CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 505-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE AND SKILLS COMMITTEE

(INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE AND SKILLS SUB-COMMITTEE

ON After Leitch: Implementing Skills and Training Policies)

 

 

AFTER LEITCH: IMPLEMENTING SKILLS AND TRAINING POLICIES

 

 

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Sullivan Room, Town Hall, Leeds

 

 

MS LIZ WALLIS, PROFESSOR GEOFF LAYER, DR ROGER BENNETT, MR GARY WILLIAMSON, MS LINDA FLORANCE, MR MARK ANDREWS, MR TOM SMITH and MS RUTH ADAMS

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 64

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

 

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

 


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

(Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee on After Leitch: Implementing Skills and Training Policies)

on Wednesday 14 May 2008

 

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods

Mr Tim Boswell

Mr Gordon Marsden

________________

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ms Liz Wallis, Managing Director, Digital 2010; Professor Geoff Layer, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching, University of Bradford; Dr Roger Bennett, Principal, North Lindsey College; Mr Gary Williamson, Executive Director, Leeds Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Mr Linda Florance, Chief Executive, Skillfast UK; Mr Mark Andrews, Chief Executive, NG Bailey; Mr Tom Smith, Head of Adult, Families and Extended Learning, Barnsley Learning Net; and Ms Ruth Adams, Head of Skills, Yorkshire Forward, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Could I first of all say how delighted the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee is to be here in Leeds today and to thank very much indeed our witnesses for joining us this afternoon. When the Government decided that it was going to make changes to the structure of government, it set up a department with "innovation" in its title and we as the Select Committee shadowing that Department felt we ought to have innovation as well, and actually getting the Select Committee to get out of London and come all the way on this huge journey to Leeds has been a very innovative statement. I hope you will appreciate it is very, very important for our region - and I say that as a Yorkshire MP - that we are out of London and we look at how this important skills agenda is going to impact throughout the country, particularly of course as the Government has said that the Leitch agenda will be delivered on a regional basis, and we want to test that this afternoon. Can I say that one of the main emphases of this inquiry is not in fact to question the thinking of Leitch, we very much believe as a Committee that Lord Leitch has done a superb job in doing an analysis of the country's skills needs between now and 2020. We do not particularly disagree either with the targets that he has set for each of the levels from level two to level four. We would perhaps question whether it is realistic to achieve those targets, and that is something that we will get on to this afternoon. Our main concern is that given that the Government has accepted the Leitch proposals as they stand and has now set very, very clear not only policy objectives but also structural arrangements to actually deliver that agenda, whether in fact we are on the right track and whether in fact we are on course to be able to deliver this huge skills advancement by 2020. We are delighted this afternoon for the record to have Liz Wallis, the Managing Director of Digital 2010 with us, and thank you very much again for your input this morning, Liz; Professor Geoff Layer, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Learning and Teaching at the University the Bradford, it is good to see somebody from Bradford here in Leeds; Dr Roger Bennett the Principal of North Lindsey College, Mr Gary Williamson, the Executive Director of Leeds Chamber of Trade and Commerce; Ruth Adams, the Head of Skills at Yorkshire Forward; Linda Florance, the Chief Executive of Skillfast-UK; Mr Mark Andrews, the Chief Executive of NG Bailey; and last but by no means least Mr Tom Smith, Head of Adult, Families and Extended Learning of the Barnsley Learning Net. I wondered if, Ruth, I could begin with you to ask first of all does the RDA agree with the Leitch analysis of the skills needs for the Yorkshire region? Do you feel that in this region the Government's response to Leitch will deliver by 2020 the skills the region needs? A simple question!

Ms Adams: In terms of the analysis, yes, at every level of the labour market in the region we have got the skills needs that Leitch outlined. We have got a considerably high proportion of people with basic skills needs going all the way through the range. We would strongly emphasise though, if we want to get the economic benefits for the economy, the need for high-level skills, and we would not want to underplay the fact that that is of considerable importance to this economy to really start to bring about the changes that in many ways will drive the demand for skills by businesses because they are in a better position, or a more productive position to want people in the labour market and to skill them, so we would not under-estimate higher level skills at all. Our concern is as the Leitch ambitions translate into measurable targets and qualifications as to whether within the economy of Yorkshire and Humber, within the labour market, we will have sufficient demand for those qualifications. We fare, I suppose, quite badly in terms of both business demand for skills as an average and also individual demand for skills, so we have quite high proportions of young people not progressing in learning; we have quite high proportions of adults that do not demand any skills when they enter the labour market. That is a really big challenge for us whether we can bring about the culture change that will enable this region to deliver on the expectations that DIUS has of this region.

Q2 Chairman: Yours is one of the most vibrant chambers in the country, if I might say, (second only to Harrogate!); do you buy into this Leitch agenda? Do you feel that the world has changed since Lord Leitch has presented his report and the Government response and will it make a difference to your members and how?

Mr Williamson: We buy into the agenda. I have got a long list from my Skills Board that tells me what they agree with - which I will not bore you with at the moment - it is the implementation that we find does not always live up to the rhetoric. It is the appropriateness of the paperwork, the appropriateness of the people who come to see you, the confusing changes where the government machinery has changed. Since Leitch we have got numerous different departments and new initiatives. It is a simple message that we should be giving to employers of upskilling the workforce to improve productivity and to make them more competitive. It is being there to help and tell them where they should go. There are almost as many initiatives as there are people sat round this table. Yes as a city we buy into it and our members buy into the Leitch vision; it is just how it is coming through slowly and in a slightly different form to what we thought we had bought into.

Q3 Chairman: I wonder if we can pick up on this. I am not going round the table but I really want to get you to come in and respond. We have been talking to one of the deliverers of skills this morning and we have heard that it is too complicated and there is no joined-up thinking; what is your response?

Dr Bennett: I can see where Gary is coming from on initiatives. If I can talk about the FE sector at the moment, I think we have suffered and are suffering with initiative overload. My college works with 1,600 employers, from SMEs to large employers such as Corus and we have got to de-grey the initiatives with our employers to get them on board with what it means to get upskilled, what it will mean to the local economy, what it will mean to the region, indeed what it will mean to their business. You can get the message across to the bigger employers reasonably successfully but getting that message across to the small- and medium-sized enterprise is more difficult, and it is certainly more challenging because at the level two juncture, colleges have a lot of people on level two programmes and our employers want them skilled to level two. Level three costs employers and then do they have the jobs for them? That is one thing and that will vary from locality to locality, but I think it is about what is in it for the small and medium-sized employer rather than the bigger employer. Our experience in dealing with our 1,600 employers is that the message is more difficult to articulate to the SMEs than it is to the larger employers.

Ms Florance: I could pick up on a point there because the sector which I represent - fashion and textiles - is made up of 90 per cent of enterprises with fewer than ten employees, so I am typically that sector, and in terms of the Leitch recommendations, I think my employers universally felt that they were the right things to be doing, both socially and economically within the country, so there is an acknowledgement that actually recommendations were taking us in the right direction. I would also concur with Gary in terms of the complexity of the infrastructure which is set out there for delivery. It really confuses our employers; they do not understand it. Wholesale reform of that would take time but we welcome the opportunity that has been presented currently to try and hide the wiring to provide a simplified forefront for employers. Unless we have made more progress with issues around qualifications reform whereby employers can actually buy into bite-size chunks for their existing workforce in a manner that enables individuals and employers to have the kind of - and I am using these terms - "pick and mix" approach to career development, the right training at the right time for the person and for the employer, then I think the whole issue of targets, targets, targets and qualifications, qualifications, qualifications, which seem to be part of the implementation plan of Leitch, will disaffect employers.

