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17 Jun 2010 : Column 1069

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Are you sure you didn't teach drama?

Mr Hayes: Well, I said I was interested in dance. I am interested in sufficient drama to add to the theatricality of this place, without which it would be poorer.

During the years of the Labour Government, Labour Members often alleged that the largesse for further education would end if we came to power. If the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my opponent and friend, were to wish to repeat his unfortunate appearance on "Celebrity Mastermind"-I do not want to remind him of that too much-he could do worse than choose the Thatcher Government as his specialist subject. We came to realise during our time in opposition that the Labour party spent more time speaking about 1979 than about the present. They were preoccupied with that in their dark years, and perhaps that is not surprising for a party that usually looks backwards rather than forwards, whereas the Conservative party is committed to progress and taking our country to where it needs to be now.

As a consequence of that preoccupation with the past, we were left with another Labour Government who spent until they broke the bank. As a result, even before they lost office, they were already cutting adult skills. Last year's pre-Budget report said-I have it here for those hon. Members who have not had the opportunity to go to the Library to collect it-that £300 million would be cut from the adult skills budget if Labour returned to Government. When Members hear complaints about the new Government's performance, they should set them in that context. Mandy was first to the table to say he would cut his Department, and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. People are still making phone calls to my office to try to find him, to ask exactly where the cuts would have fallen.

While Labour Members were drifting further and further out of touch into a world populated by fictional numbers rather than real people, Conservatives were talking to adult educators and adult learners about their experiences. We were talking to employers about their skills needs and to union learning representatives about the obstacles they face in creating a learning culture among their members. So that it is unequivocal, so that there is no question and no doubt, let me say that I and the Government are committed to unionlearn; we celebrate all it does and all that it will continue to do with our support and encouragement.

As a result of the conversations we had and dialogues we enjoyed, we learned important lessons about the indispensability of further education as an engine of social and economic change. History teaches us that the better educated a nation's people are, the more economically prosperous they are likely to be-their general levels of health will be better, too, their communities will be more united and their family and social bonds will be stronger-and the more they will appreciate the things that money cannot buy, but without which life is colourless. All deserve their chance to see, hear, taste and touch beauty.

The conviction that education is the key to so much more than a wage packet drove pioneers, such as the founders of the Workers Educational Association, who sought to take learning, until then the preserve of the privileged few, out to the many. The impulse that promoted
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better manual skills also created the penny classics that did so much to spread the love of English literature throughout society, and the growth of choral and instrumental societies that brought great music virtually to the factory floor. The fire that drove adult education's pioneers still burns, and it drives the coalition Government's programme for further education and skills. The challenge we face in rebuilding a system fit for purpose is scarcely less imposing than was theirs in building a system from scratch.

In recent years, the link between skills and craftsmanship-I am not afraid to call it craftsmanship-the ideal of self-betterment and the pleasures of learning as a means of gaining wider and richer perspectives on the world have been allowed to wither. But not any longer: we in this Government will make a bold case for that relationship-a firm case for the cohesive power of learning, how it changes lives by changing life chances and increases prospects both to gain and prosper in a job, and in all the other ways that I have described.

No one denies that one of the key functions of Government is to create, as far as possible, the right conditions for economic success, and none would deny, I hope, that adult skills policy is one of the most powerful economic levers at any Government's disposal. But the time has come finally to acknowledge that a socialist model of centralised planning has failed, even in terms of its own narrow criteria for success. We really cannot continue the micro-managed, target-driven, bureaucratic regime that for years has dogged further education and damaged our prospects of raising skills levels.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you and the House will not underestimate the scale of the challenge. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills reported in "Ambition 2020", published last year, that on recent trends we are likely to slip from 18th to 21st in the OECD rankings for intermediate level skills by 2020. Shadow Ministers will be familiar with the report.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op) rose-

Mr Hayes: I happily give way to the new Chairman of the Select Committee, whom I welcome in that role.

Mr Bailey: I thank the Minister for his kind words. I welcome him to his position and look forward to seeing him in our Committee in due course. I congratulate him on his bravura performance-indeed, it has been quite theatrical at times. He commented on the top-down approach. I note that his colleague the Minister for Universities and Science has written to higher and further education organisations inviting them to publish employability statements. Today the hon. Gentleman placed a statement in the Library saying that the Government would be introducing measures to give

If that is not an example of a top-down and potentially bureaucratic approach, what is it? Could he enlighten us?

