Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820-839)|
8 JULY 2008
Q820 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Jones: Yes. For the vast majority
I believe that all Sector Skills Councils now have a Sector Skills
Agreement at Level 5. They are a true reflection of the needs
of the employers of the sectors because they have had to have
been agreed with the employers in the sectors; and also partners,
such as for our sector we have agreements with the Welsh Assembly
Government, Jobcentre Plus, the Higher Education Funding Council
and Careers Wales.
Q821 Chairman: Where do the trade
unions fit into that?
Mr Jones: I am sorry, that is
the final one I missed out, with Wales TUC.
Q822 Chairman: With that particular
point that I raised, the very fact that national boundaries do
not in any way necessarily match labour markets, I would imagine
that employers would have a very strong view about these matters.
How, in a practical sense, does this work?
Ms Creed: The Sector Skills Councils
have UK councils or boards as part of their governance structure;
so the Sector Skills Agreements that have been negotiated at country
level will be drawn back together as part of the Sector Skills
Councils' business planning process; and the business plan for
the Sector Skills Council will look for those areas where there
is commonality across the UK and seek to deal with those on a
UK level; but, equally, obviously need to identify where there
are things that are different in different countries and deal
with those on a country level.
Q823 Chairman: This inquiry is about
cross-border issues, how do the Sector Skills Councils then deal
with those precise issues of cross-border, particularly at the
border? It seems to be quite acute in some areas like Northeast
Ms Creed: May I respond by giving
a specific example from my Sector Skills Council. Obviously we
commend the written evidence from the individual Sector Skills
Councils to you on all of these points, but an example from the
Lifelong Learning sector would be that we have highlighted in
each of the four nations of the UK a need for enhancing the information
learning technology skillsso the ability of a teacher to
deliver learning through technology. The way in which we are seeking
to progress that issue is again by drawing representation from
each of the four nations together to look at what the solution
to that issue will be; to look at how collectively and collaboratively
that can be funded to be moved forward; and then to look at what
the delivery implications for that would be.
Ms Hunter: If I could just add,
the whole basis on which Sector Skills Councils operate is the
development of national occupational standards which define the
competence and describe competent performance in any given activity
and task; and because those are developed for countrywide application
they have input from all the four nations and the practitioners
of the four nations. That means any learning development or qualifications
can be built on those national occupational standards, which enables
the transferability across borders, because you design the qualifications
based on the actual job roles and functions carried out by the
individuals; I hope that helps to explain it.
Q824 Mark Pritchard: When developing
the policy for your respective SSCs, how much does the four nations
approach work within that policy formation?
Mr Jones: From our particular
area, social justice, some of it is led centrally because of central
policiesfor example, dealing with the Ministry of Justice,
the Crown Prosecution Service, the Court Service and then dealing
with the police, especially when we have got issues that are non-devolved.
Obviously justice is not devolved in Wales, however certain parts
of the work of the police is a devolved issue. Therefore, the
policing issue is generally a Wales issue, whereas some of the
other issues are delivered centrally.
Mr Woods: I would also add, the
governance arrangements within each individual organisation are
set up so that each of the four countries have a voice within
the governance arrangements of the individual organisations themselves.
It is something within the relicensing of all Sector Skills Councils
which Leitch recommends that is going to be a high priority for
the United Kingdom Commission on Employment and Skills to take
cognisance of, so that the voices of all four nations have equal
weight within the process.
Q825 Mark Pritchard: Do you think
England takes precedence in that?
Mr Woods: I do not think it takes
precedence. There are differences which the Committee is investigating
between various issues to do with funding provision where there
may be different sets of monies available. I think one of the
things for employers, certainly within the private sector, is
that the boundaries between nations and regions are not really
that meaningful. They work, I think, on the basis of their own
economic units and markets. What we have to do as Sector Skills
Councils is make sure there is a consistent support delivered
where they need it and ensure the qualifications offered in each
of the countries are transferable across the UK. Certainly some
of the responses for which the Committee has had evidence show
that there is a need for a consistency of approach across the
UK, because some of the organisations are trans-global organisations
in their own right. It is our role in trying to translate what
is happening in each of those nations for employers, and we are
part of the glue of the system. I would not say that one has any
preference over the other. It is our role I think to make sure
that the interpretation of all four nations is one which employers
Q826 Mark Pritchard: Given the difference
in size between England and Wales, are there any issues of capacity
in relation to you delivering what you need to deliver?
Ms Creed: I think the question
of capacity is raised frequently, and I think capacity has a direct
relation to resources. Sector Skills Councils receive £1.3
million in core resources to deliver their business across all
of the constituencies they represent and the UK nations. I think
Leitch has adequately highlighted that the level of core funding
made available is different from the extent of the core remit.
Capacity I think needs to be viewed in the context of the resources
that are made available to us. I would not say there is an issue
in terms of capacity between England and Wales per se.
