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Further Education

3. Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): What plans he has to review the organisation and management of further education, with particular reference to industrial relations issues. [61265]

The Minister for Education, Scottish Office (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The Government have asked the further education sector to play a leading role in the delivery of our key programmes for education, social inclusion and competitiveness and we are increasing expenditure in the sector by £214 million over the next three years. To ensure that that money meets the challenges that the Government have set the sector, I intend to ask the new Scottish Further Education Funding Council to review the management of further education colleges. I will announce a detailed remit for the review shortly.

Mrs. Fyfe: That is excellent news which will be widely welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend say whether, as part of the review, the restoration of the national negotiating machinery will be considered? That machinery was taken apart by the previous Government, despite the fact that they were warned about the likely consequences in places such as Motherwell college. Responsible and experienced trade unionists, who knew what they were talking about, told the then Government what the results would be, but their views were ignored.

Mrs. Liddell: I take my hon. Friend's point about bargaining in further education colleges. There is a mixed message across Scotland about the impact of localised bargaining, but I have no doubt that the review board will consider the matter and come to conclusions on it. As she knows, I have no specific locus in industrial relations

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matters, but I recently visited Motherwell college, where I asked both management and the trade unions to resolve their difficulties as quickly as possible. The only people who suffer in such situations are the students, who are all working extremely hard.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Does the right hon. Lady see any problems with the difference between the supposed increases in expenditure on school teachers and the salaries available to people in further education? The Government have clearly tried to accelerate the amount of funding per pupil in schools, but the same is not true of further education.

Mrs. Liddell: I really wish the Opposition Whips would brief Conservative Members better. If the hon. Gentleman had listened more closely, he would have heard me say that £214 million extra was going into further education over the next three years. Further education is at the heart of the Government's plans for lifelong learning, and we are greatly encouraged by the breadth of experience of lecturers in further education colleges and the role that they are playing in meeting the Government's challenges.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on the review of further education colleges, especially because of the difficulties that we have had in Renfrewshire with Reid Kerr college in my constituency. Will she ask the review board to consider how the new deal is working in further education colleges? I have heard complaints that new dealers have been turned away in favour of more lucrative students.

Mrs. Liddell: That is an interesting question--I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about the matter. We have invited consultants to look at the operation of Reid Kerr college. We have made it plain to the further education sector that it has a responsibility to its conventional students as well as to those students who have come in under the new deal. I hope shortly to publish the strategic framework for further education, which will take into account some of the structural issues that are causing colleges to compete perhaps needlessly.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): In view of the dissatisfaction with local pay bargaining in further education to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) referred, will the right hon. Lady undertake not to introduce similar arrangements in secondary education?

Mrs. Liddell: The millennium review completed its discussions on salary levels in our schools a short time ago. The review is currently negotiating the role of local authorities as employers with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I am hopeful that, at the end of that process, there will be a settlement for Scotland's teachers that rewards all teachers in a way that recognises their talents. At the moment, there are no proposals on the table for the introduction of localised bargaining.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): Will the Minister accept that the £2 million real-terms cut in funding for the three north-east colleges of further education has placed a real question mark over the Government's commitment to

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"education, education, education"? Does she acknowledge that the cut has led to sudden, abrupt changes in timetables, which are deeply damaging to the students and cause great unhappiness to the lecturers, who are not even consulted in advance?

Mrs. Liddell: As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, we inherited a £5 million public expenditure cut in further education colleges. This year alone, we have increased expenditure by £12.4 million. Early in the new year, I will announce the settlements for colleges, including those in the north. The Government have shown our commitment to further education by giving it the place in the education system that it deserves, and by increasing expenditure on further education across Scotland.

Local Government Reform

4. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): If he will make a statement regarding the reform of local government. [61266]

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish): The Government are working to ensure that we create modernised local government, delivering the services people need. We appointed the Commission on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament under the chairmanship of Neil McIntosh; it will report to the First Minister in due course.

Mr. Syms: Does the Minister think that the McIntosh commission on local authorities has missed an opportunity by not recommending an anti-corruption commission to look into allegations of wrongdoing in the central belt?

Mr. McLeish: The reason why we did not ask the McIntosh commission to look at that matter is that we are looking at it ourselves. Next week, we will issue a new code of conduct for councillors, which will be part of the question of ethical standards in local government. There will be standards committees for councils, and a standards commission for Scotland, to provide a means of dealing with allegations of misconduct external to the council involved. We have acknowledged that there is a difficulty and we have taken steps to remedy it. We will publish our findings next week, and the Scottish Parliament will legislate.

Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Does my hon. Friend agree that the root cause of the problems in Scottish local government lies directly with the Conservative party and its botched and expensive reorganisation, which removed from local government a vast number of experienced officers? Is not the bottom line the fact that the Scottish Parliament will work with local authorities to provide the high-quality, modernised services that the people of Scotland desperately need?

Mr. McLeish: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. For 18 years, local government was neglected and abused. In the past 18 months, we have had an opportunity to tackle problems where they have arisen, but we must go ahead in partnership. I have no doubt that the new Parliament will ensure that local authorities retain their autonomy. We will make sure that standards are improved and that services are modernised. Where it is required, we will rebuild public trust and

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confidence. That is an important agenda for the new century--an agenda that it would be impossible to achieve under the Conservative party.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): Self-regulation by the Labour party in Scotland scarcely fills us with confidence. The Labour party cannot be the solution, because it is the problem. Perhaps the Minister can refresh our memories. How many investigations are currently taking place into misdemeanours in Labour-run councils? Strathclyde regional council last week found that it was leaving a deficit of £78 million for its successor councils to pay up. Was that old Labour, new sleaze or new Labour, old sleaze? How would the Minister describe his party's financial incompetence?

Mr. McLeish: It is clear again that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the Opposition's principal spokesman, has completely missed the point. No one is talking about self-regulation by the Labour party. We are talking about a new ethical framework which, I repeat, will comprise a code of conduct for councillors, standards committees for councils and an independent standards commission for Scotland to provide the means of dealing with allegations of misconduct. That will be the basis of an announcement, and the basis for parliamentary legislation in Holyrood. Dealing with the House of Lords may be a trifle easy, but dealing with Scottish local government requires the Opposition to be serious--which they have not been in the past 18 months.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): Does my hon. Friend realise how much the extra £860 million for local government will improve services, and how welcome it is in the schools in my constituency and elsewhere that an extra £1.3 billion is being spent on our education services over the next three years? That is 15 per cent. above inflation, and far more than was ever given by the Conservative Government.

Mr. McLeish: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments, because that is the reality of Scottish local government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is investing heavily in the future of education. That is important to Labour Members, even if it is not important to Conservatives. We want to invest and modernise, and that requires partnership, which is what the new Parliament at Holyrood will provide.

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