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although I do not remember the hon. Gentleman speaking to it specifically in his speech. There is, nevertheless, an absurd anomaly in our financial structure, whereby, once someone reaches 25, it is not deemed appropriate for the state to fund their first participation in a level 3
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qualification. We are in a time of recession and the work force are ageing, and people in a dynamic economy, whether in a recession or prosperous, will have to retrain throughout their working lives, so enabling adults over the age of 25 to acquire a level 3 qualification free of cost should be a priority.

There is also the question of encouraging employers to take on more apprentices. For small employers, in particular, the cost of off-the-job training is often an important barrier, so re-allocating the growth in the Train to Gain budget of £500 million over the forthcoming years would make an enormous difference to employers and their ability to take more people into adult apprenticeships. The Government have set themselves some ambitious training and educational attainment targets for 2020 as a result of the Leitch report. However, they will be much harder to realise if we do not have investment in further education and skills or ensure that it is secure for the future.

One of the most interesting parts of the hon. Gentleman’s motion which, again, he seemed to skate over in his speech, is the section about science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—subjects. Last week, it was my pleasure to welcome to the House some Bristol university young engineers and a graduate engineer who are working with Airbus in Bristol. They are taking part in a national project, sponsored by Airbus, to discuss the relationship between aviation and climate change. I have said many times in such debates that there is a consensus around what we are going to do about our other 2020 targets—apart from the Leitch targets—on climate change. If we are to meet our ambitious targets for a carbon neutral economy, or for a much lower dependence on carbon, we will need more scientists, engineers and technicians. Otherwise, it will be impossible to realise those aims. If we do not have the people to construct the wind farms, service the dynamos or expand nuclear energy, although my party does not support that, we will not be able to meet our 2020 climate change targets.

The problem with STEM subjects begins right the way back in our secondary schools, as do many of our problems in education, so we need to enthuse children to take part in science and engineering subjects. In that respect, I praise the work of Bristol university’s ChemLabS outreach programme, which goes to schools all over the west country and invites pupils and teachers into the chemistry laboratories at Bristol university to show children experiments, retrain teachers in experimentation and make science exciting and appealing. As ever, information, advice and guidance are absolutely essential, too.

There is a big gender imbalance in engineering. When I met those five individuals last week, I said to them, “There’s only one problem with you: you’re all men.” That is a problem for the engineering profession, but the profession itself has to do some work, too. Government is not always the answer to every problem; the engineering profession must do more to raise the esteem in which it is held. Two or three years ago in Bristol, we commemorated the bicentenary of Brunel’s birth. In the 19th century, Brunel was a celebrity figure comparable to many well-known politicians, authors and artists, but we do not have a celebrity engineer at the moment. There is a gender balance and high participation in catering; perhaps engineering needs to find equivalents to Jamie and Delia to encourage young people to take part.

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There is a national emergency; we are in a deep recession. In his concluding remarks, the Secretary of State referred to the “anxious generation” of young people who are leaving school and do not know what is ahead of them—particularly if they aspire to go to university. As we already know, there is to be a crisis in respect of finding sufficient places for those who get the right A-levels or other level 3 qualifications sufficient for university entry in September this year; it looks as if there will not be enough university places to meet the demand. Those who will leave as graduates in just a couple of months’ time, after doing their finals and receiving their degrees, will enter the most uncertain graduate job market for decades.

There is a stark statistic from the last deep recession of the 1980s. I hope that we will not see in this recession a mirror image of what happened to adults, particularly those over 40, who lost their jobs in previous recessions. Many such people in south Wales, where I grew up, and other depressed industrial areas of the country, did not find another job for a couple of decades afterwards; they were never able to return to full productive work. In this recession, we must all agree that investment in skills for those people is absolutely essential. The issue is not only about young people.

Mr. David Anderson indicated assent.

Stephen Williams: I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees.

We need investment in capital and skills now. We need a new, sustainable and ethical business model for the future. Above all, we need to give everyone in this country a sense of urgency and of hope that we are going to solve the crisis in our economy and in our politics as well.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that there is a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That starts from now.

5.22 pm

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): I want to make a few comments about Barnsley college in the context of the motion and the amendment to it. Obviously, I will speak about the Building Colleges for the Future programme as it affects the college. I shall go on to say a little about the college’s performance in relation to the motions before the House.

As the House knows from previous debates, Barnsley college was part of the Building Colleges for the Future programme. Like other colleges, it had a four-phase college programme. Two phases have been completed on budget and to time, but unfortunately the third phase, which started towards the end of 2008, was halted in January when the funding was stopped. Unfortunately, the college had started demolition work on its Old Mill Lane site. The town centre has been left with a completely demolished area, which was the flagship part of Barnsley college.