Q4 Chairman: But qualifications equals skills and skills equals productivity and productivity equals wealth. You are laughing, Mark!

Ms Florance: I do not think we can debate the fact that we have not got another good proxy for the measure of skills but that is all a qualification is; it is a proxy for a measure, and one has to also look at what is happening around the UK, and different governments have picked up the Leitch messages in different ways. I might cite Scotland which has resisted the temptation to set lots of targets at lots of levels because actually their workforce is more qualified than the rest of the UK, but it does not mean they are getting the productivity results because for them their focus is on utilising the skills they have in their workforce. I think there is a difference between having the skill, and the measuring of qualifications being a proxy in that, but if the qualification itself is too big a package and the wrong package then it is not going to achieve that end result anyway.

Q5 Chairman: I want to know why you were laughing, Mark!

Mr Williamson: I suspect it is the same as me, it is a qualification issue as opposed to solutions for small businesses. We have almost run to the end of the chain with Leitch and to outcomes. Part of Leitch was about engaging business in education and training, the development of the curriculum, and by changing the curriculum in schools encouraging young people to stay on so that they are qualified and skilled for life and also developing employer engagement in the work-based learning programmes. That is the bit that is equally as complicated as how you get access to funding and that is the bit where I am sure if you can get the first part right then gradually because employers are engaged they will recognise and understand the system because they have been involved in it, but we find at Leeds Skills Board that we are almost thrown huge great changes in government structures and we have got to understand them before we can get involved, and there is no consultation

Q6 Mr Marsden: We feel the same actually!

Mr Williamson: From the business perspective they ask the question why, what is the rationale, what will be different, what will it improve, and the people who come to tell us about that - sorry, Ruth - do not always have the answers because I suspect they are down the line on where the decisions are made.

Q7 Chairman: You are an employer and NG Bailey has always been at the lead in terms of skilling its workforce. I know that as a former Leeds head teacher, so there is a little plug for you!

Mr Andrews: I am here wearing various different hats and I think some of the points that have been made earlier are so important. I think there is a fundamental difference between large employers like NG Bailey and the smaller employers. As a general statement, the educational system, as it was and as it is becoming, is immensely complex, and I would certainly endorse everything that Gary says, it is just supremely difficult for large employers like us, let alone for small employers, to understand what is going on. I think that while there is obviously a lot of goodwill behind the changes, they still need considerable clarity for employers to understand them. From a personal standpoint I have spent my discretionary time during the past four years trying to understand the education system, from CBI committees to the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network to the Regional Skills Partnership, and I am just about able to keep up with some of the acronyms and some of the changes but for the majority of even large employers it is virtually impossible. The other thing that I feel very strongly about is that to me one of the fundamental issues with the system is that the real aggregate demand picture from employers does not seem to be available. We have wrestled with that ---

Q8 Chairman: What does that mean?

Mr Andrews: I do not want to offend any of my learned colleagues around the table, but I certainly have a view that in certain parts of the system we have worked very hard to try to deliver courses that students want to study rather than where there are jobs. The end result of that is we see an awful lot of people coming out of universities for example, in degrees in subjects that are, frankly, useless and they end up flipping burgers or at Jobcentre Plus. At the same time I cannot find engineers or quantity surveyors for love nor money. Something says to me the system requires us by region and by sector to really understand what the demand for skills is, and yet it seems to be incredibly difficult to get that data.

Q9 Chairman: But you have got the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and you have got the new Skills Funding Agency, you have got employers in a demand-led system. The Government cannot do more than deliver everything employers have been asking for. Surely it is up to you now to do it?

Mr Andrews: I am not saying that employers do not have a responsibility; what I am saying is there needs to be simplification to the system so we have got one data set that is actually useful rather than 100 data sets that are telling us different information that we are all trying to respond to.

Q10 Mr Boswell: Is the complexity the organisational one; is it the qualifications one; is it the intelligence one of scoping what the need is; or is it a bit of all of those?

Mr Andrews: I am a simple construction guy and for me what we are talking about here is a simple three-dimensional spreadsheet that says this is what by industry and by region we need for the various skills, and yet I have never seen that data. We have been trying within the Yorkshire context to get some aggregate data on that basis but it is as if each of the different agencies - the RDA, the LSC, the Sector Skills Councils and everybody else and his dog - has got their own data set. Why do we need that? Why can we not have one data set that gives us really useful information that we can then use to drive the system?

Q11 Chairman: Let us ask Ruth why because that is your job, is it not, at the RDA, you are Head of Skills?

Ms Adams: Partly, yes, and working with the Regional Skills Partnership we are trying to put that together locally, and it is a point well made that nationally we do not have that. What we have through the Sector Skills Councils is very good data by sector nationally, but we have got to match that then with the regional economy so that we can get some really useful information out to providers of skills that says this is what the economy demands. That is not in place yet but, yes, we are working on it to try and put that data set together. One of the issues, going back to Tim's question earlier about where the problems lies, is I think there is a fundamental problem that whilst Leitch was very clear on the skills agenda - and what we have across the range of government papers is Innovation Nation, we have reports from the CBI, really highlighting STEM skills for example in the economy and the importance for the economy - what that does not feed though to is any targeting within the Leitch targets, so whilst innovation reports are saying how crucial these skills are for the economy what then is delivered at an implementation of Leitch is a very blanket "wherever the eligibility is for qualification that is what will be funded", so there is a fundamental mismatch between what innovation and what economy drivers are saying and then how the response to Leitch has been put in place by the then DfES, which is not to target resources at those STEM skills that are claimed to be so important.

Q12 Dr Blackman-Woods: If we can just go back a question, I wondered whether Geoff wanted to come in and answer the question about universities and them just not churning out the right level four skills because clearly Leitch's agenda for level four is a very powerful one.

Professor Layer: Yes it is. You can turn Mark's question round different ways about employers being specific enough about their needs in the first place. I think how we try to come across this would be that in terms of what people want to study, in terms of what people want to do, you have got this dilemma and dichotomy between what employers want, the needs that are articulated within Leitch, et cetera, and the fact that we are dealing with people; and people sometimes come at things from different angles. What you have seen is quite a significant increase in the number of people - and it is interesting to follow up that particular issue about studying STEM qualifications - coming out with STEM qualifications from universities but you also have a context whereby people are graduating and not necessarily going straight and directly into an area of employment that they seem to be heading towards. For example, 50 per cent of lawyers do not practise law; 50 per cent of chemistry graduates (before recent times) went into the City and the finance sector, et cetera, so you do not have necessarily a match between the traditional higher education product of a degree with a vocation, and that has been there for centuries. You just need to look at the Oxbridge degrees and what people study there. It is about equipping people with skills to be transferable; it is not necessarily through a direct vocational route. What you then see - and I think you do see it across this region, and what you do have to remember is that universities are different from each other, they just are, and they always have been - is different responses from different universities at producing more and more vocational programmes which are delivered in partnership with employers. This is where I think I differ from the data issues that people have raised. This may be just the level of learners that universities work with, but where we tend to come at it from is not the data but it is actually what the employers are telling us. It is about working in partnership with employers. There are examples in the region, for example Huddersfield University works with the West Yorkshire Police Authority around particular programmes to train and develop the staff in police forces; we work with West Yorkshire Fire Service; other people work with the Paramedic Service; we also work with parts of the digital industry, particular programmes that industry have said they want or AstraZeneca has said it wants, et cetera. Our impression to date and our experience to date has been about partnership between employers and universities and higher education providers in trying to deliver bespoke programmes that can be very short and can be very bite-sized, but there are complexities of funding that go into that.

