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The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): Last week, we set out our ambition of creating a universal adult careers service incorporating the Learndirect and Nextstep advice services and working closely with Jobcentre Plus. Currently, every adult who needs free careers information and advice can seek it through the national Learndirect telephone and online service, through local Nextstep face-to-face advice services, or from their local college or training provider.
Mr. Gerrard: It is important that people have access to the sort of advice that they need. I ask my right hon. Friend to look in particular at liaison with the Department for Work and Pensions because it is at that point where, very often, people are not directed to the places to which they need to be directed. It is all very well having the services that he describes, but what really matters is ensuring that people know those services are there, and that they can access them.
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and there will be the closest possible co-operation between Jobcentre Plus and the new careers service. Indeed, in many cases they will be co-located. For too long, the problem has been that one Department has focused on getting people into work and the other on developing their skill levels. That produces a set of people who go into work and then come back out again in a few months, without having their skill levels raised. I hope that one of the effects of the collaboration between the two Departments will be that we meet individual skill needs as people move into work, therefore increasing their chances of staying in work and getting a better job.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Is the Minister aware of the contribution that science centres make in encouraging young adults to take up a career in science? Why is it that in the United States and France those are being pursued vigorously, while in Britain they have been subject to indifference and interdepartmental squabbling?
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. After a few weeks in this job, my reflection is that we have quite a wealth of places throughout the countrylocal centres, national science museums, science centres and so onthat provide opportunities for young people to be exposed to science and have their interest stimulated. However, there is not necessarily the best guidance on where to find them, or co-ordination of the services that they offer. I suspect we could do a lot better by having a more coherent approach to promoting the good facilities that already exist.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will realise that the best career advice may encourage people to re-route their skills pattern. Does he not find it ironic, as I do, that we can pay someone to stop at home, but if they do more than 16 hours a
week on a college course, they lose their benefit? Has he considered any approach to getting around this blockage, which prevents people from advancing their career by reskilling?
Mr. Denham: We must be careful that we do not undo all the rules of the benefit system, which are there for a reason. However, my hon. Friend will know from the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions last week, that increasingly the approach of Jobcentre Plus will be to build the acquisition of skills into the service we provide to people who are looking for work, so that there is a much clearer process of identifying skills needs and dealing with them.
My right hon. Friend wants to look at the current situation where someone can be out of work for six months before they get access to skills training. If someone has lost their job again because they did not have sufficient skills, there is clearly a case for getting them into adequate skills training straight away, not waiting for six months, as can happen at the moment.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Does the Secretary of State realise that, for an adult who has been out of work and out of the job market for some time, the step of accessing careers advice can be a very big one indeed? For some of those people, so-called leisure courses can be a vital step in boosting their confidence so that they can get back into the job market and take the step of accessing advice. Does he intend to continue with the current policy of axing many of those courses to target money elsewhere?
Mr. Denham: I recognise that there is a group of people for whom there can be an important stage of getting back into learning before they start a full-time vocational course. However, we have to be straightforward and say that we cannot justify all of the leisure provision that may exist at the moment on the basis that some people will find their way through. Although they have their own intrinsic value, the record shows that many people do not find them to be stepping stones to further qualifications. We have to look carefully at the system and the types of provision that are shown to provide a good stepping stone and progression into effective future learning. We must ensure that our resources prioritise those areas of activity.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Given that 30 years on from equal pay legislation, many young women, particularly those from vulnerable backgrounds, still gravitate towards training and job opportunities that tend to limit their future potential earning capacityparticularly when compared with their male counterpartswhat steps will my right hon. Friend take, along with right hon. and hon. Friends from other Departments, to ensure that those who are likely to influence young womens choices encourage them to broaden the range of training and job opportunities that they consider, as has been suggested by the YWCAs More than one rung campaign?
I am aware of the work of the More than one rung campaign. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and members of the campaign to
discuss in detail the way in which the changes that we are introducing can meet the needs that she identified. I hope that the changes to Jobcentre Plus, the development of the adult career service and the possibilities that local employer partnerships are opening up, whereby guaranteed routes are offered into work, will contribute to broadening the range of possibilities. However, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and members of the campaign to go through that in more detail.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Governments imitation of our advocacy of a new careers service may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if the Secretary of State had examined our policy more closely, he would realise that we proposed a dedicated, all-age careers service. The House of Lords Select Committee that considered the matter recently described a
failure of careers guidance services.
Young people do not get the information that they need about apprenticeships or basic information about local labour markets and career opportunities. Why does not the Secretary of State agree that an all-age career service, running alongside Connexions, is vital to tackling the growing army of hapless 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training?
Mr. Denham: I certainly agree that we need effective careers advice. The hon. Gentleman will find that I first set out my ideas for an adult careers service in a Fabian pamphlet about three years ago, so I will not allow him to claim authorship.
The range of issues that young people face, especially when they make their initial careers choices, are sufficiently different to make it better to have a separately organised careers service for younger people. However, we do not differ on the principle that, at every stage in somebodys life, there should be access to good careers advice that can meet individual, particular needs. I hope that we will not fall out over organisation when we clearly agree about the principle.
The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): The Government are strongly committed to technology transfer from the research base. We support technology transfer in both universities and public laboratories, for example, through the higher education innovation fund. That has delivered significant improvements in the past 10 years.