Construction stopped. Miller Construction, the contractors, had to stop work; its contractors have been laid off and some have been made redundant. We are now waiting for the results of the Foster review and
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what follows on from it. We Barnsley MPs have had meetings with Ministers and the Prime Minister to try to find a way forward. We have a real difficulty: there is a demolition site where part of the college once was. The building programme has been delayed for several months and it looks as if that will continue.

When we met representatives of the Yorkshire and the Humber learning and skills council, we were told that the Foster review would draw up criteria which, hopefully, would be considered by the end of April. We were also told that decisions would be made by the beginning of May. That has not happened. The Foster report has been produced, the criteria are being drawn up and the meetings are being held. However, the announcement on which colleges will go forward will be made, we hope, on 3 June—that, at least, is what the colleges were led to believe. Since then, it looks as though the timetable may have been reviewed. In discussions with the college principal as recently as Friday, it came to light that perhaps the decisions will be made only tentatively on 3 June. It should be borne in mind that the applications of 145 colleges will be decided on, and only a handful will go forward. We are obviously anxious, as are all the other colleges, that our application should be proceeded with, because we do not have accommodation for our students. We will have temporary buildings, but not the buildings that we had hoped for.

The LSC drew up its so-called “Key Steps and Timetable”, with five steps and a timetable for progressing the situation:

So far, so good. However, that appears to have been amended, with the contractors to the LSC now stating:

value for money—

If that timetable is applied to Barnsley college, assuming that we are successful in getting our programme back on track, it will mean a nine-month delay in the programme going forward. None of the colleges decided upon on 3 June will be able to start work until September.

It is possible that because Barnsley college is halfway through the programme and has already gone through most of the paperwork, planning process and so on, those post-3 June criteria may not apply. I sincerely hope not. We hear about a value for money process to reduce costs and to achieve savings, but Barnsley college has already been required by the Foster review to reduce the third-phase costs from £42 million to £33 million, and the programme had to be quickly redesigned to accommodate that, so we have already lost £9 million of our project funding through the consultation process
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and the problems that have been created. In addition, the college has spent £12 million of its reserves and borrowings and has a substantial interest bill to meet in 2010. If our college is not selected on 3 June, it will face real financial difficulties, because it cannot expand its student base on the basis that it had hoped in order to meet the extra costs. The refurbishment and redevelopment were carried out on the basis that the student body would increase and the college would receive further funding to help to meet the costs of what has been spent.

It is extremely important to Barnsley that the college capital rebuilding programme is completed. We are extremely concerned not only for the third phase, which is to rebuild a demolition site, but for the fourth phase, which is to rebuild the sixth-form college provision.

Barnsley college deals with 90 per cent. of sixth-form teaching in Barnsley, yet we are contemplating not having a sixth-form college if the final phase of the project goes by the wayside. It is important to look at those items, and the time scale and the reason for its sliding further from 3 June—as far as September. Given the intervention of summer holidays and so on, that start date is likely to slip even further.

The refurbishment programme is important to Barnsley college because our record on post-16 education has historically never been good, but it has improved in recent years and continues to improve, and the college is in a strong position to ensure that it meets Government and local priorities. That was shown in its annual Ofsted inspection, which took place in March and resulted in four “significant progress” and three “reasonable progress” judgments—one of the best results in the country. The college has an ambitious business plan to consolidate and grow its success in surpassing targets and meeting national and local priorities.

We will have 300 more FE-funded learners later this year—a 9 per cent. increase on last year. Student numbers in that category are currently 241 above the LSC target. We have recruited 1,830 adult FE-funded learners—100 more than the LSC target. There are approximately 150 more learners than the previous year in that category—a 6 per cent. increase. We have heard much about Train to Gain this afternoon. The number of learners under that scheme is 198 more than the LSC target.

There are currently 20 per cent. more applications for the 16-to-18 programmes. That is wonderful news for Barnsley. We have heard about the problems of NEETs—indeed, I intervened on the Opposition spokesperson because we have worked hard in Barnsley to try to reduce the number of young people in that category. A 20 per cent. increase in the number of applications for post-16 education is therefore encouraging.

Adult success rates have improved by 8 per cent. in the past three years. The Train to Gain success rate is 91 per cent.—well above the national average. That is not something that one has associated with Barnsley’s education in the past few years.

The apprenticeships programme has rapidly expanded, with success rates of 81 per cent.—again, well above the national average. The college will deliver the diploma programme—10 separate diploma lines—in September. It has been approved to provide 14 diploma lines, and the remainder will start in September 2010.

On worklessness, the college has just been successful in winning a contract to improve the employability and
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skills base of long-term unemployed people who live in Barnsley. That is great news and a success story for Barnsley college.