Chairman: We are going to come back to higher education and I am going to stop you there. Gordon?

Q13 Mr Marsden: There has been a lot of debate and discussion about whether the region is in fact the right level on which to be concentrating the delivery of the Leitch agenda. I wonder, Roger Bennett, if I could ask you as an FE Principal, what was it they said about Mexico "so far from God, so near the United States", I wonder sometimes whether in North Lindsey people think that about places like Leeds, and I just wonder to what extent from your perspective in the FE sector it makes sense to be looking at delivering Leitch on a regional level.

Dr Bennett: First and foremost, North Lincolnshire has to look to its local backyard. Like many local authorities, we court inward investment from employers to come and drop their manufacturing units in our backyard, and we work with those. Leeds is a long way from Scunthorpe and at the end of the day what happens in Leeds is very different because the dynamics of this as a city are different from the dynamics of Scunthorpe, so, by definition, the needs base of our employers is going to be somewhat different, although there will be degrees of commonalty. I think we have to respond and my college is quite responsive in terms of employer engagement. Indeed, we try to be as responsive as we can. I think the thing that Leitch is putting forward, to me certainly, on the skills is let us work with the employers and get a really good, solid interface with employers, and with the help of the Sector Skills Councils it should be demand-led. We should future-proof where we are going with skills, not just for the local backyard, not just for the region, but for England plc or UK plc. We should future-proof what the needs are. Going back to Geoff's point, I think for the individual it is a matter of choice. The qualifications are there so there is an individual choice point of view to take into account, and that is why people do make choices. From an employer's point of view, my college has set up five learning centres in factories to actually take the training out, and colleges in my sector are very good at that, and we do that nationally. We have set up five learning centres in companies and factories to reengage level two but also to plant the seed for higher level skills, and we are delivering level three and we are delivering level four through those centres, and that is a fantastic initiative, because we get buy-in from the employer, we can explain the complexities of the FE and HE structures, and they will spend time with us because it is to their advantage.

Q14 Mr Marsden: I think the average model is very important and, funnily enough, we were talking about this just before we came to the meeting today. Can I come back to you, Ruth, there you are Head of Skills, Yorkshire Forward, does it worry you that - and all RDAs vary in their sense of coherence, and I am not going to ask you to list them in the sense of which one is the most coherent and which one is not but, nevertheless, it is a fact, they are varied - in delivering the Leitch agenda you are focusing on regional structures?

Ms Adams: No, I suppose the bigger concern that I have that worries me is that we have very little regional flexibility to determine what an appropriate funded solution could be.

Q15 Chairman: What does that mean?

Ms Adams: For example, it is absolutely right that the Train to Gain offer is very straightforward because it is a national offer, but what that means is that you have very little flexibility then to deal with or to invest in issues that you may need to address, so for example, to go back to my earlier point, based on the CBI Survey, as an average, we start from a very low base in terms of business demand for skills but we have the same national offer that regions that have not got that issue are starting from.

Q16 Mr Marsden: Can I just press you on that because you are making a region-by-region comparison but you could equally say within your region there are huge disparities. You have got people in Leeds crying out for the need to get more skills in level three and level four; and there are other parts of the area where basic skills, particularly in more rural areas, are still a key issue. Are you saying you have not got the flexibility to do that within your own region, to vary the offer?

Ms Adams: The offer in the region can be varied because it is demand-led so if businesses in a particular area want basic skills, and that is their biggest need, then obviously that offer can be targeted to basic skills, but what we can put on the table is only the same as what is prescribed to us.

Q17 Mr Marsden: So you cannot fiddle around with funding?

Ms Adams: We cannot fiddle around with the funding.

Q18 Mr Boswell: It has to be a finite qualification?

Ms Adams: Yes, and it has to be a finite qualification.

Q19 Chairman: Can we follow that through and that will bring us back to the regional agenda because we are really keen and I would like to bring you and Liz in on this. The biggest complaint we have about this agenda so far - and I am sure we will get more in the weeks to come - is this mismatch between a qualification-led skills agenda and what employers appear to need in terms of improving the competitiveness of their business through the skills of their workers. The Train to Gain scheme is aimed at qualifications and unless employers pay the whole cost, if you are going to download costings from the government through Train to Gain, you have really got to aim for full qualifications. For the IT industry and the digital industry, which applies to virtually every sector at the moment, that is a bit of a nonsense and indeed for so many of the employers, some of which we talked to this morning, the need for small bite-sized chunks which are not part of a qualification is what employers want and yet you cannot deliver it. What is your response to that?

Ms Adams: The only way we can deliver it for the employers you will have met this morning is through discretionary funding, and that is being squeezed. That part of discretionary funding is just reducing and in some ways that is no bad thing because then the emphasis is to make qualifications more relevant so that the bite-size bits in a modular system would out, but we have not got a modular system of training funding so we are a long way off that. We are squeezing the flow of money before we have put in place the system that would make this work better. The difference for skills - and this is the bit that concerns me - is the NVQ approach is about accrediting the competence of the worker as it currently is; it is not about developing skills, so whilst it is the best measure of skill levels we have got, it is not the best measure of developing the skills needed to take businesses. It is about accrediting what people can do and how they are competent in their current role, so by definition it does not lead to progression in the way that person applies their skills and the qualifications are not future-proof in the way that the NVQs are set up, and that I think is going to be the stumbling block in really getting the benefit that Leitch wanted to see.

Q20 Chairman: Liz and Linda, I want you both to come in here and then I want to come to Tom because Barnsley has got some particular problems which I want to discuss. On this business about bite-size chunks and funding mechanism?

Ms Wallis: Yes, I think the key here is the mismatch, as we have already identified, that if we want to create a demand-led system then it needs to be demand-led, and if you make it demand-led, employers will want things that fit very specific purposes that are usually quite short term and do not necessarily lead to qualifications, and similarly individuals themselves will be focused on acquiring a skill to do a thing, and that is particularly the case for small employers. I think that has been an interesting issue in the context of future-proofing. The bit where it falls down on demand-led is taking the views of small employers or even employers generally as the indicator of what we need in the future. I think there has to be an industry component in the IT industry and in the media industry saying what kind of skills and qualifications will be needed in five or ten years' time because if we rely only on employers dictating the system then those employers will have, of necessity, quite a short-term view; less so the big employers but certainly the smaller ones.

Ms Florance: I think that point is very important and it leads back to a couple of things that we have touched on: one is qualifications reform that is going on in parallel with the Leitch recommendations, and the other is that old chestnut of labour market intelligence and who is doing which bit of it and what is it for. Leitch was very clear that the best way to engage employers, be they large or small, was in sectors - I stress just sectors - and by doing that you can actually explore what are the issues for that sector in a global context and future-proof anything that needs to be put in place for that sector. At local level we then need the delivery mechanism but if there is not a join-up between the information coming out for the sector, and what is specifically right for that sector and what is then being delivered on the ground, or offered on the ground or even understood on the ground, what you are going to get is individual employers in small businesses not really understanding that their competition is not Bradford and Barnsley, it is Beijing and they have to be able to compete in that market, so the brokerage service actually needs to be raising their aspirations as well as delivering what they need to get them on the next step on the ladder in that direction. If they are leading in the wrong direction, because (that is going to lead to business failure in the competitive market that they are facing) then we have wasted a lot of public service and money along the way.