There is as much a capacity issue between coverage for the Southwest
of England, the Southeast of England or the Midlands. We have
got a regional dimension to take account of as well as a country
dimension. Managing that £1.3 million over a very diverse
remit is challenging, I think it would be fair to say.
Q827 Mark Pritchard: Although the
potential for possible disparities in different parts of different
regions in England does not necessary, if you like, mitigate the
impact of the disparity between Wales and England?
Mr Jones: If I could just give
an example of that, again, from my sector where we have four conjoined
and distinct police forces in Wales. This has given us an opportunity
to work together on the skills agenda to bring the four forces
together and have the commitment of the four chief constables
to work together on any new initiatives with an all-Wales initiative.
Q828 Mark Pritchard: Finally, what
policies could you identify in higher education that differ from
England to Wales?
Ms Creed: The Committee has already
received a response from Higher Education Wales which, as the
representative network for our part of our sector, we would obviously
commend to you. One of the challenges that Higher Education Wales
are focusing on is the difference of what they term the "funding
gap" between England and Wales; in that because of the nature
of higher education, which obviously sees itself as a global entity
but obviously a UK-wide entity as well, aspects of higher education
spending are fixed at a UK level; and then the resources that
are made available to higher education in Wales put pressure on
the institutions in Wales in terms of, say, what Higher Education
Wales would refer to as a "funding gap", which certainly
the sector would say is in the longer term going to have an impact
on the maintenance and quality in Wales versus the levels of quality
Q829 Mark Pritchard: I did say "finally"
but given you have taken the time to read previous evidence for
which the Committee, through the Chairman, is no doubt grateful,
you will have identified that there is a funding gap both in the
provision of higher education. Within the same evidence, perhaps
supplementary evidence, there is a shortfall as far as research
funding is concerned, which no doubt you have identified, and
I think you are sort of agreeing today there are certain disparities,
if not a shortfall, on that funding for skills and training provision
in Wales. The cumulative impact of that, in my view, is not particularly
helpful to the people of Wales. What is your view?
Ms Hunter: If I could just pick
up on that before Richard answers. There are a couple of specific
areas where for the learners there are issues about the differences
between England and Wales in higher education: one is the funding
of Foundation Degrees; and the other is the actual student fees
which vary quite considerably between England and Wales. Those
are issues for the learners which, given the fact that the infrastructure
funding is not deemed sufficient in Wales, the impact of that
means many more students and learners may move to England to higher
education, and therefore the fees difference will impact on them
Q830 Alun Michael: I just wanted
to pursue one issue really. It is difficult sometimes for those
outside the system to get under the skin of what you do, which
is probably a challenge for you as well as a problem for us. I
would just like to know how in the future, just as you do with
interdisciplinary issuesto give one example, the whole
question of how people analyse crime and disorder in their area;
the development of crime and disorder audits and things like that
require methodology and techniqueshow do you deal with
that sort of issue, given that a lot of the people who need to
be engaged with that will be outside the direct ambit of the Criminal
Ms Hunter: I think again this
is where national occupational standards come in; because the
standards define all the functions and activities that have to
be carried out across the justice sector. In any partnership arrangements
we encourage the sector to use the national occupational standards,
even with the partners who are coming in from the outside. There
are a lot of generic national occupational standards which are
used by all the Sector Skills Councils, but if there are ones
that are specifically about certain activitiesfor instance,
analysing intelligence data and so onthose are there, and
we would encourage the partner organisations who are working with
our sector to use the relevant standards as well.
Q831 Alun Michael: Could I try another
example, and that is youth offending teams where, again, there
is a spread of different professions and educational backgrounds
that come together, and again where there are cross-border as
well as cross-disciplinary issues in places like Northeast Wales
and parts of South Wales?
Ms Hunter: Again, I would refer
you to the same answer. The national occupational standards encompass
the whole of the activities in the justice sector. For instance,
when a police officer moves into a youth offending team, which
happens quite frequently, the police officer will already have
demonstrated their competence against the national occupational
standards for their police role; but when they move into the youth
offending team there will be a number of additional national occupational
standards that reflect the additional work and the change in role
as they move into the youth offending team.
Q832 Alun Michael: Would seeking
those additional skills be triggered automatically by such a move?
Ms Hunter: In most cases, yes.
Q833 Alun Michael: The third example
I give is police community support officers, where obviously you
have got a new set of challenges, some of which relate to policing
and some of which relate much more to my old profession of community
Ms Hunter: Exactly the same. A
whole suite of national occupational standards that identify the
activities that a community support officer carries out. It includes
some standards that have come in from other Sector Skills Councils
to show the activities that have been taken over.
Q834 Alun Michael: Chairman, I have
found the answers reassuring but I think, because it is helpful
if you work down to practical examples, it perhaps would be useful
to have some supplementary evidence against those three examples
of how that works in practice.