Mr Hayes: I want to be generous; as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that is in my character. I know that the hon. Gentleman is new to the task, but he has been
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an assiduous member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and a frequent contributor to debates in the Chamber. As such, I hoped he would have known that the key plank of my party's perspective on this subject-indeed, the coalition's perspective-is the need to inform and empower learners. It is critically important that people get the right advice and guidance, and part of that process is explaining to them the likely employment outcomes of pursuing courses of study and training. We are encouraging universities and colleges, and the reformed careers service that we will bring in, to give people a very clear understanding of what will happen if they embark on particular routes. What are their chances of getting a job? What sort of job will it be? What are the wage implications? How might they progress thereafter?

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con) rose-

Mr Hayes: I give way to my hon. Friend, who in his maiden speech has already made his commitment to skills, and apprenticeships in particular, very clear.

Robert Halfon: I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing so much to push forward our policy for 100,000 apprenticeships. Why do only just 28% of British workers qualify to become apprentices or gain technical skills compared to France, where the figure is 51%, or Germany where it is 65%-the percentage we should reach in this country? What has gone so badly wrong in the UK that our skills level is so low?

Mr Hayes: That requires not so much an answer as a seminar, but I shall try to summarise in a sentence or two what I might say at such a seminar. The problem in Britain has been threefold. First, we have not promoted apprenticeships as effectively as we should. Although the brand is strong among potential learners, employers and the public, it is clear that the previous Government did not believe in apprenticeships as much as we do. [ Interruption. ] Opposition Members complain but many people thought that the right hon. Member for Tottenham's ministerial predecessor-a valued colleague and a good Minister-did FA for FE and was sent to the FO. I do not know whether Fanny Adams is unparliamentary language, but it is certainly true that in debates with that Minister I made it absolutely clear that we wanted to grow the number of apprenticeships, yet the Labour Government insisted on retaining a strong emphasis on what they regarded as their flagship training and skills product-Train to Gain, about which I shall speak a little more in a moment.

The second point in answer to my hon. Friend's intervention is that although part of the problem is about marketing, part of it is about resource. We have decided to transfer a significant portion of the Train to Gain budget to apprenticeships, because we know the skills apprenticeships can confer. We know how long they take to learn and we know that people want them. We know employers like them. We know what they cost. That cannot be said of the Train to Gain programme, in which the previous Government placed so much faith.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab) rose-

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Mr Hayes: I give way to the hon. Lady, who always takes such an assiduous interest in education matters.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I am sure we are all enjoying the hon. Gentleman's theatrics this afternoon, but will he look at some evidence? In 2008-09, 240,000 people started apprenticeships, compared to 75,000 in 1997-98, so I do not think it is for Labour to take lectures from the Conservatives about the importance of apprenticeships.

Mr Hayes: The hon. Lady must not deceive new Members- [ Interruption. ] I know she would not do so-except inadvertently, of course; I take that as read-because newer Members might come to believe her suggestion-I put it no more strongly than that.

What the previous Government actually did was to reclassify what counted as an apprenticeship. In France and Germany, about which we heard a moment ago, all apprenticeships are at level 3, and they once were in Britain. When the Labour Government came to power, they reclassified level 2 qualifications as apprenticeships and then trumpeted the fact that there were more of them. As both the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen know, the level 3 numbers remained stubbornly rather less than was required, than the Government wanted and than employers knew they needed. So we should focus on level 3 apprenticeships if we wish to get a true comparison both of our previous performance and of international data.

Kevin Brennan: How many of the 50,000 new places that the hon. Gentleman is announcing can he guarantee to the House will be level 3 apprenticeships?

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is far too experienced a Member to expect me to give on-the-hoof guarantees of that kind, but what I will say is that I have asked my officials-my officials-to look closely at the definition and, indeed, the stratification of apprenticeships. I want to build the ladder of qualifications that takes people from re-engagement right up to level 4 and 5.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman and the House about three things that we will do on apprenticeships. As well as putting the extra resource in, we will grow the number of frameworks at level 3 and 4 and we will explore frameworks at level 5, where there is a demand, I am told, in meetings with the high-tech industries such as advanced engineering. The hon. Gentleman will know some of the sectors to which I refer. We will look closely at those level 2 apprenticeships which, with redefinition, can be built to level 3-in other words, some of the high-end level 2 qualifications that with further work may become level 3-and we will think again about those level 2 qualifications that cannot. It is entirely appropriate that they might be regarded as a foundation to an apprenticeship, but I am not sure that it is right that they should be called full apprenticeships. This makes comparisons with our international competitors difficult, and I am not sure that it does not short-change employers and learners. Yes, of course, there is a place for level 2, but the emphasis will be on level 3, and that is what the hon. Gentleman needs to know.