Q21 Chairman: Tom, I want to bring you in before I bring in Tim to deal more with the implementation of training and skills in the region. Barnsley traditionally has had a low-skills economy. It was very focused obviously on mining and heavy industry. Does the Leitch agenda mean anything to you?

Mr Smith: Yes and I think, similar to colleagues, we applaud a lot within it. I suppose from my perspective where I am coming from in Barnsley, one of our issues is pre sub-level two.

Q22 Chairman: Pre sub-level two?

Mr Smith: Sub-level two and pre any level at all, if I am being honest. We are just somewhere short of 50 per cent, round about 42.3 per cent of adults in Barnsley with no qualifications at all. One of the biggest barriers and blocks for our adult population is literacy and numeracy skills for life, which I will come on to later on. 20,000 people are on incapacity benefit as well, so a large part of our work at the moment is about targeting those people who are not anywhere near that level two qualification - and it was interesting talking about qualifications and qualifications frameworks - and getting that right so that those people can be reengaged. Some of those may well already be in the labour market but a lot of them are outside of that and it is finding a route through, and often it is through a community route, to get those people reengaged and upskilled. A lot of it is about confidence and aspirations and that is not always the nicest thing to say, but it is, to help those people get on there. For a lot of them it is a learning journey but the end result is often employment, it is higher level skills and benefits around that.

Q23 Chairman: Is that going to happen with this current policy agenda?

Mr Smith: That is the bit, I suppose, that is weak in this. I suppose it is the adult learning that sits beneath that. It is the routes in; it is the personalised pathways; it is the IAG; it is all about that package that can support those adults, and there are significant numbers in Barnsley, on that route through to higher level skills and then to better employment and the whole economic agenda really. I think that from our perspective in Barnsley, we are looking at this model now, we have an infrastructure that is within the community that is working with somewhere in the region of 12,000 to 14,000 adults, and what we are finding is routes and ways of accelerating those adults from no qualifications (and I do not necessarily mean no skills because they often have the skills and the abilities and what they do not have is the qualifications) and, as I said, the biggest barrier is literacy and the numeracy. As a way to accelerate that through, in a sense to get into that whole Leitch thing really, there has been some interesting work. We have been working with Yorkshire Forward and the HE institutions on accelerating people through and delivering 'year zero' courses within the community and then a supported thing through. I think there is a bit of a mismatch, it feels, and part of that is funding because I think we need some permissions with the funding that we have on sub-level two in terms of moving people. Some of it is around the qualifications framework and the progression routes and some of it is focusing on individuals and communicating to them skills opportunities, employment opportunities, and that route there as well.

Q24 Mr Boswell: I would like to talk about another area of potential confusion, and maybe we will leave Ruth out of this first question and start with the two employers in the shape of Gary and proxy of Mark. We are looking at the regional agenda for delivery, which is Linda's point. Do you think that the priorities and approaches represented by this excellent panel this afternoon can align sufficiently to make co-operation effective and practical in delivering this? Firstly, would you like to work together - and I hope the answer is yes and, secondly, practically, given different funding streams, slightly different interests and slightly different requirements, can you do so?

Mr Andrews: That is a very good question. Having just agreed to take on the Regional Skills Partnership board chair in the last days, my answer has to be yes - and I have to say there are a lot of people in industry who have told me I am absolutely mad to take it on - however I do think there is a real lack of clarity from the Government as to what the role of the RSP is. In fact in a meeting just last week of the Regional Skills Partnership, I have almost taken the approach that we need to take a step back from the morass out there and say, "We all know there are some issues in the region. Some of them are being adequately dealt with by other parts of the system and if that is the case, let's just monitor that and let it carry on, but let's also have a look to see whether there are things that are falling through the gaps."

Q25 Mr Boswell: So management by exception?

Mr Andrews: Absolutely and, as I say, it is very early days in the process and literally this was a week ago that we have just had this new meeting, but I do believe that the partners, which is just about everybody from the skills components that exist within the county, are absolutely committed philosophically to making this work. What we have got to come up with is the means to do that. One of the issues is where does the RSP stop and the work and skills boards that exist in cities start? To me again, there is no point in trying to duplicate that regionally. We have got to see whether there are things we can do that could add value at the more local level. It is really part of the management machine. Unfortunately, I do not think we have been given any steer from government as to what the role is, so we are making it up as we go along. I did put this to the Rt Hon John Denham a week ago quite vociferously. Some clarity would be nice but in the meantime, as I say, we all know what the problems are; it is trying to find some solutions to move them forward.

Q26 Mr Boswell: Can I slightly pick up on a specific point and then ask Gary to come in. How do you see the relationship between the city efforts, which of course involve local government as well, and Jobcentre Plus and that city strategy which government is moving towards with the wider regional strategy? Are there different sorts of needs and can you tune the band between those two sorts of requirement?

Mr Andrews: I think they are different sorts of needs. You made the comment earlier that if you look at Yorkshire it is a very disparate county and the needs within the centre of Leeds compared to the outback of North or South Yorkshire are very, very different. For me I feel it is a case of trying to provide a support mechanism, a best practice networking arrangement for the work and skills boards that exist in some of the cities (and need to exist in some of the others because they do not exist across the board) we need to provide a learning networking arrangement for them but then fundamentally let them get on with it, and then try and take the Regional Skills Partnership to a level where it is looking at issues that cannot be addressed by competent boards that are already in place.

Q27 Mr Boswell: Gary, do you want to come in on that?

Mr Williamson: I think Mark is very brave and I think his colleagues are quite right to say to him, "Goodness me, what have you let yourself in for?" because that is exactly the response our skills board members have had in the first 14 months since they have been there trying to make an impression or trying to change things. We are not so different in Leeds from everywhere else in Yorkshire. If you look at the figures, we have a higher level of regional unemployment as a city, we have great swathes of our area where there is second- and third-generation unemployment, similar to you, it is just the numbers are different (they are probably bigger given the size of the city). Employers are importing labour from across West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, that is why the M62 is so busy. There is a recognition by all employers in Leeds that we need to do something. The problem is it is the 'how', which I think is what Mark was saying. There are so many agencies with so many good intentions that it just bamboozles us.

Q28 Mr Boswell: Can I come back to Mark on this, and if anyone on the education side might like to join in feel free, as I understand your first thoughts on looking at the RSP, you are talking about a network so you can share best practice around and so forth, and also an ability to if not intervene at least interest yourselves in cases where there is a local deficiency.

Mr Andrews: I think that is part of it. I think the RSP has struggled a bit during the last year but during the course of that last year we have been able to get a fairly coherent view as to what the real priority issues are on a regional basis. A lot of work was done by Ruth with colleagues in the LSC and all of the other people involved in the partnership and now we have got this so-called 'helicopter' view with five priorities for the region. What we are doing with those five priorities is saying if a couple or three or four of the partners have already got that under control, great, just keep us posted, but if there are some glaring holes in there, then flag them up and we will try and find some resource funding, whatever, to see if we can make a difference.

