Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


28 APRIL 2008

  Q60  Ian Stewart: Why, then, have they been all but airbrushed out of all the documentation?

  Lord Leitch: I do not think they have at all. Right from the top we saw the establishment of the Commission of Employment and Skills having Brendan Barber on the Commission. We say this is going to be employer-led; it is also going to have a Director General of the CBI and the TUC leader, so it is not airbrushed at all. It is in there very clearly; there are many mentions of union learning reps who have done fantastic work here. I went to speak to the TUC Congress in Brighton and consulted with them and Frances O'Grady, I spent many hours with them, so they have been a critical part of what we are doing, and are very important.

  Q61  Ian Stewart: You have just mentioned what was being perceived as the very important development of trade union learning reps, now 18,000 across the country. Would you see a potential for those learning reps becoming involved in the delivery of vocational training and skills?

  Lord Leitch: What do you mean?

  Q62  Ian Stewart: Delivering training in the work place?

  Lord Leitch: I think some of them do at the moment. If I remember, I went to a further education college in the north of England and there were union learning reps teaching, so it does happen at the present time.

  Q63  Ian Stewart: Was there a recognition that there is a movement out of colleges, the brick buildings, to the delivery of training for skills in the work place itself?

  Lord Leitch: By union learning reps, or generally?

  Q64  Ian Stewart: Generally.

  Lord Leitch: Yes, absolutely. That is the thrust of what we are saying. It should be work place training, and we have to push that forward. Absolutely.

  Q65  Ian Stewart: Would you think that the development of trade union learning reps as deliverers of vocational training in the work place would be a good development?

  Lord Leitch: Yes. I think that could help.

  Q66  Dr Iddon: Looking at the three institutional levels that you mentioned, national, sectoral and local delivery, it appeared to me that you did not want to perturb the existing organisations too much. For example, with the Learning and Skills Council, you wanted them streamlined and, in fact, they have been abolished. Are you disappointed about that? And we have the new Skills Funding Agency.

  Lord Leitch: Certainly they should be streamlined, and the rationale for that was because there was a very dramatic change in that they would no longer be doing central planning of courses, but we felt we still needed a body to do things like Train to Gain, apprenticeships, to manage the funding, so we thought there was a dramatic streamlining needing to take place. Now, the change which has gone on seems to me to mirror the machinery of government change with DIUS coming in, and I think that is a sensible move. So I am not disappointed at all.

  Q67  Dr Iddon: Bearing in mind that change, do you consider that the institutional reforms advocated in your review stand up to your own principles which are three—flexibility, simplification and continuity?

  Lord Leitch: If you look at the organisational map of skills in the United Kingdom it is astonishingly complex, and I think we made this point to try and simplify things. The changes which are being made are relevant, and the big change organisationally is no central planning by the LSC, that changes fundamentally, and the move to demand led. All these changes absolutely live up to the principles we set out.

  Q68  Dr Iddon: The creation of the United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills and the continuation of the Sector Skills Councils under your proposals is obviously central to achievement of the United Kingdom's ambitions in this area, but it relies, as you have been saying all along in this interview on employers coming on board now. Employers have been one of the unknown quantities in the past; we have not always got them on board, have we? Do you think it will be any better in future with the new institutional reforms?

  Lord Leitch: I am very confident it should be better in the future but this is a journey and there is a lot of work to be done. As I said, one third of employers do no training whatsoever; we have some brilliant employers and brilliant training that is done; many employers are not happy with their fee qualifications that are coming through, and we have the opportunity to give the employers a stronger voice in driving economically valuable qualifications so, yes, all the changes we are putting in will drive that forward. Can I just say that if you look at the stakeholders here, you have government, employers and individuals, and no one stakeholder can do this on their own. It has to be a partnership between the three, so you need employers in there who are government-committed driving this forward, and you need individuals driving this forward, and I feel very strongly on individuals that there is got to be a change in culture in this country about seeing the value of learning, and that may be a generational thing to happen but it will be very difficult to achieve. Unless we start it, we have no chance of achieving it and improving it, and the recommendations we made in this report in terms of awareness, national careers service, in terms of joining-up employment and skills, which to me is fundamentally important—all these things have to happen. So it has to be the state, the employer and the individual working in partnership to drive this forward.

  Q69  Dr Iddon: But the companies you mentioned earlier, and we could mention Rolls Royce, all the big companies of course, have future profits which depend upon working with the United Kingdom commission. But what about the smaller companies, the ones that are locally based, the small medium-sized enterprises? Are they going to come along with this new plan?

  Lord Leitch: I think Train to Gain is a massive opportunity for smaller companies. I remember, I went to see a small printing company in south east London, the first company I had been to on Train to Gain, and the individuals I talked to had never done any training before, and the bosses of the company suddenly had their eyes opened about the benefit that this could bring to them. They had a broker come in and assess what their company needed and they were over the moon about the results, and I think we can drive that forward for the smaller companies. We recommended to put a grant in for management training also for the small and medium enterprises. I feel very strongly about management as a skill, and if those smaller companies could develop more of that it would transform their performance. So Train to Gain has a fundamental role to play but, of course, it is difficult for a small company with a limited budget which says they cannot afford to spare someone to go off and train because they cannot see the return. It is about persuading them, showing them, influencing them, and helping them to see a return.

  Q70  Dr Iddon: You have admitted that some Sector Skills Councils are a lot better than some others. How are you going to make the ones that are not good better?