Kevin Brennan: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that some of the new apprenticeships that he is announcing that he will create may not be classified as apprenticeships in future?

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Mr Hayes: No; I am saying that some of the existing apprenticeships may not be classified so, and that the new money and the new emphasis will be on level 3. I want to return to the main text of my speech.

Steve McCabe: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hayes: I want to make progress; I will give way later. The hon. Gentleman has had one turn, and although I am generous, my generosity is not without limit.

I want now to focus on the highly centralised and bureaucratic system that developed under the previous Government, whereby funds that could have been used for teaching and training were actually used detailing plans, complying with targets and formulating schemes. Instead of enabling colleges and other providers to respond to the needs of businesses and learners, Ministers thought they knew what was best. Excessive bureaucracy sapped precious energy from our education system. If I might, as a primer, offer advice again, particularly to newer Members, that if proof were needed of that assertion, it is to be found in the report commissioned as early as 2005 by the last Government under the auspices of Sir Andrew Foster. That report concluded that there was a "galaxy" of oversight, inspection and administration in the FE sector, and called for precisely the kind of streamlined and more responsive structure that we in this Government will now put in place.

Even worse, though, that centralised, target-driven micro-management led to a systemic failure in the form of an FE capital funding crisis from which the sector is still reeling. Members will know that the Learning and Skills Council encouraged bids that would have cost 10 times more than the available funds. Across the country, 144 capital bids were frozen. Members across the Chamber came to the House to complain about the circumstances in their localities and the effects on their local colleges, and rightly so. Seventy-nine of those projects had already received agreement in principle. Many colleges incurred considerable cost.

Andrew Foster was once again brought out of mothballs by the Government to produce another report, and he made it very clear that a top-heavy, bureaucratic system had failed. He concluded that the LSC was too slow to respond-

So we will look closely at FE capital. Next week, I shall make it clear how we will spend on a bid basis with colleges the extra £50 million that the Chancellor has agreed to devote to FE capital projects.

Kevin Brennan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hayes: I will give way once more, and then I really must make some progress, because a number of hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

Kevin Brennan: Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the extra £50 million that he describes as capital has been taken from the Department's revenue spending for skills, and that it will only be for this year, and that therefore in the long term, in perpetuity, it is a £50 million cut?

Mr Hayes: I have already celebrated the hon. Gentleman's assiduity, and his numeracy skills are obvious, too. He is right: the money is being taken from the Train to Gain budget, and it is being allocated to capital. The justification
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for that is the urgency of the problem. Had the Labour party organised the capital funding in FE in anything like a reasonable way, we would not have to take these emergency measures. That will bring some light to those colleges who were for so long, as I was, in the shadows-in the darkness.

The hon. Gentleman will also know that this is therefore a one-off programme, but we will now look at a longer-term set of proposals for FE capital, and in my estimation even this short-term measure will deliver benefit to 150 colleges across the country. There will be more details next week. I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot wait-the whole House is excited-but he must, because I cannot give all the presents out on the same day; some have to be saved for Boxing day.

There has to be a better way to take advantage of the immense human capital in the college system, to build a high-skilled, high-tech economy. We really must offer a new beginning. That is why I want to move to the four points that lay at the heart of the letter that I wrote today, and then to my exciting conclusion.

The letter that I have written today to the principals of all colleges sets out ways in which we will set FE free. First, I am removing the requirement to complete summary statements of activity, with a resulting reduction in performance monitoring of employer responsiveness. Secondly, the Government have already announced the removal of Ofsted inspections for schools with outstanding performance. I will work with ministerial colleagues to introduce the same way of working in the FE sector, removing inspections for colleges with outstanding performance.

Thirdly, I will remove the regulatory requirement for college principals to undertake the principals qualifying programme, not because I do not want appropriately qualified principals-I know that there are a range of development opportunities and qualifications that can enhance managers', leaders' and principals' skills to run colleges in the 21st century-but because individuals in our institutions should be free to decide what package of development is appropriate to support their individual circumstances.

Fourthly and most importantly, I will enable all colleges except those that are performing poorly to move money between adult learner and employer budgets, because they, rather than Ministers, know how best to meet the needs of local learners and employers. All those measures are intended to increase the power of colleges to determine how best to manage their affairs in the light of local training needs. I want not just to encourage them to listen to what local people and local businesses have to say, but to be free to act, to respond and to use that information with a minimum of fuss, delay and administrative cost.

This is only the beginning-a first indication of the Government's determination to deliver on the promises we made to providers when we were in opposition. We are drawing a line under the mistakes of the past and reaching for a better future.

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