Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-112)


9 JULY 2008

  Q100  Mr. Heppell: A lot of the questions that I was going to ask have been partly answered, but can you tell us some of the specific ways you are working together now? The management of this transition seems pretty crucial, given that people will be 16 or 17 only once, as we said. Are we sure that the "working together" is working? Can you give me some examples of how you are working together?

  Cllr Lawrence: I can only give you the practical response. The kind of discussion that is now taking place, which is being led not just by the local authorities, but on a collective basis, relates to the extent to which employers and young people are being engaged in skills development. It relates to what is required to meet those skills needs, to the nature of apprenticeship requirements and to how provision can feed into the economic regeneration of areas, in terms of inward investment. It relates to how that creates a link between the skills capability, the people who can be employed and the means by which you attract different types of economic activity. More and more partnerships, informal though they may have been in the past, are now being given a sense of direction and purpose. They are recognising that much of the work that is needed to assist in providing opportunities for young people in particular is actually taking place on the ground. In many cases, local authorities have been the leaders in that, simply because they have the mechanisms and levers to bring people together in a way that is beneficial.

  Rob Wye: We see the institutional transition from LSC to the local authorities and the Young People's Learning Agency as something that will evolve over the next two years. It is not the case that we are running the LSC as it has been run historically until 2010, that legislation will go through and, bang, there is a change. We are already restructuring the LSC at the top level, and, progressively during the next year, we will make it look like the future arrangements in terms of the Young People's Learning Agency and supporting local authorities. We will be planning closely with local authorities for 2009-10, as a shadow year. In planning for 2010-11, we will be planning for the year in which local authorities take on responsibility. We are working on those transitional arrangements with the LGA and the ADCS, but also with Departments and our unions. It is a very large and complex process, but we are trying to ensure that it is managed as effectively as possible.

  Q101  Chairman: A senior LSC person told me—of course, this was off the record—that morale in the LSC is at rock bottom. That is not a very good basis on which to build partnerships and buddy up with each other, as one of you just described it. Is morale in the LSC at rock bottom?

  Rob Wye: That is not my perception, and I have been out and talked—

  Q102  Chairman: Are they all happily embracing this total instability of their careers?

  Rob Wye: Everybody would prefer not to have change, but they are used to change in the LSC—

  Chairman: Absolutely.

  Rob Wye:—and see it as part of what needs to happen. I would not say people were ecstatic.

  Q103  Chairman: What about that last bit you threw in—they "see it as part of what needs to happen"? You mean there was total discontent in your work force about the way things were?

  Rob Wye: Not at all. No. We are, and staff are generally, very proud of what we have done in terms of the LSC's drive in relation to performance 16 to 19. But they understand that changes occur. They can see that this is going to come about. Their commitment is to make sure that this is not to the detriment—indeed, that it is to the benefit—of young people, learners and adults.

  Q104  Chairman: The gentleman from the Association of Colleges said they wanted to be on the same scale, in proportion to the Scottish system, so half your members are going to lose their jobs, are they not?

  Rob Wye: The scale and the nature of the new arrangements is still in discussion. I cannot answer that.

  Q105  Chairman: That must be the intention.

  Rob Wye: The only assessment we have got of that was in the impact assessment that came out with the document, which implied that the broad shape and scale of what was required for the future was the same as what was required now.

  Q106  Chairman: So you will have the same number of people and the same budget?

  Rob Wye: Well, it is already subject to Gershon pressures, so it will be going down anyway.

  Q107  Mr. Heppell: You are in a state of flux, everything seems to be changing, and we are getting shadow bodies set up. What is the point of a consultation process if we are doing all these things before that is finished?

  Rob Wye: Well, that is really a matter for the Departments, but the consultation document was described to me as "a White Paper with green edges"—in other words, it was announcing, "This is going to happen, but there are some aspects of how it is going to happen that we would like your views on." That is the nature of the consultation.

  Caroline Abrahams: And the reality is that, as you have identified, there are lots of bits of policy not yet bottomed out. That is why Rob and I spend a lot of our time with Julian and various others in the DCSF, mostly—sometimes with DIUS colleagues as well—sitting down and trying to work out the detail of how this is going to work in practice.