Ms Hunter: Yes, we can do that.
Q835 Mr David Jones: I would like to
return, if I may, to funding gaps in further and higher education
which I know is an issue that concerns you, and it is also an
issue on which we have already had evidence. For example, HEFCW
have indicated the funding gap in Wales in higher education was
running at something in the region of £61 million. What would
you say are the consequences for employers of these disparities
in the funding regimes from outside of the English/Welsh border?
Ms Creed: The funding gap will
cover such issues as the development of the premises of a learning
environment, which obviously is a critical part of the student's
learning experience. It will impact upon the resources that the
learning institution is able to buythe new technologies,
the electronic SMART Boards, sufficient access to e-learning to
wider access access etc., and inevitably it will have an impact
on the amount of funding that can be invested into the staff development
of the individuals working in those institutions. As you are hearing
from both Fforum, on an FE basis, and from Higher Education Wales,
for HE, England is increasing their investment in these areas,
whilst Wales funding has either remained capped or has declined
in real terms. It is difficult at this particular juncture to
say what the impact would be; but I guess if you were to logically
follow through, the questions one needs to look at will be: how
will the staff delivering learning, particularly as we move to
more vocationally-based programmes, who have a dual professionalism
of both teaching skills but also their underpinning technical
skills, how will they keep both sets of skills sufficiently up-to-date
to be able to effectively deliver the new vocational agenda that
we are seeking to push hard right across the UK? In terms of learning
environment, not only will perhaps employers and learners look
at where they are going to learn to understand whether it is somewhere
they want to go to learn, staff undoubtedly (particularly near
the borders) will be making a judgement about: do I want to go
and work in a state-of-the-art college that is 20 miles down the
road that way, where they have had a substantial investment programme
in the premises, or do I want to go and work 20 miles in this
direction where perhaps they have not? One would image that if
the banding gap were to continue to sustain that we would see
the issues on a series of different levels.
Q836 Mr David Jones: Could I concentrate,
please, on employers per se. Given nowadays (and we have
had evidence already in the course of this inquiry) that students
are increasingly opting to study closer to home, so therefore
your pool of students in due course is probably going to be from
the area in which they want to be employed, what effect will this
have upon employers? I am thinking in particular of Northeast
Wales where the border is almost invisible for practical purposes,
but there are a lot of major employers. What can you see the impact
upon employers in particularly that part of Wales as being?
Ms Creed: I think in the scenario
you are highlighting, employers are customers of the colleges.
What employers anywhere are keen to do is buy high quality learning
that is fit for purpose, and that will mean the university or
the college needs to be able to invest sufficient monies in ensuring
that its course content remains valid and up-to-date; but it also
needs to ensure that its staff are up-to-date. If there is reduced
investment over a long period of time I think those two issues
will become more of a challenge for the institution and that will
therefore then have an impact on the quality of the product that
the employer has access to.
Q837 Mr David Jones: Where will the
employer look to in order to obtain that product?
Ms Hunter: I think the issue as
Michelle said is about quality and fit for purpose, and employers
will go where the quality and fit for purpose training is being
delivered. The other issue that has been highlighted by EU skills,
Energy and Utility Skills and the Automotive Sector Skills Council,
is the issue that where the funding for the learners going onto
the programmes is different then the employers either will opt
for the country where the funding is higher, or they will back-off
from taking up things like apprenticeship frameworks because the
combination of two different sets of bureaucracy, two different
lots of funding and two different lots of audit will make it too
bureaucratic for them and they will back-off altogether. That
could have a long-term impact on skills development.
Q838 Mr David Jones: Are you noticing
at this stage any change in attitude of employers as to where
they are seeking their employees from, or is too early days yet?
Ms Hunter: I do not think we are
as a Sector Skills Council, but I think some of our colleagues
Mr Woods: Perhaps Mr Jones answered
some of your questions. There is evidence supplied by colleagues
in Lantra, which is the environment, where they talk about specialist
HE provision for example in veterinary services where there is
Q839 Mr David Jones: We may come
back to that later on in the course of this session. Would you
say that employers need more parity in qualifications and training
on either side of the border?
Ms Hunter: Absolutely. I think
one of the things that has come out from several of the Sector
Skills Councils is there are some specific examples in materials
sent through to you but the differences between the Welsh Baccalaureate
and the 14-19 diplomas in England and EU skills is a particular
example. I think it was EU skills about start-dates. Although
there were similarities between those qualifications, one will
start in 2009 and one will start in 2010. So there is a difficulty
there for employers, and the differences between the Young Apprenticeship
Scheme and the Workplace Learning Pathways in the two countries.
Where they are national employers, where they cover the four countries,
there is a confusion and they do not understand why it is a different
qualification or a different funding route in the two countries.
I think that is a particular issue for them.
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