Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
240. It has been hopeless, yes.
(Mr Riddell) Right. I did not say that.
241. I know you cannot but I can.
(Mr Riddell) It has taken quite a long time to get
ahead but they have mostly got reasonably solid plans and the
evaluation, again, will be continuous. We have put quite a bit
of money into spreading best practice and we have got a Skills
and Knowledge Programme which is designed to spread that. We tend
to use the NDCs as an exemplar of good practice to feed out to
Local Strategic Partnerships in the broader 88 areas.
242. Looking at some kind of averaging, given
that there have been two waves of New Deal for Communities, we
are getting on to a fifth of the way into the £2 billion
(Mr Riddell) Yes.
243. One of the six areas which New Deal for
Communities is supposed to tackle is worklessness.
(Mr Riddell) Yes.
244. You are saying now, as I understand it,
that we cannot actually tell, a fifth into this £2 billion
programme, whether it is having any impact or not. You might be
able to tell me next week, is that what you are saying?
(Mr Riddell) Yes. I should make it clear though that
they are not a fifth of the way into the spending. It has taken
a long time, most of them have taken a very long time to get the
spending up and running and that is a function of, if you like,
trying to bypass traditional bureaucratic routes and put the communities
into the lead. That has been a very slow and much more difficult
process I think than anyone anticipated at the start. It has taken
a great deal of effort.
245. I will look to the evaluation report with
(Mr Riddell) Yes, we will send you that.
246. When the Department was split with the
employment role going over to the Department for Work and Pensions
obviously that meant separating the skills part from the employment
part. What effect do you think that has had? Obviously over the
period they were together briefly some working relationships had
been built up, synergies had been built up, are those being maintained?
(Mr Lauener) I think with the split after the last
election we all realised in both Departments that we would need
to work harder to make sure that the links were maintained. Obviously
we did want Departments' links to be maintained through natural
day-to-day contact. We have looked harder at some of the regular
groups that we have to make sure that we have got colleagues from
both Departments, where that is right, represented. For example,
in my own area I chair a group which meets every two months with
work based training providers and many of these also deal with
Jobcentre Plus. There is a colleague from Jobcentre Plus on that.
We need to look quite hard at that kind of thing across the piece
to make sure we are not just keeping together on the basis of
something like a clock that is gradually winding down, we are
always putting new things in place to keep liaison refreshed.
I think with that realisation the two Departments have worked
pretty well together over the last year and a bit.
247. What role do you think building up new
skills plays in getting people jobs? Some of the evidence that
we have seen is actually that the education option in the New
Deal has not had a great success in terms of getting people new
jobs. Is it in preparatory work before getting people near to
being work ready or as they are progressing their careers? Whose
responsibility is it to get them into work and then they fall
out of it quite quickly? Is that Work and Pensions? Is that yourselves?
What mechanisms are there?
(Mr Lauener) I think we have got a better picture
now of the role of skills in helping people's employability, helping
people to get jobs and keep them. Under the Skills for Life Strategy,
the strategy for improving people's basic skills, we are quite
clearly saying people who do not have basic literacy and numeracy
skills, who have missed out at some point in their formal education,
for whatever reason, they should have a free entitlement to get
better literacy and numeracy skills. That is base level one, not
using level one in the technical sense of the level of education.
Although clearly there are plenty of people in jobs with basic
skills' deficiencies they are always at the fragile end of the
labour market, in and out of jobs, low skill and low wage. Getting
people those basic skills and improving the level of basic skills
in the whole economy, hence the target of 750,000 people by 2004,
I think is a key part of laying the base line for people to go
on. I think then we need to take that a stage further. In the
pilots that were announced by the Chancellor in the pre-Budget
report, and confirmed recently as part of the Budget report, the
announcement was made about where these are going to be taken
forward, these are pilots to improve the extent to which people
in jobs can get level two in particular, one or two other things
as well but level two skills in particular. That is looking at
what the barriers are, once people have got jobs, to improving
their skills and saying, again, there is a public interest, a
value for money case in helping people to get level two qualifications
and skills. I think that gets you on to more secure employment.
Above level two to level three, for example, I think there is
much more of a case that people should be prepared to contribute
themselves to their own development and indeed for job specific
skills employers ought to be paying for these skills that employers
need to make a success of their business.
248. That is very helpful. Just in terms of
the process from the individual's point of view, they are yours
in terms of basic skills before they are really thinking about
employment, then they get passed over to Jobcentre Plus to find
them a job and then they get passed back to you in terms of developing
their skills from level one to level two. You said at the departmental
level there are meetings and co-ordinated structures. At ground
level is there any way of helping someone progress their career
and their learning?