  Q108  Chairman: Is it any way to run the system?

  Caroline Abrahams: I am sorry?

  Chairman: There is all this uncertainty. With the best will in the world it seems, even from the evidence we have had this morning, that this is a worrying situation for a very important sector of our educational effort.

  Caroline Abrahams: Well, it is a lot of work going on for us. I am not sure if a young person in a local authority has noticed any difference. It is our commitment, I think, across the agencies, to ensure that the LSC and colleges and so forth are able to deliver during this period. People like us nationally are spending lots of time thinking about it, but so far I think it would be fair to say it has not impacted—it is very important that it does not—on the quality of service that young people receive.

  Q109  Chairman: But we are politicians and we have constituencies. When we go back to our constituencies people do not just think it is all happening "up there". They are very worried. A lot of people who have done a great deal of good work in the FE sector are very worried about their futures and whether these changes are the right changes and will improve further education, rather than doing the opposite.

  Caroline Abrahams: I understand that, but I think it is fair to reflect that I have been in numerous conferences, events and seminars in the last few months. The conversation always goes the same way. It starts with college principals expressing serious concern about the impact of the changes and whether they are rowing back and turning the clock to how it was before. They think they are going to lose their autonomy, and local authorities will come in and top-slice their budgets and will not treat them fairly. Then what tends to happen, particularly if there is a small group discussion, is that they sit down with people from a range of positions within local authorities and have a discussion, and they find a way through it. I have seen this happen on a number of occasions now, and I think it is fair to say Rob has as well. The best example recently was the London Councils conference on this, which had some fantastic colleges doing a great job, which expressed all these concerns. Then I sat on the table and watched them have the conversation. By the end of an hour they had found a way they thought they could work together, and it was not going to be as bad as they thought. But this shows the importance of building relationships over the next period of time.

  Q110  Mr. Heppell: In some respects colleges have always had to respond to change. I suppose local government has as well. I was involved with FE back in the early 1980s. Then it was almost a case of being cut off from it and trying to get involved again now. That is surely the position that local authorities are in. They have lost most of their expertise—the people I used to deal with in FE colleges. It has gone because we have had this gap. Will local authorities be able to pick up that responsibility again? Are they being given enough time to adapt, to pick up that responsibility again under these proposals?

  Cllr Lawrence: They certainly have the ability to pick up the responsibility. You imply that there had been a total separation between the local authorities and the FE sector within each and every locality. Actually, you will be amazed at the amount of ongoing work that has been continuing between local authorities, schools and colleges, simply because if it did not continue, it would not have been possible to create the seamless paths for young people in the way that has been achieved. What does need to be given time—which is why we have to get the planning right, and why Caroline, Rob and others are having discussions with the Department to get it right—is the nature of the structural aspect of the change. We—that is, my lead member colleagues in local authorities and I—have to ensure that, for the young people who are the recipients of the courses and the skills processes, it is, to all intents and purposes, seamless. At the end of the day, they should not see an interruption in their opportunities to access whatever course they need to a quality to ensure that they can develop their potential and their opportunities. That, to me, is a guiding principle.

  Q111  Mr. Chaytor: I just want to pick up on John's question about the validity of the consultation, given that the shadow structures have been put in place. The questions in the consultation are not all about detail. One of them is, "Do you agree with the proposal to create a new skills funding agency?" Those are substantial questions about the key building blocks of the new structure. If 100% of people had responded that they were opposed to the new skills funding agency, what would have happened?

  Rob Wye: I have two comments on that. First, the consultation period is now finished. The response will be published in July. We will know what people said shortly. All the work that has been done so far has been to think through how we could create those shadow structures. We have not put them in place yet. It was sensible pre-planning to think about how we would put it in place, assuming that it goes ahead. The indications are that it will.

  Q112  Mr. Chaytor: But the work has been done on the assumption of a certain outcome to the consultation?

  Rob Wye: Yes.

  Chairman: I think that is a good note on which to finish. It has been a very good and useful session. It has really educated us to what is going on and who is doing what. Thank you very much Caroline, Les, Chris and Rob. If there are things that you think we missed, please contact us. Thank you.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 25 November 2008