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Mr. Hayes: If it is already happening, why not accept the amendment?
Mr. Simon: We will not accept the amendment because it would stop it happening or prevent it from happening as well as it does. If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I will explain that.
The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families are already leading discussions on the arrangements for performance assessment schemes in the FE sector after 2010, in consultation with key sector partners. The initial consultation involved stakeholders including Ofsted, the Association of Colleges, the Local Government Association and all the main representative organisations. All that is already going on without a statutory requirement, and it is neither right nor necessary to put that level of detail into the Bill. The need for consultation will inevitably vary. As was the case with the framework for excellence, we anticipate that the chief executive will need to consult more widely than just with the organisations listed. Colleges, other providers and learners are obvious omissions from the list, underlining why it is considerably more sensible to let the chief executive decide which bodies to consult, according to the circumstances.
Having dealt with the amendment, I will now respond to some of the more general points that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has made. He insists on describing the new structure as unaccountable, even though the chief executive will sit on the DIUS board, be responsible to the permanent secretary and through him to Ministers, and be a statutory accounting officer himself, with statutory responsibilities that are set out in the Bill. The chief executive of Skills Funding will be very accountable indeed. The hon. Gentleman tells us that the chief executive is unaccountable and at the same time that he is too close to Ministers and should be in a non-departmental public body. He cannot have it both ways. There are pros and cons at both ends of the argument, and we have found a good balance.
I will answer the similar point made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West—he made it twice as I did not fully respond to it the first time. I do not want to make pronouncements now about future spending priority decisions, but if he is asking whether we anticipate that a key driver of the development of the National Apprenticeship Service will be to make apprenticeships less bureaucratic, easier to access, and easier for employers and learners, I can say that yes, that is very much part of what we are trying to do. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment and that we can move on.
Mr. Hayes: An extraordinary picture is emerging. The Minister says that it is impossible to desire accountability and at the same time criticise the closeness of the body to Ministers, as if accountability to Ministers is the only kind that counts. The 157 Group talks about public accountability—transparency, in its terms. It is an extraordinary argument that one cannot say that the body is too centrally directed and at the same time say that it is unaccountable. We worry not whether the body is accountable to the Minister and his hon. Friends in the Ministry, but whether it is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions and the powers vested in it. We know what happened with the LSC and further education colleges. They are in crisis because Ministers and the people who run the LSC have made a complete mess of the capital funding system. So, it was not terribly reassuring when the Minister said that this body will be tightly controlled and answerable to Ministers.
Mr. Simon: On hon. Gentleman’s second point, he cannot have it both ways. He says that the LSC made a complete mess and that it is all the fault of the Ministers, but the LSC is a non-departmental public body, which is considerably further removed. Just a minute ago, he was telling us that that was what we were doing wrong with the new structure.
On the matter of accountability, the hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me for having assumed that he might have some sense of democratic and parliamentary accountability and that he might put some value on those concepts. If not, I stand corrected.
Mr. Hayes: I place tremendous value on democratic and parliamentary accountability, but we are not confident that this structure will deliver accountability of that kind. Using the FE funding crisis as a defence and a way of legitimising the Government position is, quite frankly, extremely dodgy, given the mess that the Government, the Ministers responsible, and the LSC are in at the moment.
Mr. Simon: I can only repeat that the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. The record will show clearly that it is not me who has been trying to use the FE capital difficulties to make political points this morning—I have simply been replying to those that he has been making.
Mr. Hayes: I was not accusing the Minister of making political points about them; I was accusing him of using the relationship between Ministers and the LSC as a way of legitimising the argument that he made about the relationship between the SFA and Ministers.
Mr. Simon: To repeat, it was the hon. Gentleman who used the example of the current situation with the LSC to try to demonstrate that the situation, as we plan it, will not work. I simply responded by saying that he could not have it both ways. It was he who raised it, not me.
The Chairman: Order. I must point out that we are moving away not only from the amendment, but from the clause that is before us. Can we perhaps return to both?
Mr. Hayes: I do not want to cause the Minister any more unnecessary pain about a circumstance that he has described publicly, in the media, in pretty lurid terms, so I shall return to the amendment.
Given the tone and content of the hon. Gentleman’s response, I think that we should press the amendment to a vote. That is not because it would, if passed, make the clause or the Bill ideal, but because it would to some degree mitigate the weaknesses inherent in the structure that the Government are proposing by obliging the kind of consultation that the Minister says is taking place anyway. The Minister repeatedly tells us that things do not need to be in the Bill because they are ipso facto and that things do not need to be in guidance because no sensible Government would not do them. However, we know that that is not the history of Governments, and of this Government in particular.