  Lord Leitch: I think it is the role of the Commission to do that, and I recommend that we should stand back and look at them all and evaluate their performance, and see what they have done and look at the sector skill agreements. I do not know if any of you have looked at the sector skill agreements but for the poorer performance they are so complicated and so voluminous you cannot see what they are there for, but also we have to make it easier for them because remember, Sector Skills Councils, to be fair, are a fledgling organisation and have not been going for very long, so maybe I am being a bit hard on them, but they have to have better funding. So many of them spend their time scratching around looking for ways to generate funds, they have to have enough funding to let them deliver their objectives so we have to help them too, but I think the evaluation lies with the Commission.

  Q71  Dr Iddon: Finally, concerning careers advice, those of us who saw the disappearance of the old careers service in local authorities and have seen how the Connexion service concentrated on certain individuals and left others to get on with it, usually the brighter ones, have been very critical in this Committee on careers advice given to people, in schools particularly but beyond that as well. Do you think that the new universal adult careers service is going to provide better careers advice for all age ranges?

  Lord Leitch: Yes, and I think its location is critically important as well in terms of being closer to Jobcentre Plus. Jobcentre Plus has done a terrific job in getting people to work; it really is outstanding. Remember, it was a very big merger between Job Centre and Benefits, it has been a difficult task, and they have delivered extremely well. What has not been happening is the integration and the join between skills and jobs. Two thirds, if I remember, of claimants after six months are recycled, so you have to ask why that is happening. Skills are a critical part of it, and having this careers service skills evaluation is fundamentally important, so it should be able to do that. But, Gordon, the point is this is a journey, and what I cannot do now is prove conclusively or with evidence that these things are going to work. I cannot do that.

  Q72  Dr Blackman-Woods: Are you genuinely satisfied with the response by Government to your report?

  Lord Leitch: I am very pleased with the response. I spent a lot of time consulting right across all political parties, trade unions, individuals, trade organisations and employers, and I spent a lot of time ensuring that we had something that was pragmatic and deliverable in that sense but also exciting enough and demanding enough to deliver what we needed as a nation, and I think that time was well spent. The Government have taken my agenda and recommendations and it is now government policy. If you look at the volume of material published since then it is remarkable, and just reading World Class Skills before this session, what they are coming up with as action points is a huge array of initiatives which they have to deliver, but I think they are committed, they have made investments, they are looking at Train to Gain increasing to a billion pounds in 2010, so the money is coming too. So yes, I am very pleased.

  Q73  Dr Blackman-Woods: Are there any areas or recommendations that you thought they should have accepted and have not?

  Lord Leitch: There are always going to be. What I have not got is the job of balancing the nation's purse. We also said in the report, if I remember, that it is up to the Government to evaluate our recommendations and look at value for money and practicality and the balance point, and there is one point where we said all funding should be demanded by 2010, and they have not gone for 2010 because they think there is a danger of jeopardising five FE colleges, so they have gone a little bit later on that. But that is OK. From my very crude calculations I think they have accepted delivering about 95%. You know, in many reviews you do the review and nothing happens, and here many things are happening.

  Q74  Dr Blackman-Woods: What about the pace of progress towards achieving those targets, as opposed to delivering documents about how they might achieve them?

  Lord Leitch: It is only nine months since they set out the policy. I think I would give them a little bit longer.

  Q75  Dr Blackman-Woods: So you would not agree with Richard Lambert of CPI who said that he thought that the Government's response to the Leitch proposals was a bit lame, that the Government had pulled back from some of the bolder recommendations, and he also commented, "I think the rather leisurely way the Government is going about the Leitch proposals will make it very difficult for business to make these changes in time", so do you think that is not a sensible set of comments at this stage?

  Lord Leitch: I think it is not balanced. I think he has some validity on some of the points mentioned in 2010. I think it is no way leisurely, and looking at the volume of material they have produced, it is anything but. There is an urgency, a commitment, they see that we need to raise the game and the consequences of not doing that—no, I disagree with the balance of the point. There are many good things they are doing.

  Q76  Dr Blackman-Woods: So would it be fair to conclude that you are generally optimistic about the Government achieving these targets?

  Lord Leitch: Yes, I am.

  Q77  Mr Marsden: Louise, you have been on the other side of the table, as it were, since this review was completed working with many of the stakeholders. Is there anything, looking at it from the other side of the fence that you think: "Gosh, I wish we were moving a bit quicker on that".

  Ms Tilbury: In terms of implementation?

  Q78  Mr Marsden: Yes?

  Ms Tilbury: No. I am incredibly impressed by the speed at which the Government has picked up and gone along with the recommendations. The important thing to remember is that it is a vision for 2020 and there is a lot of reform that needs to be gone through in the very short period of time, even to 2010. In terms of organisational reform the Commission was set up from 1 April this year, and I think that is ready to go now and we will see a change again this year.

  Q79  Mr Willis: Sandy, in terms of this 2020 vision, one of the big flaws in our adult training skill system over decades, not just this Government, has been the employee who finds himself in a job not only where his employer does not train him or her but also where they see the need for training themselves as an individual in order to move on, with the employer who has absolutely no incentive to invest in that employee so they will move on. Where in your report is that huge group of individuals tackled? Where do you see the advantage to them moving on between now and 2020?

  Lord Leitch: I think what we have tried to say in this review is that there is an incentive also for the employer because, by and large, what we see from all the evidence is that if individuals improve their job performance improves. So what we have tried to do through the Commission, giving employers a stronger voice by sector skills, is to demonstrate that and to encourage more participation and investment from employers, and I think that will happen. At the same time, as you know, we have said in areas like basic skills there are too many employees without basic skills, and we came across this pledge that was being implemented in Wales on a voluntary basis, which was a voluntary pledge for employers to commit to give their employers training up to level 2, and we think if we do a strong exercise in promoting this we can get employers to do this on a voluntary basis. What we did say, however, is if that is insufficient by 2010 we should look at whether compulsion is the right answer for that basic level of skill that people should have.

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