Clause 106

– in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 24th March 2009.

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Research, information and advice

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 138, in clause 106, page 63, line 11, at end add—

‘(7) When establishing systems under subsection (5) the Chief Executive must consult the Young People’s Learning Agency and local education authorities.

(8) When providing the Secretary of State with other information and advice he must do so after consultation with learners, further education colleges and employers.’.

The clause sets out the role of the chief executive in relation to research and the provision of information and advice, and the establishment of systems for collecting information. The chief executive has a duty to report to the Secretary of State on such matters as the Secretary of State may require. In practice, that is likely to include information about the progress of the Government’s targets and priorities in connection with post-19 learning, a description of the chief executive’s learning and skills funding strategy and information on the application of funding. It will also include information about 16 to 18-year old apprentices.

Amendment 138 ensures that, when the chief executive sets up systems for collecting information, he consults the YPLA and the LEAs. When providing information, he should do so after consultation with learners—I hasten to add, given the intervention of the hon. Member for Bristol, West in relation to my earlier amendment—and with FE colleges and providers. The amendment is very much in the spirit of that proposed a few moments ago. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not think that such things should be in the Bill, and I appreciate that not everything can be, because of the need for flexibility, but some of these relationships are fundamental to the effective operation of the new regime, so in that spirit I have moved our amendment.

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

There is no lack of enthusiasm for consultation or even for setting things out in the Bill. As I have said repeatedly, we are doing that voluntarily, because it is important. What we do not want to do is place restrictions in the Bill that would become exactly such bureaucratic impediments as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is rightly keen to warn us against much of the time.

We agree that it is important for the chief executive to consult stakeholders. We agree that the stakeholders are likely to include the YPLA and local authorities. However, there will be other stakeholders too, whom we would not want to exclude inadvertently. Furthermore, it may not always be necessary to consult the YPLA and local authorities in all circumstances, and it would be an unnecessary and bureaucratic burden on them to do so.

The question of whom the chief executive consults depends on the nature of the system to be established—we must give the chief executive the flexibility to decide, in particular circumstances, who that should be. Formal consultation mechanisms are already being established. For example, we are putting in place robust governance arrangements for IT-enabled systems, involving the chief executive reporting to a joint DCSF-DIUS board comprising key stakeholder representatives, including the YPLA, local authority representatives and others.

At a customer level, we expect the chief executive to put in place and operate customer scrutiny groups for each of its key systems. The groups will include representatives of key stakeholders, customers and system users. The first of those groups is being established to ensure that the learner registration service is developed effectively. Although we think that consultation is best left to the discretion of the chief executive, if there is a  problem there are already levers in the Bill to ensure that consultation takes place. Clause 114 requires the chief executive to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State, which may include guidance about consulting learners, employers and other bodies that the Secretary of State may specify in guidance. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

It would be self-indulgent of me to continue the debate unnecessarily or to press the amendment to a vote. My concerns about the measure are on record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 107 to 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.