Stephen Williams: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a specific example of that was the award of foundation degree-awarding powers to FE colleges? In the end, we were both supportive of that, but none the less had worries about the fact that the Government had not consulted higher education before making that fundamental transfer of power.
Mr. Hayes: There have been countless examples, of which that is one, of the Government proceeding with significant changes without consulting either Parliament or the sector affected. Assurances about good will have to be supported by absolute guarantees that that good will will be reinforced, whoever the Minister happens to be and whoever is in Government. It might be hard for the Minister to come to terms with this, but at some stage, someone altogether less agreeable, less civilised and less generous than he, might occupy his office. On the other hand, it might be that someone of the opposite persuasion who is as generous, civilised, tolerant and open-minded, or more, occupies his office—as I hope to do. However, given that the first eventuality is at least a possibility, we must ensure that the Bill is as tightly worded as possible and for that reason, I intend to press the amendment standing in my name and that of my hon. Friends to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 16]
Brooke, Annette
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Stephen
Blackman, Liz
Butler, Ms Dawn
Creagh, Mary
Ennis, Jeff
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Knight, rh Jim
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 99 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 101

Assistance and support in relation to apprenticeship places
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
12 noon
Mr. Hayes: Very simply, the clause places a duty on the chief executive to provide services to assist people to find apprenticeships. I will make my questions brief and pointed. Will the vacancy matching service be categorised sectorally? How many employers do the Government envisage will sign up? With the current increase in broken apprenticeship agreements, will the vacancy matching service be capable of coping with an influx of apprentices who are part way through their course? What discussions have the Government had with sector skills councils on those three questions?
Mr. Simon: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have had discussions with sector skills councils. The vacancy matching service will be organised sectorally and it will cope with any large influx of people who have been made redundant. I do not have the exact details of the discussions with the sector skills councils in front of me, but I can try to look up the records. I am not sure whether I have answered all his questions or whether there was something else, but I am assuming from his motionlessness that I have done so, in my inadequate way.
Clause 101 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 102 to 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106

Research, information and advice
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment 138, in clause 106, page 63, line 11, at end add—
‘(7) When establishing systems under subsection (5) the Chief Executive must consult the Young People’s Learning Agency and local education authorities.
The clause sets out the role of the chief executive in relation to research and the provision of information and advice, and the establishment of systems for collecting information. The chief executive has a duty to report to the Secretary of State on such matters as the Secretary of State may require. In practice, that is likely to include information about the progress of the Government’s targets and priorities in connection with post-19 learning, a description of the chief executive’s learning and skills funding strategy and information on the application of funding. It will also include information about 16 to 18-year old apprentices.
Amendment 138 ensures that, when the chief executive sets up systems for collecting information, he consults the YPLA and the LEAs. When providing information, he should do so after consultation with learners—I hasten to add, given the intervention of the hon. Member for Bristol, West in relation to my earlier amendment—and with FE colleges and providers. The amendment is very much in the spirit of that proposed a few moments ago. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not think that such things should be in the Bill, and I appreciate that not everything can be, because of the need for flexibility, but some of these relationships are fundamental to the effective operation of the new regime, so in that spirit I have moved our amendment.
Mr. Simon: There is no lack of enthusiasm for consultation or even for setting things out in the Bill. As I have said repeatedly, we are doing that voluntarily, because it is important. What we do not want to do is place restrictions in the Bill that would become exactly such bureaucratic impediments as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is rightly keen to warn us against much of the time.
We agree that it is important for the chief executive to consult stakeholders. We agree that the stakeholders are likely to include the YPLA and local authorities. However, there will be other stakeholders too, whom we would not want to exclude inadvertently. Furthermore, it may not always be necessary to consult the YPLA and local authorities in all circumstances, and it would be an unnecessary and bureaucratic burden on them to do so.
The question of whom the chief executive consults depends on the nature of the system to be established—we must give the chief executive the flexibility to decide, in particular circumstances, who that should be. Formal consultation mechanisms are already being established. For example, we are putting in place robust governance arrangements for IT-enabled systems, involving the chief executive reporting to a joint DCSF-DIUS board comprising key stakeholder representatives, including the YPLA, local authority representatives and others.
At a customer level, we expect the chief executive to put in place and operate customer scrutiny groups for each of its key systems. The groups will include representatives of key stakeholders, customers and system users. The first of those groups is being established to ensure that the learner registration service is developed effectively. Although we think that consultation is best left to the discretion of the chief executive, if there is a problem there are already levers in the Bill to ensure that consultation takes place. Clause 114 requires the chief executive to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State, which may include guidance about consulting learners, employers and other bodies that the Secretary of State may specify in guidance. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
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