Mr Williamson: It sounds very negative and I think there are lots of people and groups out there trying to make a difference. I go back to a point I made earlier on, Leitch was not just about the end game, the qualifications and the targets, it was about engaging employers in developing some of the qualifications and engaging the schools to improve the attainment level which we know in Leeds needs improving. If you build people in at the start of the process, funnily enough, you might actually have buy-in at the end of the process. We appear to be always looking at the end and what is the target; it has not changed. There is almost a fear I get sometimes from the various groups and organisations responsible for "education": that for example they have got 1,600 customers, really is what you are saying, or employers, but how involved are they in the process of what you are delivering and how it is delivered? If you take in Leeds an example of that, the Chamber has been working with educators on the new diplomas which are industry-led. Unlike a lot of the country, we have got employers enthused and engaged but we cannot get the schools engaged, we cannot get the teachers to be advocates for this diploma for the young people who will listen to them so there is a mismatch.

Q29 Chairman: Who does it?

Mr Williamson: We cannot work that out. There is a warehouse in Milton Keynes apparently with all the literature in! I am showing my age now but when Captain Kirk landed on an alien planet they all spoke American because there was a universal translator, and our skills boards and employers often need that universal translator to understand many of the things some of my colleagues round here are trying to explain.

Q30 Mr Boswell: I think we might be included in that. Linda, did you want to come in on that just to make the point because I do not think Skillfast-UK, wool, textiles, Yorkshire, are a priority.

Ms Florance: No we are not but of course our industry uses STEM subjects and therefore as part of our strategy that is really important to us, but it gets sidelined because the sector is not a regional priority. Where I was going to come in here is I think you have asked quite a key question, Tim, which is the interface between national, regional and local, and I think it is the area that perhaps Leitch made some recommendations on but when it came to world-class skills, it was skirted around slightly. In thinking about the timing, there was a national sub-regional review going on with the Lyons Report at that very time and actually this question was never addressed. Mark has touched on it in saying should we not just provide a clear remit for what should happen at national, what should happen at regional and what should happen, where appropriate, at sub-regional level. Leitch actually recommended the establishment of employment and skills boards at a local level where it was right to have them, but he also said they should be licensed by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and we need to re-look at how might that infrastructure really work and whether it is licensed or not, whether we have got the right remits in the right place, and whether that would that make it sensible for employers.

Q31 Mr Boswell: The elephant in the room - sorry, that might sound ungracious - the one I kept out of this was the RDA and somebody might like to lead before Ruth comes in on the relationship between the RSP and the RDA. If I can just wrap this up, we have got a lot of people at the party already, which you have all accepted, there are large numbers of interests, but is there anybody being left out? I tend to mention the self-employed as an example; the active participation of trade unions, and not just employers, and employees as opposed to proxy interests for them. If we are really going to throw everything at it, do we need to add more people in? Two separate but related questions: who is really taking the lead between the RSP and the RDA and is everybody really engaged?

Mr Andrews: We are very much wandering into new territory with the RSP, but it is my view that part of the agreement that I have got in taking on the role here is the absolute backing of the RDA and the LSC and the other partners. The RDA and the LSC in some ways were always going to be a bigger part of this simply because that is where a lot of the money is in this part of the agenda. The LSC is obviously coming into a period of some transition but we have had a lot of dialogue to try to ensure that everybody is joined up. I have likened my own role in this to a non-executive capacity in the RSP. I am therefore as a non-executive not prepared to do it unless I have got executives who have actually got the purse strings and resource who are willing to work together and get on and do things. For me the commitment is there and there has been a lot of dialogue with Ruth, with Ruth's boss's, and with Ruth's boss's boss, as well as with similar people in the LSC. I feel that most of the others are on board philosophically but I do not believe there is anything in the system that is really helping us. As I say, some further clarity on the role of the RSPs from the Government and the points that both Linda and Gary made would be very helpful in this.

Chairman: I think we have covered that so I am going to move on to Gordon.

Q32 Mr Marsden: I just want to chip away a bit more on the whole issue of plans and targets and if I could just start with you, Ruth, because you submitted a draft Regional Skills Partnership document to us and that included a number of targets and, as you said, the scale of the challenge is significant and many measures exceed many of our RES targets. Given that and given what we have heard already about disparity and the various challenges across your region, are these Leitch targets generally achievable in Yorkshire and Humber or they just something on a sheet of paper that we are all making aspirational?

Ms Adams: I think they are incredibly ambitious for this region.

Q33 Mr Boswell: Is that the same as courageous?

Ms Adams: Courageous, yes.

Q34 Mr Marsden: Before I put you on oath, Ruth, before you go any further, I would remind you of the famous TV series Yes, Minister, and when the Minister was told "That's a very bold statement," it meant that it was all going to end in tears. Is that what you are saying about Leitch?

Ms Adams: I think it is going to be very difficult for us to deliver those targets unless we can do lots of work bringing about some quite significant culture change in the aspirations of both people and businesses to demand this. If I go back to Tom's comment in Barnsley, lots and lots of effort and work is needed to bring people to the point of thinking, "Well, that actually is going to be useful for me and that is something that I aspire to have as a qualification" and unless we can do something on that I think it is going to be quite difficult for some of the basic skills and lower level targets to bring that about. The one we are more optimistic about is the higher level skills. If we can really do some work with businesses there we think that is achievable.

Mr Andrews: Just a brief point, I think the other side of what Ruth said on engaging with small businesses is a particular challenge in this area as well. There are an awful lot of small companies. I think there was a piece of research done recently for the RDA by Leeds Met where they went around and talked to a lot of small business and, frankly, the level of interest of those businesses in getting their employees trained was negligible. I have had personal experience in this region of putting on open days at our apprentice training centre to try and encourage small businesses to come in and listen. I have done it through the IoD where you can access 2,600 members, and you have only 30 people show up. It is a monumental challenge to get both sides of this - to get to the individuals and get them more motivated to get higher skills and qualifications, and to get to the many, many small businesses that exist here and get them really engaged.

Chairman: Could we have a brief run round the table to answer your question.

Q35 Mr Marsden: Is there anybody here who thinks this is achievable?

Mr Andrews: I think you have to be aspirational but I do not think any of us should under-estimate the magnitude of the challenge.

Q36 Mr Marsden: So you think it is going to be really hard.

Dr Bennett: I think it is beyond aspirational, and that is only a word, because I do not think they are achievable. I think you have to be realistic on that and it is all about trying to motivate to achieve and some of these targets actually do not motivate employers or the colleges up and down the country, which are one of the engine rooms for the delivery of skills more than qualifications. We want challenges but we want challenges that we can actually achieve. I think it is really important that you take that on board because the way forward, if I just pick up on one of Mark's points, is apprenticeships and it also goes back to Tom's point about his position in Barnsley because you have young people's apprenticeships and adult apprenticeships.

Q37 Chairman: Does anybody disagree? Does anybody think we can achieve these targets?

Professor Layer: I am with Ruth on this in the sense that I think the high-level skills target ---

Q38 Chairman: Another 583,000 people qualified to level four by 2020 in this region?

Professor Layer: I think it is the most achievable and that is probably to do with the fact that a lot of what you have heard about is some of the barriers and obstacles, et cetera, and they are not necessarily the same barriers at different levels, and there are different ways you can work that through and there are different ways you can open this up. I did not say I was confident - I would be more confident of meeting the level four targets.

Q39 Chairman: More confident is more confident than confident.

Professor Layer: More confident relative to the other areas.

Q40 Mr Marsden: Before we lose the point about apprenticeships, I just want to come back on a very specific point, Ruth, and then I will ask Geoff if he would like to comment on this. Going back to your document, the target for some additional 50,000 apprenticeships which has been identified in this region; does that include adult as well as young apprentices?

Ms Adams: I believe it does, yes.

