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Baroness Blackstone: We have heard a good deal from the noble Baroness and from the Benches opposite, through their amendments to this clause, about their concerns over the membership and status of the council. But they miss the basic point that there is wide recognition among learners, providers and employers that the current system of post-16 education and training no longer meets the country's needs in the 21st century.
This is nothing to do with a government with a fetish for change. This is a government listening to the criticisms of many people--whether students, employers or providers--of the current system. We would be failing in our duty if we did not listen. Respondents to our Green and White Papers were clear that we have to do away with the incoherence and
I was not cross with the noble Lord, Lord Tope--I see he is not in his place--for introducing his amendments; I was just a little disappointed that we began our proceedings today with what I feel were close to being wrecking amendments. However, none of the alternatives proposed by the Benches opposite offers a coherent solution. The regional structures advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rob us of the opportunity to meet national challenges with national solutions. Large employers, national public and voluntary organisations all welcome the prospect of being able to relate to the LSC at a single national level. They know that they will be able to avoid the duplication and wasted effort which many face now when dealing with 72 separate TECs. The noble Baroness was correct in her definition of them, but they all have different systems and different approaches. We are constantly being told that that makes it difficult when dealing with them.
The proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to distance the Secretary of State from appointments and essential links with the LSC serve only to limit the elements of control and scrutiny which Parliament should properly expect government to exert over an NDPB. I say again in relation to the proposals specifying the composition of the council on the face of the legislation that, although the Government are committed to the inclusive nature of the council under the business leadership that we set out in the LSC prospectus, we do not accept that legislation should or needs to specify quotas. That of course applies to local government representation.
I entirely accept what the noble Baroness was saying earlier about her long record in local government. When I was being critical in suggesting that there was a U-turn, I did not mean it personally. It is perhaps the case that she not only fought parliamentary counsel--I wish I had been a fly on the wall at that meeting--but also fought her colleagues in reducing the role of local government in this whole area. That is certainly what her government did.
The learning and skills council represents a new opportunity to tackle more effectively the learning and skills deficits that have for so long blighted economic performance and the development of an inclusive society. Clause 1 is central to the Bill and I urge the Committee to agree that it should stand part of the Bill and I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her objection.
Baroness Blatch: That was again an interesting answer. The noble Baroness said that there needs to be more coherence. I admitted that from the outset. There is no argument between our Front Benches in relation to coming together in the interests of having more coherence in post-16 education.
The criticism of the system is interesting. I have spoken to a large number of people in the build up to this Bill. Almost always people said that they did not like the way the Government decided to resolve this issue, but that is a lost argument; that has now gone. People are pragmatic. They realise that they must get on with their lives. They accept, at the end of the day, that they have to live with the government of the day. Business people in particular have to get on. They have neither the time nor the resources to engage in a long war of attrition about these matters.
There is huge support for coherence. Duplication of funding is also an issue. The problem of some people being paid twice can certainly be resolved. We are worried about the duplication of funding because we feel that what is behind it is a kind of averaging downwards. At Second Reading the Minister referred to averaging upwards and, in the interests of Pepper v Hart, we shall be watching that carefully. Indeed, in a letter to me the noble Baroness put on paper that there will be no averaging downwards. But it begs the question that where there is a policy intention that equal funding for equal courses shall be pursued--similar courses are at present being funded differently--will that be levelled upwards or downwards?
We are also concerned about the funding mechanisms which will change; for example, the circuitous method of top-slicing sixth form money at national level; giving it to the national councils who will then give it to the 47 local councils who will then give it to the hundreds of LEAs who will then give it to the schools. First, that will be a costly circuitous route; and, secondly, each individual school wants some guarantee that it will not lose out in real terms. Or will there be an amortising across the schools? So real practical problems arise in relation to the system underpinned by Clause 1.
Finally, the Minister refers to training and enterprise councils as being different; some being effective and some not so effective; some having different systems and some different approaches. The idea that 47 local skills councils will be uniformly good and uniformly effective is a nonsense. Human beings are what they are. Some will be led by good people and have exceptional boards, and some will not. It is a matter of fact that when there are so many councils, there will in the end be the good, the bad and the indifferent.
Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 1 agreed to accordingly.