My hon. Friend knows from his discussions with companies such as Intelligent Energy, which grew out of Loughborough university, that they are massively successful and will, hopefully, provide world-class energy technology facilities through fuel cell technology. He will be pleased to know that universities have said that the higher education innovation fund is working mainly in the right way and that they support it. However, there are a few minor
tweaks and amendments that they would like, for example, to the little gap in the pre-venture capital stage in innovation, and longer-term funding to allow staff from industry to be based in universities for longer. Will my hon. Friend meet me and representatives of other universities throughout the country, who would like some minor improvements, which would make an enormous difference to a track record that is already pretty good?
Ian Pearson: I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and anybody he wants to bring along to discuss the matter. He is right to recognise the importance of the higher education innovation fund. Since the start of this century, we have invested more than £500 million in promoting university business links through the fund. We might need to do some tweaking for the next stage of the fund and we are considering moving further away from the bidding aspect to a formulaic approach. We have already consulted widely, but I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): We do not collect information on the number of courses offered by providers. Last week, we published World Class Skills, our plan for implementing the Leitch review, which restates the importance of focusing on longer courses such as full level 2 courses and new training opportunities for those in employment through the train to gain programme.
Mr. Fraser: Can the Minister explain to the House the difference between prioritising the most beneficial learning and cutting adult education courses? Is that not just another way of saying that the Government are forcing colleges to divert funding away from adult education?
Mr. Lammy: No it is not. The Government are committed to the recommendations made by the Foster and Leitch reviews. That is why, quite rightly, we want to ensure that people are on longer courses, as I set out in my reply. I remind the hon. Gentleman of our commitments in skills for life, of the tremendous work that our union learning reps do up and down the country and of our commitment to ensuring that the most disadvantaged and the poorest get those basic skills, so that they can take part in the economy in the way that we want.
There is a pressing need to raise the rates of skills improvements among adultsthe UK cannot reach a world class ambition by 2020 without this.
Will the Minister confirm that nearly 1 million places for adults in FE colleges have been lost in the past five years? That is nearly half of all places for adult
learning lost. The Secretary of State dismisses those courses as belly dancing and basket weaving, but I am sure that we can all agree that these are deeply enjoyable and worthwhile activities. Moreover, many of the courses are not just belly dancing and basket weaving; they are valuable in helping older workers to enhance their skills and improve their job opportunities. Why does the Minister say that he agrees with Leitch and that he values adult learning, but meanwhile undermines it?
Mr. Lammy: I do not recognise the figure that the hon. Gentleman uses, and I am trying not to recognise the allusions that he brings to mind. I remind him that the proportion of people in adult learning has increased to 80 per cent., from 76 per cent. just two years ago. Either he supports the Leitch recommendations and what we are doing to try to ensure that employers are close to our FE colleges and providers or, he does not. He cannot have it both ways.
The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): I can report that the latest figures show that the number of national and Scottish vocational qualifications awarded continues to rise, up 36 per cent. since 1997. Our wider strategy for vocational training was set out in World Class Skills, the Command Paper published last week.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reasonable and helpful reply. Does he not accept, however, that once the basics of educationreading, writing, numeracy, expression and comprehensionhave been fully grasped by young people, it would be better to introduce vocational training much earlier in education? That would give them a real motivation and a real sense of what they might want to do when they go into the world of work.
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman has had a long interest in such issues, particularly in relation to the manufacturing industry, and he makes an important point. However, as he will have heard in the earlier question session, that is precisely why the new diploma for engineering was unveiled this week and why another four diplomas will be published in the next couple of weeks. We want the option of taking a diploma, starting at the age of 14, to be seen as a valid route for young people. I do not want us to lose sight of the importance of apprenticeships, either. The noble Lord Leitch set a target for the United Kingdom of 500,000 people in apprenticeships by 2020. Apprenticeships should also be seen as a relevant, valid and valued choice for young people.
The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): The Government support numerous initiatives to promote closer partnerships with China. Following the Prime Ministers initiative, more than 50,000 Chinese students are currently studying in the UK. The UK-China partners in science initiative identifies potential areas of research collaboration and funds networking between scientists. The research councils will shortly open their first overseas office in Beijing. Our relationship is highly productive. In 2005, this country published more papers jointly with Chinese authors than any other European Union country.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, on the Select Committees recent visit to universities in China, we found a great willingness to
engage in serious participation, both at student level and, much more seriously, involving partnerships that really add value for both sides? One senior president of a university told the Select Committee that we could double the research budgets of British universities through closer collaboration and greater emphasis on senior and progressive work.
Mr. Denham: I am interested in my hon. Friends reflections on his visit. I shall be going to China myself at the end of October to help to promote links between our universities and those in China. There are already more than 150 collaborative projects in place between universities here and in China, but if the scope for expanding those links is as great as my hon. Friend suggests, we must clearly do everything that we can to take advantage of them.
Thursday 11 OctoberConsideration of Lords amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Further Education and Training Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
All hon. Members have a right to hold Ministers to account during the summer recess, either by tabling parliamentary questions for answer in September or by writing to the Secretary of State concerned. In addition, hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected by flooding need to know that Ministers will keep them updated on a regular basis. I have therefore asked my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Communities and Local Government to write to those Members of Parliament whose constituencies are affected on a regular basis. Both my right hon. Friends will also hold a weekly telephone conference, on a Monday, to enable all those hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected by floods to be kept informed and to question the Minister concerned during the recess.
Mrs. May: I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the future business. May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Speaker, all right hon. and hon. Members, and officers and staff of the House, a very enjoyable summer recess?
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