Q41 Mr Marsden: In which case my question to Geoff is a broader one. We know what is going to happen with demography in the next few years, and Chris Humphries as the head of the Commission for Skills has continually harped on about this. Have we got in this region the focus right in terms of adult versus traditional apprenticeships and have the universities begun to take this on board in terms of their learners and their skills?

Professor Layer: Just before I start that I had better point out that the demographic factors in Bradford are a bit different to everybody else's. There is a whole series of key issues around the adult trainer and the adult learner which have been affected over the last five to six years by certain policy changes and we have debated issues around LSCs, et cetera. In terms of the balance from the university perspective, and I will come back to the region, in the way the policy has developed, over the last few years we have been focused very much on the 18 to 30 group with the 18 to 30 target and that has been a target which has been driven by the precursor of this I guess around full-time students engaging in undergraduate programmes despite some of the bits at the margins that have been a real driver and a real shift, and you have seen exponential growth in that. That has been at the cost of other forms of innovation and other forms of learning and it is very traditional. What we have not done across the university sector generally is reflect on where adults might be coming from and different types of entry routes. In my institution it is a very, very small handful of students who will progress from apprenticeships into higher education, despite many efforts that colleagues have engaged in there. Some of that is to do with are we sure what they are and are we confident that we can take that forward, but some of it is also to do with, "I am doing an apprenticeship, I am doing worked-base learning and I want to stay in the workplace and the form of higher education that we have got is not really right for me."

Q42 Dr Blackman-Woods: Do foundation degrees not provide a possible route?

Professor Layer: Foundation degrees can provide a potential route and then you are into a scenario about are you distinguishing between what an apprentice can and cannot go into, and that is a key issue. Also you are into the fact that it is not all universities who are major providers of foundation degrees and you are rather limited in that area. You are also into carrying on with your studies whilst working and that is the advantage of foundation degrees, but that is there and it is a potential route. It has still got a lot of growth to achieve its goals and its aims. The issue is around what higher education is providing today and it has been very traditional generally. In order to meet these level four targets it has got to provide something far more flexible. You have talked very much to date about being qualifications driven. One of the advantages of the higher education sector is that it is not qualifications driven in its funding methodology in the same limited way that others have been talking about. It is much more open and flexible and that has to be the agenda for the next five years, essentially putting that flexibility into place. In terms of the region, I guess the question is about the region as well. Regional engagement is quite mixed across the different city regions that we have in the engagement of adults and the engagement of the ways they work, but I think it is quite evident that the numbers have remained broadly the same progressing into higher education as adults. What we have not had is the interaction that you have had at other age groups.

Q43 Mr Marsden: Can I just come back finally then to this whole issue of plans and targets. You have got all those targets, and the targets in the latest document supersede the Regional Economic Strategy, and also what Gary said earlier about the change of names and everything else. I am tempted to say that Mr Spock said, "It's life, Captain, but not as we know it," and that might be said about some of these things! Do you think that your experience is that you have to deal with far too many documents, far too many initiatives and you simply do not have time properly to implement them?

Ms Adams: Yes, I think that is a fair assessment.

Q44 Mr Marsden: Does anybody dissent from that view around the table that you have got document overload?

Dr Bennett: Without question.

Mr Williamson: I am not so sure it is documents actually, it is committees and groups.

Q45 Mr Marsden: Committees and groups produce documents.

Mr Williamson: Can I just pick up on the apprenticeship. I would say that we are quite bullish in Leeds in the employers' groups. We are a small employer, we employ 30 people, and we have taken apprenticeships of young people and it is a fantastic route and the momentum is building in terms of creating your own employees through that route. I think you will find not 20,000 or 30,000 in Leeds but there will be take-up from employers because they can see it as a positive route to developing some of their own skills through day release to colleges. We need clarity on that. There is another group of employers that need to be convinced as well. It is all right using my members to say employers do not buy in but how many apprentices are there in the public sector? How many do you have at Yorkshire Forward or at Leeds City Council's building here, the NHS or others? They are very large employers and that is a route for them to build their own workforce.

Mr Andrews: I was very pleasantly encouraged at the Apprentices Ambassadors meeting that the Permanent Secretary of DIUS, Ian Watmore, is going to champion apprenticeships with the public sector. I think that is tremendous news and I wish him very well with that. I would like to come in on the apprenticeship thing because in our company we are seeing probably about 15 people a year who have come through the apprenticeship programme going on to do foundation and honours degrees. Some of it is about the selectivity of the people that you pull in, they have to have the academic ability to do it, but I do think the other issue on apprenticeships is there is a fundamental piece of work that has got to be done in getting to parents and teachers about the value of apprenticeships. Pushing more and more people to university has almost worked against the apprenticeship and it may well be working against the diploma that you touched on earlier. I feel there is a massive task to overhaul the careers service, and this Connexions shambles has got huge fundamental problems ---

Q46 Mr Marsden: It is about how you badge them.

Mr Andrews: It is about how you badge them but it also about how they are equipped. One of the STEM skills issues - and I speak as an engineer here - is we have got to get to 12-year-olds and show them that there are interesting and attractive things you can do with science, maths and engineering. You cannot rely on school teachers and careers advisers to do that and it has got to done at a young age, so I think the whole thing with STEM skills and apprenticeships requires some really challenging almost advertising campaigns on a national level to engage teachers and parents.

Dr Bennett: Can I come in on the back of that. At my college we have set up a pre- apprenticeship training scheme as part of our 14 to 16 skills centre engaging with schools and employers. We have attracted sponsorship from employers so they are looking at year tens and year 11s in terms of pre-apprenticeship training. We are dropping the seeds of employment and workforce development and all the rest of that and that has gone down very well in North Lincolnshire with our employers, and it connects and integrates schools, colleges and employers.

Q47 Mr Boswell: And parents?

Dr Bennett: And parents.

Ms Florance: I agree with everything that has been said on apprenticeships but a point I would not wish to be lost in all of this, as an example, in my own sector between now and 2014 we need about 35,000 people just for replacement for retirement. Actually we are not going to find all of those within the young people that are going to be there, and the point for us is more flexibility and more support to bring people through the basic skills route perhaps but also on into qualifications and apprenticeships at an older age because that is going to be our workforce for the future and that is what is going to make us more productive as UK plc.

Professor Layer: Just quickly on what Mark said, where I totally agree with him and I think it has really hit the nail on the head, if we want this agenda to succeed what we have to do is to create real parity of esteem across all those different routes so that it is understood amongst parents as well as young people. In terms of documentation and policies, it seems to have increased in size since the machinery of government changes and with the creation of the new department of DIUS and the separation of DSFC, from our perspective, that has led to a significant increase in policy.

Chairman: It is just an illusion!

Dr Blackman-Woods: I am glad that in the last couple of answers there was a bit of passion in it because I was readily falling into profound depression, I have to tell you! My first question is you are the people in this region who will have to drive forward this Leitch agenda and the upskilling and reskilling agenda, so do you feel equipped to do that, and how are you going to get employers and young people and others who you have described in Barnsley engaged in this agenda if you are not passionate about it and if you are not building the capacity in order to deliver Leitch? That is to anybody - anybody with passion!

Chairman: We want passion for the rest of this session!

Q48 Mr Boswell: That is a prequalification.

