Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 940-946)


15 JULY 2008

  Q940  Nia Griffith: I think what we are getting at here is where the travelling is actually less by going cross-border than by staying within sometimes if that particular course is available in a college over the border. Does that make sense to you?

  Bill Rammell: I can see that argument. I am not going to be desperately dogmatic here. What the LSC does is engage in a series of case-by-case judgments when particular circumstances in cases come forward and there are some cross-border movements. We certainly do not have a preset planning assumption that we want large numbers of students to be travelling across the border, because in some areas of further education, for example Train to Gain versus the Workforce Development Programme within Wales, it is actually a different offer that is available and that comes back to the heart of the devolved settlement, that the Welsh Assembly Government has the right to pursue its priorities in respect of its constituents, its businesses, as similarly we do within England.

  Q941  Mr David Jones: If we return to Train to Gain and the Workforce Programme, we have had some evidence before this Committee that a considerable amount of confusion has been caused to both trainees and employers over these two programmes, especially in areas such as northeast Wales, which is highly populated, where the border is virtually invisible. In other words, we have a large conurbation that more or less straddles the border in northeast Wales. To what extent is your Department liaising with the Welsh Assembly Government over these programmes to see if at all possible they could be coordinated and that employers in particular do not feel disadvantaged by not being able to access one or the other?

  Bill Rammell: There is liaison between the Learning and Skills Council and the Welsh Assembly Government which is responsible for funding further education and skills within Wales. We need to do our level best to ensure that people do understand the differences. Forgive me, this does cut the heart of the devolved settlement. The Welsh Assembly Government has taken a view of what it feels its businesses within Wales require, and it is a more targeted programme through the Workforce Development Programme than we have within England with Train to Gain. That is the nature of the devolved settlement. That is the decision that has been taken in Wales. We have taken a different decision within England and, yes, we need to ensure that people are not confused between the two offers but they are actually two distinct and separate offers.

  Q942  Mr David Jones: I understand that, Minister, but the fact is that the evidence we have had so far is that people are confused by the divergences between these two programmes. Is there any way that your Department and the Welsh Assembly Government could at least coordinate your efforts so that, for example, employers can understand the differences and what support they are able to access?

  Bill Rammell: Certainly I am prepared to look at that, and I will task the LSC with working with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that a clear message is going out to the right businesses in the right locations so they are aware of what programme is available. What I cannot say to you is that businesses within Wales will generally have access to the Train to Gain programme because that is a programme for English businesses.

  Q943  Mr David Jones: There was an anomaly that was actually drawn to our attention by Skills for Justice relating to the Prison Service, which of course is not operating under the auspices of the Welsh Assembly Government; it is not devolved. Nevertheless, staff in Wales working for the UK Prison Service are unable to access Train to Gain. That does appear odd, does it not? You have got a body which is not devolved and yet it is not able to access UK funding.

  Bill Rammell: It is interesting, that was exactly the subject I was discussing with officials this morning. We do not actually differentiate between public sector businesses and organisations and private sector businesses. It is the location of that institution that actually drives their access. That does mean, whether it is a public sector body or a private sector body, if you are located within Wales you will have access to the Workforce Development Programme, and you will have access to that Workforce Development Programme because the Welsh Assembly Government has said, "Given the particular circumstances and skills requirements within Wales, that is the type of programme we think is most beneficial". Across the border in England you have a different set of arrangements.

  Q944  Mr David Jones: Notwithstanding, as in this particular case, you are working for a UK institution?

  Bill Rammell: The same argument could be made about UK-wide private sector institutions, and given the strategy is about securing within that localised context the appropriate skills to meet particular business needs, they will differ depending on whether the institution is located within Wales or whether it is located within England.

  Q945  Chairman: Could I end, Minister, by returning to the questions I began with, namely, your UK-wide responsibilities. Given, as I understand it, that decisions of Research Councils Boards cannot be appealed against, what mechanism is there, in a hypothetical situation where an outrageous decision is taken, or a series of outrageous decisions are taken, for some means by which you, or the Welsh Assembly Government, could make an appeal about those decisions, or are they sacrosanct? Would you call in the Chief Executive of a particular Research Council and ask him or her to explain herself?

  Bill Rammell: Where we are concerned about trends in allocation of funding there is a dialogue between the Department and Research Councils; but we do operate explicitly according to the Haldane principle whereby we set the broad macro framework within which research allocation decisions are taken, but Government does not, and I do not believe should, actually intervene in, "Has this institution successfully got its research contract, as opposed to another one".

  Mr Malster: Yes, that is right.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for your evidence this morning, and thank you to your colleagues as well.

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