relationships and so on, which are not in the Bill. That is something that we will have to discuss.

Q 76

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Delivering funding for further education and sixth-form colleges through local authorities and the Young People’s Learning Agency is likely to create greater confusion, is it not? How can it be reconciled with the model of self-regulation which Andrew Foster recommended and both the AOC and the 157 Group endorsed?

Julian Gravatt: We suggested in our response to the White Paper that there should be one rather than two national agencies. We also suggested that the Government were not ambitious enough in the savings that they were making through the process. There are 3,300 staff in the Learning and Skills Council and we understand that all will be transferred somewhere else. It might have made sense to look at a more streamlined structure.

On the self-regulation agenda, a key thing would be how these different agencies and the local authorities behave in the future. We do not think that the argument is lost but, in the short term, there will be a slightly more complex structure that will be difficult to navigate.

Graham Moore: The independence of academies is strongly guarded. The Government have been discussing that recently. In a sense, the great strength of colleges is their independence—their ability to look at the situation locally. I welcome in the Bill the commitment to economic and social well-being, which is absolutely what we are all about. So, we are not about to turn people away, but  there is a great difference between instructing people to do something and working in partnership with them and other providers locally to make certain that the area gets the education that it wants. Whether that is because we are all controlled by the local authority or whether it would happen anyway is a moot point. We feel, as I am sure most colleges feel, very involved in the local community already, irrespective of the fact that we are not part of the local authority structure.

Q 77

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I will ask one question of you all and, so as not to get into trouble with the Chairman, I will ask you to be brief with your replies. What do you most dislike in the Bill and what would you most like to be amended by us? Feel free to be as critical as you like.

Ruth Serwotka: We have concerns about different elements of the Bill. I have been in correspondence with Jim and Siôn about schedule 7 which, as a trade union, is our No. 1 concern. It would legislate for the transfer of LSC staff into other organisations. Our advice is that the schedule has either been badly drafted or, for whatever reason, removes certain employment rights, which is clearly something that we are concerned about.

David Igoe: In our submission, sixth-form colleges are broadly supportive of the new arrangements because we think that there is more coherence in having local authorities, which are primarily responsible for the strategic direction of schools, also having major responsibility for the strategic direction of colleges. We share concerns about losing our independence because we think one reason for the success of sixth-form colleges is that they have been able to direct their own progress in a way that is now well documented. It is the old adage of the devil is in the detail.

We are particularly concerned about the performance management arrangements. We are not convinced that Framework for Excellence is, at the moment, an instrument that is particularly fit for purpose in helping commissioners—the local authority—to make judgments about the institutions that they have to fund. There has to be an awful lot more work on that.

Notwithstanding that, there is a lot here that will make sense of the 14-to-19 landscape in this country, and we welcome that coming together as envisaged in the Bill.

Julian Gravatt: Clause 43 replaces a clause that has not been used since 1992 because it was not necessary due to disability discrimination legislation, and we therefore feel that it has the potential to be misused. This is the clause that allows the local authority to name an individual and require the governing body to admit them. It is not necessary, and we have explained why in our evidence.

Ann Robinson: We broadly welcome the moves for sixth-form colleges in the same way that the Sixth Form Colleges Forum does. I would cite, and hope to have an opportunity later to expand on, some of the possible unintended consequences of the move of sixth-form colleges to a greater homeland with local authorities. There are possible dangers among the opportunities.

Alan Tuckett: Our principal feeling about the Bill is frustration at a missed opportunity. As with the split into the two Departments, it works well in terms of coherence for children, but it moves the incoherence to  elsewhere in the system, for adults. My serious concern about the Bill is that the recession has made a significant difference to the employment focus and the employment-driven nature of Government investment post-19, and very large numbers of people will not be able to benefit directly from that. At the same time, with an ageing demographic very large numbers of people will be managing significant periods of their life beyond the conventional labour market, whether they are working or not.

Since we are revisiting the division between rights and obligations in relation to young people and adults, this seems like a missed opportunity to take a fresh look at that and provide a redefinition. In that context, the timing of the separation of the LSC into two agencies at a national level compounds the challenge to be responsive enough to rapidly changing external economic and social circumstances. So, our concern is that coherence for 14-to-19-years-olds might be bought in terms of loss of coherence and opportunity for adults. There are things that we like in the Bill, but that is our main concern.

Graham Moore: The most worrying issue is how the Skills Funding Agency has been established. The Young People’s Learning Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council are two relatively slim organisations, and we have this very large SFA, which is broadly transferring more staff than are actually employed by the LSC. So, it will be a big, chunky structure. It will not be the slimline funding agency that we were originally promised. It seems that it will perhaps have all the disadvantages that the big, bureaucratic LSC has brought to the scene, and I would like a serious rethink there.

If it is going to be an interventionist structure—and it looks like one—I do not think it appropriate that it is run from within the Department. If it is going to operate, I would be happier to see it with a board, being accountable to the sector and the providers. So, the structure of the SFA is a missed opportunity, and I would like to see much more power and action at local level, between local authorities, providers, employers groups and so on, which is where the difference has to be made.

Ruth Serwotka: I want to come back on a couple of points that have been raised on the size of the Learning and Skills Council and on whether this is a missed opportunity to make people redundant and so on. The LSC is actually a very slimline organisation. Its running costs—its admin budget against its turnover—are very low compared with those of similar organisations. The idea that the new agencies could be run with fewer staff than the LSC is unrealistic.

