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16 May 2007 : Column 772W—continued

Beverley Hughes: The revised Sure Start Children’s Centres Practice Guidance, issued last November, is for children’s centre managers and practitioners, local authorities, primary care trusts and other delivery partners. It emphasises best practice in how to deliver services and tailor support to meet the individual needs of all young children and their parents, wherever they live, and contains examples of good practice. Many of the principles in the guidance are not new; they have been part of the Sure Start approach from the beginning. We
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want to see them consistently applied so that no parents or children miss out on the advantages that Sure Start Children’s Centres can bring and good practice becomes common practice in all children’s centres. The Together for Children consortium is working with local authorities to support effective networks that draw on evidence based practice and encourage shared learning and knowledge. It is too early to assess the impact of this guidance but it is being monitored through the children’s centres performance management framework and future evaluation work.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what progress the Together for Children partnership has made in supporting and challenging local authority practice on children’s centres; and if he will make a statement. [137221]

Beverley Hughes: Together for Children is working with local authorities to help build their capacity to plan, commission and project manage the roll-out of sustainable high quality children’s centres. Support plans are being implemented with the agreement of all 150 local authorities, with the level and type of support tailored to their individual needs. There are currently 1,266 designated children’s centres, and we are on track to meet our target of delivering 2,500 centres by 2008.

Connexions Card

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many Youth Opportunity Card pilot schemes are running; and what evaluation has taken place of the effectiveness of the schemes to date. [137335]

Beverley Hughes: In February we announced we would not be proceeding with the Youth Opportunity Card pilots, because the private sector could not offer a delivery solution at a satisfactory level of certainty and the potential costs meant that value for money could not be assured.

Since then, we have been working with the nine local authority pilot areas to develop alternative ways of empowering individual disadvantaged young people to take part in positive activities of their choice. We hope to come forward with proposals shortly.

Departments: Training

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills pursuant to the answer of 19 February 2007, Official Report, column 434W, on Departments: training, when he expects to write to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings with the information referred; and if he will place a copy of the information in the Library. [133097]

Bill Rammell: The Department offers a range of corporate skills development including formal off the job training, e-learning and access to a range of learning and coaching materials from our learning and development function. All these are linked to the Professional Skills for Government agenda and our business and improvement objectives.

The Department has also placed great emphasis on good people management. Provision includes line
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manager coaching and supporting individuals while learning on the job. This is recognised as the most effective way to learn, apply, and develop skills and knowledge. In addition, our provision supports IiP where we have trained internal HP assessors.

The list of internal formal off the job courses available is as follows:

A copy of the information has been placed in the House Library.

Part-time Education

Dr. Francis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what consultations he has undertaken since the publication of the Leitch Report with (a) the Open University, (b) Birkbeck College and (c) other institutions on strategies to increase the proportion of those in work who engage in part-time study. [135984]

Bill Rammell: Representatives from all higher education institutions (HEIs) have been invited to participate fully in the programme of national and regional events designed to build consensus around the Leitch challenges. Ministers and officials informally exchange views with a wide range of HEIs on developing HE-level skills within the workforce.

Developing new models of HE that are flexible, relevant and responsive to the needs of employers and learners already in the workforce is at the core of the Department's employer engagement strategy. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has been tasked by the Secretary of State with delivering an additional 5,000 student places co-funded by employers in the financial year 2008-09, with further growth of at least 5,000 places year-on-year for the following two years. These three years will represent a crucial testing ground for exploring how best to increase the proportion of those in the workforce who engage in higher-level study, many of whom will wish to learn on a part-time basis.

Dr. Francis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps he has taken since the publication of the Leitch Report (a) to increase the number of employees who have access to part-time study in order to gain appropriate qualifications and (b) to engage the support of employers in increasing the access of employees to part-time education. [135985]

Phil Hope: The Leitch Review was published on 5 December 2006 and was welcomed in broad terms by the Chancellor on 6 December. The formal response will be published by the Department, on behalf of the Government, this summer.

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Since the publication of Lord Leitch’s report the Government have continued to promote their new Train to Gain service to encourage employers to train their people with free training available for the low skilled. As a result 135,860 employees from 36,270 employers are now in learning through part-time, flexibly delivered training.

The Government have already announced the Skills Pledge, another key Leitch recommendation that builds on the model developed in Wales. It will encourage employers to voluntarily commit to train their low skilled employees whether through part-time learning or otherwise. Thus far, 21 Central Government Departments, employing more than 500,000 civil servants, as well as several major employers have already given their commitment to it.

Pre-school Education: Finance

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps he is taking to ensure that local authorities are passing the funds allocated for the nursery education grant directly to frontline providers. [137214]

Beverley Hughes: The Government invest £3 billion per year through the Dedicated Schools Grant into funding the free early education entitlement. This provides sufficient funding for the delivery of a universal free early learning entitlement for all children regardless of their parents’ income or ability to pay. Local authorities have discretion over the use they make of funding from the Dedicated Schools Grant including the rates at which they fund early education in all types of setting. The 2006 code of practice clearly encourages them to fund early years provision equitably across settings in accordance with local circumstances.