Dr Bennett: I think it is about partnership and collaboration and I think it is about developing trust between what you can actually achieve and deliver on that commitment. I think any sort of region or sub-region, if I just touch on the Centres of Vocational Excellence (COVEs) initiative, another initiative that we went through, which was great because it was about employers and it was about trying to get employer connectivity with colleges and the communities, and it did deliver against agendas and it did bring together employers and it did bring together providers of skills training and it more or less worked. I am using that word 'worked' broadly but it did. I think whatever we do has to be seen to be achieved or be achievable and that will actually motivate a partnership. We have all sat round partnership committees where it has not worked or you have been loath to go to them, or whatever it might be, because you think why are you wasting your time there. If that can be driven and the targets can be challenging but achievable I think you have got half a chance of delivering it.

Ms Wallis: I do think that the diplomas, taking into account the recent publicity, offer a valuable opportunity for this collaboration agenda because they are the vehicle for mixing up schools, employers, careers, those charged with enterprise, a whole range of people. To make the diplomas work, colleges and schools have to work together, colleges and employers have to work together and schools and education business partnerships have to work together. I think the diplomas are already disrupting the system, causing collaboration and we just have to hang on in there through the process of discomfort which is happening at the moment and recognise that it is a long haul job. Certainly Digital 2010 as an initiative which is looking at the improvement of digital skills in the region is emphasising and prioritising the diplomas as a Trojan horse for achieving much of that.

Q49 Dr Blackman-Woods: So that might solve the problems of young people. What about SMEs training and upskilling their current workforce, what is going to get SMEs enthused? You are saying that this issue of them wanting these bite-sized chunks of learning that do not actually deliver a qualification has got to be addressed. We cannot just sit around and say, "That is fine, SME, you can do that." How do we get them to say it is really important?

Ms Wallis: May I very briefly mention something that happened. A few years back there was a programme in South Yorkshire that was Learning and Skills Council-funded which was about really improving digital skills and the labour market for the creative and digital industries. It was very successful in engaging small employers who had not engaged with education and training before, and the key to that was the flexibility of the funding. It was about being able to use the funding flexibly. Also the other point was specialist brokers. We have talked earlier about there being too many initiatives and we need to streamline. If streamlining means you then have big organisations out there that are about offering a uniform business offer to businesses, we lose the plot, because a sectoral approach is the thing that works and very specialist networks located locally. Yes, it is the Sector Skills Council but the translation of the sector skills council expertise into the very specialist business support organisation that exists locally - and I can name you them round the region - who are the mediator, that speak the language and that know the very precise needs of each area and the small businesses within them.

Q50 Dr Blackman-Woods: So is Train to Gain a useless structure?

Ms Wallis: If you have Train to Gain and you also have specialist brokers in the mix, I believe that is the important factor.

Ms Florance: Building on that sectoral approach and perhaps explaining from my position - I am involved right across the nine regions as opposed to just purely Yorkshire and Humberside - I have left a meeting this morning where we are negotiating with the LSC, which is potentially part of the answer on this but which potentially could get lost in the changes that are currently occurring, and that is that each sector is being asked to draw up a compact for the way in which the skills delivery system in the regions (and it is at regional level) will pick up on what that sector wants and needs in terms of Train to Gain brokerage. What the brokers need to know about how they need to approach a particular sector, and what are the offers and the products that they can pick up on to support that business development. My fear is - and this has been a long drawn-out process, we are six months down the road and I understand it will be at least September before DIUS sign this off - that in the changes that are occurring there, somehow these compacts will be another thing put on a shelf, and that will be tragic as far as our employers are concerned, who are making a real commitment to say, "If this is what the system will do for me, I will get out of bed and I will do these things with my workforce." If I get that commitment and then we are back on the shelf again, it is another cynicism that is going to be built into the system.

Dr Bennett: Can I raise a point about Train to Gain, the brokerage has been the single worst thing about Train to Gain. In my college, and many colleges up and down the country will tell you the same, we achieve Train to Gain target - in spite of the brokerage and in spite of the brokerage system. I have got a 2.5 million contract for Train to Gain and we achieve it and we will achieve it at the year end this year but we will achieve it in spite of the brokers.

Professor Layer: You asked about how we will try and do it and how we are up for it, et cetera and I have identified four things. I think there is a distinction between two different forms of working with people and planning. One is a sectoral base and the other is a district base or a geographical area where it is a city region, and I think they are two very different things. Providers like ours and North Lindsey have worked from a sectoral base and a district base and you do both of those things and you have to work with both of those things. I think the crucial thing that we need to address, and we are addressing, is in terms of working in partnership. I made the point before about, yes, we are looking at labour market data but it is far more important to us to talk to specific employers and identify what the needs are and to work through with them what they are and then be able to supply them. The final thing that we need to invest in, change or develop is the capacity-building within the organisation to deliver to a new agenda because it is a new agenda that we need.

Mr Andrews: I support all the comments that are being made about brokerage and the mechanics and improving the system from where it is now, but I think that the fundamental issue of getting to SMEs is going to take more than that. This is a national problem that clearly exists in Yorkshire. I am very strongly of the view that you have got to go back to some basics and it takes a stick and a carrot. The carrot has got to be fiscal support in the form of taxation relief to companies that are training. Without doing that, it is very difficult to see why ten-man bands would do it. Fundamentally there has to be some kind of support that comes to the training agenda from corporate taxation relief for small companies. The second one (and for me as I say the carrot approach) is about modifying the outlook of both employees and customers on the issue of qualifications. I see those as two very deliberate counts. In other words, for me if I am trying to attract graduate engineers now and I am not prepared to do an indentured scheme with IET to get them to be chartered, I will not get them in. You need to get that going on all the way through the system so people say, "If I am not going to get a level two apprenticeship out of this, why would I come and work for you?" You have to create the demand from the people who are going to be employees. Similarly I think that more can be done through supply chains, in other words, customers saying, "We want to see that you are qualified to do that job." I look at it in my industry in big construction, if somebody is not qualified to be an electrician they are not going to work on one of my sites.

Q51 Mr Boswell: So you would favour a licence to practise, would you?

Mr Andrews: I would but it needs to be done at the micro level because the issue is while a big contractor like me is going to have qualified people, the guy who any one of us might get round to do something at our house, we are not going to say, "Show me your electrical apprenticeship qualification," but maybe we should.

Mr Williamson: We have been very negative and all we have done is moan, especially about the targets and the end game. All I keep on about is employer engagement. It is not the targets and if you can explain the benefits in very simple language to a small number of employers as we have done - and the diplomas are fantastic because they really shake up the educationalists because they do not like employers commenting about the curriculum, they do not want employers talking about how long the placements should be and what they should do but gradually they can see the benefit. There is a passion in the groups that we have got involved in - and I can only speak for Leeds - that has stunned us because we thought it would be more of the same. It has been fantastic and there are small two- or three-people businesses as well as the large businesses within the consortium of 40 employers in each one and they are involved often they are parents and they do understand the systems because their kids go to school and they can see the problems and barriers and the opportunities. In terms of your other question how do you enliven small businesses to take on the current unemployed or upskill the current workforce, that is a far more difficult one because it is always told as a generic that training is good for you or it is good for your CSR policy. Actually you have got to get down and talk, as Liz was saying, specifically about the needs of that business, and it will not be unique (because everybody thinks their own problems are unique) and then sell the benefit. It has got to be done face-to-face.

Q52 Chairman: Very quickly, Liz, I do not want to stop this enthusiasm.