Q 78

Ruth Serwotka: The full-time posts are replicated in the new structures and that is the right approach in the current circumstances. As Ann said, we have an economic crisis on our hands, and the SFA and the YPLA need to be organisations that can respond rapidly to redundancies and the like. This is not the time to cut people who have skills and an understanding of the types of interventions that are needed.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Which of the two Ministers wants to speak?

Q 79

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I will carry on questioning Ruth. On the adult side, there will be new structures and the same number of people will be dealing with several things that the LSC does not deal with such as the National Apprenticeship Service, the expansion of Train to Gain, the Adult Advancement and Careers Service and the skills accounts. Do you agree therefore that the administrative, regulatory and prescriptive side of what the LSC does will effectively be slimmed down and streamlined because the headcount will be the same?

Ruth Serwotka: I agree that the new organisation will take on new work. The LSC is taking on new work within its current headcount, while it has a 17 per cent. vacancy rate. Before you think about losing staff, you have to think about setting up the National Apprenticeship Service, which will be established using the staff of the LSC. You either jeopardise that service, or you have to run it within the current headcount. I agree that it is important to ensure that the staff who have the skills for the current system are retained for the future. There have been discussions about the importance of that between Siôn and Jim and the PCS and within the LSC.

If I may say so Siôn, we are concerned about the locations of the SFA. We have been told that there will be between 18 and 24 locations. I do not know if the Committee is aware that the LSC has 47 locations, which allows for partnership working and relationship management with local authorities. Those important relationships could easily be lost in the new structures. Given the economic climate, it is important for the Ministers and the Committee to consider whether the locations of the SFA should be increased, especially when there is a possibility of offices sitting vacant with no staff. We could have local, flexible and responsive staff in those locations.

Q 80

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I wanted to ask Julian something else, but does he want to say something briefly on that issue?

Julian Gravatt: I have to agree that the SFA will do a different job from the LSC and that it needs to be appropriately staffed. Our concern is that there seem to be a lot of staff, especially when compared to the equivalent agencies in Scotland and for higher education. We accept that those have a narrower range of duties. Colleges will have to make redundancies this year because of changes in demand for adult learning and the changes in Government funding. There is a difficult climate, but this seems to us to be a missed opportunity in the changes.

Q 81

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

The previous group of witnesses said that we should not do this now, that the current staff will not be able to cope in the economic climate and that the strains and stresses are too much. You are effectively saying the opposite, which is that the problem is that we are leaving too many staff and not making the organisation slim enough. Do you think that the truth might lie somewhere in the middle, where we have located it?

Julian Gravatt: This is a complicated change. It is the biggest change in the funding and regulation of colleges for nine years and there must be enough time to ensure that it is done properly and that people are placed  correctly. We think that it is possible to put a change through in 2010. We are nervous about the change across to local government, but I am confident that the colleges will make it work.

Q 82

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

There has been a ballyhoo about how complicated it is going to be and how colleges will be unable to cope with that. However, the new Skills Funding Agency will have a single account management structure and a single funding conversation for colleges on the adult side. Do your members not tell you that that is positive compared with the multiple conversations that they currently have with the LSC and other funding bodies, and that they look forward to it?

Julian Gravatt: The complication comes from the split at 19.

Q 83

Julian Gravatt: The main issue on the adult side is that the Skills Funding Agency works in a joined-up way with the YPLA and local authorities, so we are particularly keen that clause 119, which allows it to share data, will actually require it to work in concert as well.

Q 84

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

But is a single account structure for colleges a positive thing?

Julian Gravatt: Yes it is, with the proviso that it is only for the adult area and that colleges have more of their work in the 16-to-19 area for both education and apprenticeships.

Q 85

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

May I ask Graham about the single account point? We are trying to make it easier.

Graham Moore: There are two things to remember. A single account is clearly a good idea; I do not think that anybody would dispute that. It is what the account and its complexity are all about. You have to remember that the SFA does not actually deliver anything. The delivery has to be done through the provider network with employers and so on, which is where you want to put most resources to ensure that you can do the maximum to help the nation.

If you look at the complexity behind that single voice from the SFA, you will see that it is about its funding methodology and its rules and regulations on what you can and cannot do. You are not actually saying, “We want to make a difference. These are the issues in your community, and the employers say this and the local authorities say that.” You try to come to an agreement on how to address the Government’s priorities in your local area, and I stress that that is where the difference needs to be made, and not on a national level. The strategy is quite clear and we all know what needs to be done. You need a relatively simple, unbureaucratic system, and I am not certain that with 1,800 people you will actually get that.

Alan Tuckett: There will inevitably be quite a lot of transitional traction for people who do not chronologically grow at the rate that our legislative arrangements plan for them: adults with learning difficulties at 26 whose needs are no different from those of 24-year-olds, for example, or young offenders aged 18 to 24, rather than 16 to 18. The issues relating to negotiation between  young people’s funding agencies, the SFA and local authorities to ensure that individuals do not get lost along the way seem to be as significant as the coherence issue for institutions, since the devil is always in the detail for post-compulsory participation, Siôn.

The previous group that gave evidence was asked about the business-friendly side of SFA, which I am sure is right. But the risk is that the wider economic and social well-being and responsibility, which are very clearly located in young people’s work, will be harder to secure as a coherent dialogue between the different funding agencies to enable institutions to operate in a holistic way.

Q 86