(Mr Lauener) Yes.
249. Whose job is it? Is it the adviser at Jobcentre
Plus or is it nobody's job at all?
(Mr Lauener) I think there is a network here. The
Learning and Skills Council and Jobcentre Plus are absolutely
key, they ought to be talking locally about the nature of provision:
is it meeting the needs of New Deal clients, are the screening
methods of people's basic skills working, how should that be changed
and developed? Another part of the picture is the information,
advice and guidance services. The Learning and Skills Council,
again, has a budget to fund information, advice and guidance.
There is a national helpline through Learndirect which people
can phone up and find out where to get training in X or Y. Locally
there is more detailed intensive advice and guidance for those
who need to go beyond the stage of information.
250. Where would that be located, in a further
education college or Jobcentre Plus or a community environment?
(Mr Lauener) It could be any or all of those. The
local people need to have that network themselves. One of the
things we have found with the basic skills pilots which are now
being set up nationally and where Jobcentre Plus client advisers
are screening people who have been unemployed for six months to
see whether they have got a basic skills problem, one of the things
we found that made that work very much better was for each Jobcentre
Plus office to have a basic skills co-ordinator who would be the
person who would understand the network, where the opportunities
are and so on. We are looking with Jobcentre Plus and DWP colleagues
at whether that model can be rolled out across all Jobcentre Plus
offices. It is that kind of detailed infrastructure that you need
to have working to make the system work, I think.
251. Thank you very much for the earlier information
you gave us about the responsibility of the Learning and Skills
Councils. You also pointed out that wherever possible you set
them up to be coterminous with Business Link areas. We have had
them for a year, picking up on James' point about skills training
and education, have we seen more focus on the needs of the local
labour market after a year of the LSCs?
(Mr Lauener) I think the first thing I would say is
the one word answer is yes but you would probably like a slightly
longer answer than that.
(Mr Lauener) I ought to put it into context. It has
been a very complicated transition from the previous arrangements
to setting up the Learning and Skills Councils and, indeed, setting
up the new Business Links as part of the Small Business Service,
so a lot of effort locally and nationally has gone into managing
that smooth transition. Managing smooth transitions are never
of interest to Ministers, indeed to any of us, we just want them
to happen. The interesting question is what is actually changing.
Can I give examples of things that I think the local Learning
and Skills Councils are doing that would not have happened before?
The first is that the Learning and Skills Council nationally but
operating locally ran a bite-sized campaign last summer to widen
adult participation. There was a target of 50,000 people coming
in trying new forms of learning and the key thing the local Learning
and Skills Councils were doing was networking with all the local
colleges and other providers to say "let us provide some
opportunities at the same time altogether and we can advertise
them". The target was 50,000 and they got 70,000 to 80,000.
I think that was pretty good three months after being set up.
The second thing is there is a programme to establish Centres
of Vocational Excellence in general further education colleges.
The idea there is to better serve local employers by giving leading
edge skills training for local employers in the area or areas
that are most important locally. We had 16 pathfinders last summer
and the Learning and Skills Council recently announced the next
70. That is a programme that has gone well and smoothly, much
better than we would have been able to manage if we had not got
an infrastructure like the Learning and Skills Council.
253. In this brave new world we have had one
or two critical comments made to us. One of our earlier witnesses,
Keith Faulker of Working Links, who also sits on a local LSC board,
pointed out that a local Learning and Skills Council may identify
those local needs but then may not have the autonomy to properly
respond to those local needs. Just how autonomous are the local
LSCs from Coventry head office? Also, how independent is the Learning
and Skills Council itself from the DfES?
(Mr Lauener) You are quite right, there has been some
debate and controversy about the extent of "local flexibility",
which are the buzz words. You always tend to get that debate happening
between the centre and local, do you not? The view I take of this
is that there is a big agenda for local Learning and Skills Councils
which is not just about the budget, which I mentioned in the memorandum,
which is labelled "Local Initiative Fund" and which
is a very small part of the total, £90 million out of five
and a half billion pounds in the year that has just finished and
£90 million again in the year that we are in. That is a very
small part of the Learning and Skills' budget and the real task
for the Learning and Skills Council is to get the maximum value
out of mainstream funding. They are responsible for getting better
results out of all the funding that goes to colleges and other
providers. They are responsible, for example, for taking forward
actions identified out of local area inspections and in one case
that has led to the setting up of a new college in Hackney, Brooke
House College. I think to be critical and central to taking those
decisions about major changes to local infrastructure is a very
big and important role. I think as that role develops and becomes
clearer, as the Learning and Skills Councils take on all these
responsibilities, that debate will become much simpler and more
straight forward, people will see there is a very major local
254. You did mention earlier the role of the
colleges and the examples of good practice that have already been
taking place. In your memorandum you list lots of groups who are
affiliated to the LSCs. To what extent are you actually seeing
changes in the curriculum, in the actual delivery of education
through many of the colleges to more properly reflect the needs
of local employers?
