Clause 99

Part of – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 24th March 2009.

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Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills 11:45 am, 24th March 2009

We will not accept the amendment because it would stop it happening or prevent it from happening as well as it does. If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I will explain that.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families are already leading discussions on the arrangements for performance assessment schemes in the FE sector after 2010, in consultation with key sector partners. The initial consultation involved stakeholders including Ofsted, the Association of Colleges, the Local Government Association and all the main representative organisations. All that is already going on without a statutory requirement, and it is neither right nor necessary to put that level of detail into the Bill. The need for consultation will inevitably vary. As was the case with the framework for excellence, we anticipate that the chief executive will need to consult more widely than just with the organisations listed. Colleges, other providers and learners are obvious omissions from the list, underlining why it is considerably more sensible to let the chief executive decide which bodies to consult, according to the circumstances.

Having dealt with the amendment, I will now respond to some of the more general points that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has made. He insists on describing the new structure as unaccountable, even though the chief executive will sit on the DIUS board, be responsible to the permanent secretary and through him to Ministers, and be a statutory accounting officer himself, with statutory responsibilities that are set out in the Bill. The chief executive of Skills Funding will be very accountable indeed. The hon. Gentleman tells us that the chief executive is unaccountable and at the same time that he is too close to Ministers and should be in a non-departmental public body. He cannot have it both ways. There are pros and cons at both ends of the argument, and we have found a good balance.

The hon. Gentleman also tells us that we need to decentralise, but a regional tier is fundamental to the new structure, and the ethos of the new organisation  will involve routing funds and delivery down to local level as quickly and efficiently as possible. He tells us that we need to adopt a light touch, but that is exactly what we are trying to do, and he keeps telling us about the byzantine bureaucracy that we are creating. He does not give any details of that bureaucracy, because there are none. I have listed more than once the various ways in which, through a single account manager, single accreditation and single data collection, we are genuinely slimming down the system and making it less bureaucratic.

I will answer the similar point made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West—he made it twice as I did not fully respond to it the first time. I do not want to make pronouncements now about future spending priority decisions, but if he is asking whether we anticipate that a key driver of the development of the National Apprenticeship Service will be to make apprenticeships less bureaucratic, easier to access, and easier for employers and learners, I can say that yes, that is very much part of what we are trying to do. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment and that we can move on.