Clause 205

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 am on 26th March 2009.

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Secretary of State’s power of direction

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I want to ask the Secretary of State—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I am sorry, Mr. Chope. I must not promote the Minister too rapidly. However, I noticed in one of our earlier breaks that the Secretary of State seems to have applied for a higher post—that of Chancellor of the Exchequer, no less, is his latest request in an interview. Perhaps I was not far off the mark in saying that the Minister may soon be elevated to an even loftier position.

Earlier, we debated annual reports, including the job that they would be expected to do, and the detail and accountability necessary in respect of the bodies that are expected to produce annual reports, yet the explanatory notes on the clause say almost nothing about what the contents of the annual report will be.

On reading the clause, which is considerably longer than the explanatory notes, we are no wiser about the expectation in respect of the report’s contents. There is nothing about whether the annual report will have to include the cost of the local commissioner and, given the Minister’s earlier answer, there is a degree of ambiguity about who those individuals are who will be doing that job and whether they will be carrying out ombudsman functions in relation to other services beyond the schools sector.

There is no indication of the types of problem that the local commissioners will have to deal with and whether any information will be required in the annual report to tabulate sensibly the types of issue that have been referred to the local commissioner, which might be useful for those people considering the job that the local commissioner is doing. There is also no indication of what the performance criteria will be or whether the local commissioner will be required, in his or her annual report, to state whether there are any lessons to be learned from the complaints received during a particular year, in relation to resolving them locally rather than having to go through what could be an expensive process.

The Bill and the explanatory notes are sketchy in that regard. I fear that we could be missing an opportunity to use the annual reports on this body, which we do not support, but which we are struggling to assist in doing a good job. This may be a missed opportunity to make this body a more effective in the role that the Government envisage for it.

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)

The local commissioner must prepare an annual report and submit it to the Commission for Local Administration in England. The report may, for example, contain information to do with delivering public value, the commissioner’s performance, and financial accounts and governance arrangements. In relation to complaints, we would expect the report to include, for example, the number of complaints, a summary of their outcome and information on the speed with which complaints had been resolved. The commissioner will submit the report to the commission, which will then lay it before Parliament. The publication of that report is an important element of monitoring transparency and public accountability.

Currently, the local government ombudsman also agrees a business plan with the Department for Communities and Local Government and then reports against that in its annual report. I hope that that information is sufficient to enable us to agree on the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 205accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 206 and 207 ordered to stand part of the Bill.