(Mr Lauener) I think that is something that will evolve
over time. We do have evaluation plans to identify that. Given
that the local Learning and Skills Councils were set up last April
and given the forward planning time for provision it would have
been wrong to expect detailed changes to the curriculum from,
say, last August. Indeed, I think it is quite important to emphasise
that the Learning and Skills Councils will not be operating by
specifying a lot of the detailed provision in colleges, they will
be operating at the local strategic level, they will be opening
dialogue with colleges, identifying needs that are not being met
and finding who is best placed to meet them. That is a slightly
different role from saying "you will provide ten places in
construction in this new skill area". The example I quoted
I think is quite a good example where there has been real dialogue
locally about the Centre of Vocational Excellence programme and
how that can best meet local employer needs. That is a new debate
which the Learning and Skills Council has been very well placed
to take part in and to judge whether college proposals are going
to meet local needs or not. One final point that the Learning
and Skills Council is developing which I think will have an impact
over time is a customer satisfaction survey on a national basis.
I think that is very important to get an external perspective
on whether the system is delivering what learners and employers
255. That is very interesting. Just finally,
to sum up. You have mentioned the Local Initiative Fund, which
is only one per cent of the LSC's expenditure and you have already
said that the bulk of the funding is tied up with the colleges
in existing pots of money, so when you are doing your surveys
will you be looking at trying to effect some positive improvement
in developing those links with local communities, with the needs
of local people who are unemployed and employers who want to employ
those same people because otherwise it is just tinkering around
the edges? Give me a reassurance that this will be a brave new
world and people will be working together in the best interests
of those who are unemployed or those who need reskilling and also
will meet the needs of the labour market.
(Mr Lauener) It is set out clearly in the remit. The
Learning and Skills Council has been set up with local arms precisely
to get that local engagement. It is now £7 billion that is
spent through the system, including money for schools with sixth
forms which goes through the Learning and Skills Council now,
to ensure that all that money is spent in a way that gets better
value for money and really does meet local needs better than the
system at the moment. There is a very strong drive both nationally
and locally because that is what local people want to see as well.
256. Can I pick up the point you just made about
school sixth forms. This is a matter of great concern to my constituency.
The sixth forms are in schools and they have all suffered dramatic
cuts in funding since the transfer to the LSC because of the focus
of the LSC more on vocational courses than academic A levels.
Our schools have lost over £100,000 and they are now having
to look at whether they are going to cut back their sixth forms
or cut back the courses they are offering because they simply
cannot afford to provide the service they were providing when
they were funded through the local education authority and direct
through what was the DfES. Now why are the LSCs putting the squeeze
on sixth forms in this way because in the end that is not going
to suit anybody? All that will happen and effectively do is potentially
reduce the pool of kids going into universities and inevitably
put a greater burden on the FE colleges if the school sixth forms
cannot cope because of the squeeze you are putting on them.
(Mr Lauener) I am surprised to hear you say that.
Mr Dismore: It is coming from all my head teachers.
They are very, very cross about it.
Mr Goodman: Yes.
Mr Mitchell: They think they are being ripped
Ms Buck: We all agree, for the record.
257. One at a time. I think we have hit a nerve
here. Do the best you can.
(Mr Lauener) The key point to make about the transfer
of funding from local education authorities to the Learning and
Skills Council is that it comes with a real terms guarantee that
every school's funding will be maintained in real terms.
258. It has not. You work in a different year,
you do not work in the school year.
(Mr Lauener) I know there are a small number of difficult
cases where numbers have fluctuated but I can give you an assurance
that the real terms guarantee, which has been an absolutely critical
part of Government policy on this, has been maintained and has
been driven through into the implementation.
Mr Dismore: It has not. It has not, that is
a fact of life.
259. Can I just say, Chairman, I strongly endorse
what Andrew Dismore has said. There is great fear on this subject
and the reason is that the Council has been making it clear across
the country it believes it is more effective for the money to
be spent in further education colleges and costs less than it
does in sixth forms. There are other factors as well but I just
want to strongly endorse what Andrew has said.
(Mr Lauener) In the part of the country where I live,
which is Sheffield, the schools were quite encouraged because
they felt they got a better deal from the Learning and Skills
Council funding than under the previous arrangements.