However, all that will go to waste if we get it wrong or if the capital programme is not reinstated quickly. We have already considered redundancies for the college’s construction programme. I am concerned about whether we can deliver all that increased education provision in the forthcoming academic year and the subsequent one. Without the college rebuilding programme, we will struggle. Again, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to examine the timetable and try to encourage the LSC to stick to the time scales that it has set out in its programme. I also urge him to try to get decisions made and, particularly for Barnsley, allow the programme to continue. Otherwise, we have only half a college.

5.34 pm

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Although we are, of course, all interested in how we got into this mess, I am much more interested in how we get out of it. It would be easy to give a litany of complaints and simply recite the virtues of one’s own college—I will not omit to do that. However, I want to pay tribute to the LSC’s regional staff, who deal with Yorkshire and Humber. They are deeply embarrassed by what has happened, they are doing their best to help and I would not like the contamination of mismanagement at the centre to be attributed to everybody who works for that organisation, which will be replaced in any case.

I want to begin by talking about the district of Craven. The north Pennines is fairly remote and has an economy that rests on extremely fragile pillars. A lot of the area is a national park, but tourism has a relatively low value and is predominantly made up of day visitors—indeed, many people spend precious little when they get into the dales. The area depends on agriculture, and we all know that some sectors have experienced extraordinary difficulties. Indeed, the Rural Payments Agency was probably ahead in the charts as the agency that had made the biggest financial mess, until the Learning and Skills Council came along as a late competitor for that accolade, and there are still problems in getting the money to farmers.

There is also the hidden industry of all areas of the countryside, which is looking after the elderly. Anyone who goes to any significant village in my constituency will find households looking after elderly people and an awful lot of people working part time to make money to supplement low income being earned elsewhere in the family, enabling people to maintain, for example, an agriculture holding. There is also a host of small businesses. We have the Skipton building society, which is the giant in the area—a very prudent giant, as a matter of fact—but there is also a huge constellation of small businesses, ranging from micro breweries, of which there has been a refreshing multiplication, to those involved in package recycling and other tiny operations.

Craven is therefore an area of high employment. I do not claim that the demands of Craven rest on economic hardship in the way that it might be experienced in places such as Barnsley, which the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) spoke about. However, although there is high employment, there is also low pay and a lot of part-time employment. If anything were to illustrate the vulnerability of Craven’s economy,
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it is foot and mouth disease, which simultaneously shut down agriculture and tourism. That demonstrates the urgency of finding an economic base that is more diversified and less vulnerable to catastrophic events.

Many people in Craven would also complain of a draining of public services from the area, as there has been pressure to introduce economies in public expenditure. The police presence, as well as the rank of the police establishment, and many other public services, if not the ability of the people doing the serving, have been seen to be reduced.

What Craven needs is a much better skills base. Indeed, Skipton building society and the smallest small businesses both complain about their difficulty in recruiting people with sufficient skills, whether they be IT or more basic skills. Craven also needs much better facilities in winter, so that there is a tourist offer in the winter months to supplement the tourist offer in the summer, and a vigorous small business sector that can take advantage of the spread of broadband, which is not yet universal in my constituency, and the exceptional environmental advantages of Craven. Broughton hall, with its sophisticated business park, is the exception, not the rule.

There are also particular needs that stem from the fact that Craven is not merely a rural area; rather, a great deal of it is upland, which is the most difficult kind of rural area. There is a huge difference between a rural area in East Anglia, where someone could strike a billiard ball and watch it go for miles, and my constituency, which straddles the Pennines. In addition, Craven is the only area in North Yorkshire that has selective education. The two excellent selective schools in Skipton—Ermysted’s and Skipton girls high school—are outstanding, but they ought to be outstanding, given the sociology of North Yorkshire and the selection process. However, that means that it is incredibly important to ensure adequate provision for the 16 to 18-year-olds who do not come out of the selective system.

That brings me to Craven college in Skipton, which is at the heart of a series of interlocking programmes designed to address the broad economic disadvantages and the particular sociology of Craven. Ten years ago, Craven college had between 500 and 600 full-time students in one year group, and about 2,000 part-time students. Now it has 1,600 full-time students, of whom 1,250 are 16 to 18-year-olds drawn from some 80 schools—the college serves not only Craven but a huge rural constituency that goes way beyond the boundaries of Craven itself—and some 5,000 people in part-time employment in any one year.

So the college’s expansion has been constant, and it has taken place using very limited resources and in the context of certain disadvantages, which I shall explain. First, it operates on 11 sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) was complaining that his college had to operate in 1960s buildings. How lucky it is! Two of our buildings are Victorian, and the college operates in 11 sites across Skipton. This has two implications: the first relates to costs and the division of effort; the second is the very real health and safety problem of operating in buildings that are far from being fit for purpose.

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