Ms Wallis: My point is that somewhere way back when we mentioned young people, and they do not get mentioned in this mix and yet maybe the young people themselves can help to unlock the door here. We need to look for joins between some other things that are happening because if young people are to contribute to this debate, you have got to put them in a position where at school age onwards they are starting to contribute to how their learning is shaped and what they are participating in. We have to look at some of the initiatives that are doing this at the moment that are looking, in the nicest possible way, at how you break the curriculum and how you enable young people to become more creative participants in that whole process of learning and they will also then start to dictate how they contribute to that skills agenda. Just to name something that I am aware of, things like Creative Partnerships which I know is never seen in this context, is all about developing creativity in schools and in the curriculum and also things like the local enterprise growth initiatives which have schools programmes which are about enabling young people to be enterprising about their own futures, and there are young people around the country who are seizing those opportunities.

Mr Smith: I am very passionate ---

Q53 Dr Blackman-Woods: Good!

Mr Smith: --- I kind of feel I sold Barnsley a really rubbish line there at the beginning, but we have talked about engagement with businesses; it is engagement with the community. I use that word but I do not mean community in its traditional way because I include schools, businesses, employers and young people. However, I will tell you one of the things it is is about families as well and the power of working with families, either as adults as learners or children within those families, and that whole agenda. We have seen a significant shift over the last six years in Barnsley in terms of that reengagement and that aspirational aspect of learning which does have an impact on people's skills and qualifications but it also has a much wider impact and it takes a long time. Going back to targets and in terms of what Ruth and Geoff were saying, it takes a long time sometimes to get people to level two and then a little bit to level three. We need to be thinking about working with our communities as well, and I think if we can get that right - and I know we have talked a lot about cultural change, there is a cultural change in communities as well - then that kind of drive to aspire to achieve whether it is a qualification or within a work context is really important.

Q54 Chairman: I am coming to you now, Geoff. We have got five minutes each for the last two questions, that is ten minutes altogether. Level three! An awful lot is expected of both FE and HE in this agenda. What is happening in our region with FE colleges and HE institutions working together to actually deliver this agenda? Are you aware of anything that has happened?

Dr Bennett: We work with our partner universities. Most colleges will partner with their local universities and we are no different. We partner with a number of universities and we are working with them on level four in particular on the high level skills because that is where the integration is. We are doing that and have been doing that way before Leitch.

Q55 Mr Marsden: Which are your universities?

Dr Bennett: University of Lincoln, University of Huddersfield, University of Hull and Sheffield Hallam. So we have a primary initiative with the University of Lincoln because that is our backyard university but we were on this agenda way before Leitch.

Q56 Chairman: But you are not bothered about the rest of the region? I do not mean that in a derogative sense.

Dr Bennett: We are doing our bit sub-regionally to contribute to the region.

Q57 Chairman: The same with you Geoff?

Professor Layer: Very much so. There are now four lifelong learning networks in Yorkshire and Humber and that is a deliberate strategy about developing vocational progression routes.

Q58 Chairman: Whose strategy?

Professor Layer: The Higher Education Funding Council for England and I suspect it is the RDA. The RDA certainly sits on the boards and the LSC sits on the boards and they are partnerships between colleges and universities that are developing progression routes in a geographical patch, so to speak, and they are very employer-based and employers are engaged in them and they tend to be sector-specific.

Q59 Chairman: FE and HE is alive and kicking in your area?

Professor Layer: It is very alive and it is very kicking, yes.

Mr Williamson: In Leeds we have got the debate for FE merger, as you well know, but again business has been involved.

Q60 Chairman: It has been doing that for the last 30 years to my knowledge.

Mr Williamson: I know but you have two universities in Leeds that work closely with the FE sector, the vocational degrees and progression. I would question whether or not the lifelong learning group is actually working because they are still talking about how many points from a Leeds Met degree is equivalent to a Leeds University degree, and the Bradford degree is different again, but they are talking.

Q61 Mr Marsden: Can I come quickly back to you because, like it or not, we do have all these new structures and these new funding arrangements. In specific terms how is that going to affect your ability at Yorkshire Forward to deliver the skills agenda in the region? Is it going to do it negatively or positively or do you simply not know?

Ms Adams: As a purely internal thing we are looking at our structures to be able to deliver this. One of the newest challenges is the idea that we will co-chair the group that signs off the 14 to 19 plans. We have never had a formal remit in education before and that is quite new and that presents us with some challenges. We are taking over the skills brokerage from the LSC and looking at how we integrate that with Business Link and these are new challenges. What we will do is look internally and we will look at what we need to do to deliver this. At the minute our biggest 'ask' would be that we have some stability with the Regional Skills Partnership through this process because whilst for the time being we have got a secure future as a quango, obviously we know that the LSC are going through major structural upheaval which could disrupt the system and the bulk of skills activity is not on our agenda to lead it, it is on the LSC, so in terms of planning and steering we would really want it to say that we have lots of stability with the Regional Skills Partnership.

Q62 Mr Marsden: Can I come back very quickly to you, Mark, because you waxed lyrical earlier on, in fact I thought you were going to blow a gasket when you mentioned Connexions, does it worry you that the bulk of information, advice, guidance, the training money and all the rest of it is going to move from the LSCs to the local authorities? Does that affect you in terms of your visions for leading the RSP?

Mr Andrews: For me it is a case of it being managed properly and intensively. I have not got any bias towards it being in the LSC versus the local authorities. To me I think the more of these things that are joined up, the more sensible it is.

Chairman: I am going to have stop you there. Joined-up and sensible is a good phrase to finish with.

Mr Marsden: Short and sweet.

Chairman: Very sweet.

Q63 Mr Marsden: At the student end of this, I have two points. Firstly, the new Adult Advancement and Careers Services; are you happy to work with them, and is that going to be an advance? The second one is skills accounts, this is people doing their own thing rather than going through the Train to Gain mechanism; is that going to be an important counterweight to the so-called business-facing or business-driven area?

Ms Adams: We have got lots of enthusiasm for the Advancement Service. The one caveat we would have is some concern that it is exclusively focusing on the engagement point and getting careers advice for people that maybe are not in employment and it is not so much about how we progress people through the system. One of the offers we wanted to make to government there is we have put quite a lot of investment - as every region will have done - in graduate careers advice and postgraduate careers advice, and we would not want to see that lost but perhaps we could say this is something that is already working, it is established in every regional context, can you use this service, and again going back to the regional flexibility point, so that it is not reinvented but we can use and we can align to that service, and that is quite positive. On skills accounts, I think one of the great shames was when individual learning accounts were stopped. They were obviously stopped for the right reason because there was abuse in the system, but I think it is a real positive thing when people feel that they have got a little bit of purchasing power, in this current climate with what else is happening, that they can take that time and spend some money on their personal development, and I think that is really positive.

Dr Bennett: I would echo that. I think it is a good move. It had a negative impact when it was withdrawn and coming back in this guise we are looking forward to working with it in the colleges.

Q64 Dr Blackman-Woods: Have you made any assessment of the impact of the Regional Skills Partnerships on different groups of learners like women, ethnic minorities, part-timers?

Ms Adams: No, we have not done anything specifically. We are just taking a really strong, hard look at diversity in its widest sense within the RDA and what that means for a whole host of things, including the workforce, so something is going on that. It is a challenge for us to look at in terms of the findings particularly of the Women and Work Commission that we want to have a look at what that means for the labour market and how it works, and particularly if we subscribe to trying to move Yorkshire and Humber towards more of a knowledge economy and what that says for the diversity of people that can engage and aspire to that is certainly something that we are doing some work on with the Work Foundation.

Chairman: On that note, thank you all enormously for your time. That has been a very, very quick canter around the subject and I think my colleagues would agree it has been absolutely superb. Can I thank particularly Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods for injecting passion into our session this afternoon! Thank you all very very much indeed.