In December 2006 I wrote to local authority chief executives asking them to reassure themselves that providers delivering the free early education entitlement are funded appropriately.

The Schools, Early Years and 14-16 Funding consultation which ends on 1 June sets out a number of proposals for changes to the way the early years funding system operates.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what representations he has received on the possibility of funding for the nursery education grant passing directly from the Government to the provider. [137217]

Beverley Hughes: We conducted a full public consultation on the 2006 code of practice, to which 585 responses were received, the majority from providers. None of those who responded made representation for funding for the free early education entitlement to be paid from the Government directly to the provider, nor have there been representations on this issue since the code came into force.

Skills Pledge: Public Service

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills which (a) central Government and (b) local government public sector employers with more than 1,000 staff will (i) be participating and (ii) not be participating in the Skills Pledge announced by his Department. [135930]

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Phil Hope [holding answer 8 May 2007]: The Leitch review was published on 5 December 2006 and was welcomed in broad terms by the Chancellor on 6 December. The formal response will be published by the Department, on behalf of the Government, this summer.

The Skills Pledge, which will be formally launched this summer, is intended to be a specific voluntary commitment by employers that they will support and enable every eligible employee in their workforce to gain basic skills and a first full level 2 qualification.

As a signal that the public sector was prepared to demonstrate its commitment to the Leitch ambition, Permanent Secretaries of 14 Departments gave their commitment to signing a Skills Pledge on 18th April. Since then other Departments have also made a commitment. The Departments thus far committed are:

In total more than 500,000 civil servants are now covered by a Skills Pledge. Government Skills, the sector skills council for central Government are working with Departments on turning the commitment into action plans. At this stage no Department is expected not to participate.

The Department is working with local authorities and other public sector representatives on how the Skills Pledge can be best delivered for their employees. To date, no commitments have been made, though local authorities and other public sector bodies have made a significant contribution to the basic skills agenda. We will be looking to build on that work for the Skills Pledge through the well-established network of basic skills champions in the public sector.

Written Questions

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills when he expects to answer question 115982 on children of asylum seekers, tabled by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green on 11 January. [130601]

Mr. Dhanda: A response was issued to the hon. Member on 15 May 2007, Official Report, column 707W.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan: Uzbekistan

Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with the Government of Uzbekistan on Uzbek nationals supporting Taliban forces in Afghanistan. [137101]

Mr. Hoon: Through our diplomatic contacts with the Uzbek authorities, the Government are aware that the Government of Uzbekistan are neither supportive of nor otherwise engaged in the reported activities of those Uzbek nationals in Afghanistan to which the hon. Member refers.

We remain interested in principle in closer co-operation with Uzbekistan aimed at promoting regional stability, including in Afghanistan, as part of a wider dialogue with the Uzbek Government encompassing a range of interests, including our concerns over human rights.

Burma: Ethnic Groups

Mr. Crabb: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she is making to the government of Burma on the targeting of civilians in Karen State. [137116]

Mr. McCartney: We have repeatedly condemned the Burmese army’s attacks on civilians in Karen State.

I have raised the human rights situation regularly with the Burmese regime and other Governments in the region. On 16 June 2006, I called in the Burmese Ambassador and on 5 July 2006 I wrote to the Burmese Foreign Minister, highlighting our many concerns. On 18 September 2006, I raised the serious human rights situation with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ambassadors, including the Burmese Ambassador, and on 4 December 2006 with the ASEAN Secretary-General. I have also raised Burma with the Governments of China, India, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea. I have discussed the human rights abuses taking place in Burma with Juan Mendez, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. I discussed Burma in detail with Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, on 15 November 2006, following his visit to the country. Most recently, I raised the human rights situation in Burma in my address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 13 March and at the EU/ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Nuremberg on 15 March, in the presence of the Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister. In addition, our Ambassador in Rangoon regularly raises human rights with the regime, most recently when he met the Burmese Ministers for Planning and Immigration and the Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister on 5 January.

On 23 April the EU Council of Ministers called for the Burmese regime to end the military campaign against civilians in conflict areas.

We shall continue to take every opportunity to raise our concerns about all human rights violations in Burma.

Mr. Crabb: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps she is taking in
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the UN Security Council to ensure the protection of civilians and relief workers in Burma, in accordance with the Security Council’s responsibility to protect. [137118]

Mr. McCartney: We highlighted the impact on civilians of the Burmese Government’s campaign against insurgents during the UN Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians on 4 December 2006.

We supported the US-led efforts to have Burma added to the UN Security Council agenda in September 2006 and co-sponsored with the US a UN Security Council Resolution on Burma. This was put to the vote on 12 January. Three states voted against and as such the resolution was not adopted.

Burma remains on the UN Security Council agenda. We support the UN’s efforts, including the good offices mission of the UN Secretary-General, to promote peace and national reconciliation in Burma. We will continue to work closely with the UN and with partners to ensure that this effort is sustained.

I have repeatedly raised my concerns about human rights issues with international partners and directly with the Burmese Government. I shall continue to do so.

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