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Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I hope that I may ask her one question. I absolutely take the point that the noble Baroness has just made; namely, there are problems as regards providing a blanket entitlement to all people with learning difficulties. Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause in the amendment states,
Baroness Blackstone: If the noble Baroness or any of the other speakers in this debate wishes to table an amendment along those lines, the Government will certainly consider whether it is acceptable. Of course, in doing so we would have to consider problems of definition.
Lord Addington: I thank the Minister for that reply. I also thank those who have taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, congratulated the Minister on Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill. I very much admire the elegant way in which he waved a parliamentary rapier at the Government with regard to certain issues.
We seek to ensure that there is coverage across the board on this matter. Every time disability problems arise, we are invariably told that good practice exists. As I say, one of the main aims of the amendment is to seek coverage across the board. The Minister did not properly address that point, probably because she could not do so as provision depends on the scheme someone is involved in. I suggest that the most important provision is mobility training to enable
The noble Baroness said: Clause 14 concerns a report to be prepared by the council. Amendment No. 94 seeks to include a requirement that a copy of the report should be sent to each local authority. Clause 14(2) states,
Baroness Blackstone: Clause 14 will make sure that the learning and skills council accounts for the provision of post-16 education and training that it makes for people with disabilities. It carries forward the duties placed upon the FEFC by the Disability Discrimination Act. As Members of the Committee have already said, Clause 14 will be of help in creating wider access for adults with disabilities, as the Disability Rights Task Force has recommended.
I also take the view that we should leave this matter to the good sense of the learning and skills council. At present, for example, although the FEFC is not under a duty to send copies of its report to anyone other than the Secretary of State, it nevertheless sends a copy to each FE college. That is good practice and common sense. I would expect the LSC to adopt a similar approach and, reflecting its wider responsibilities, send its report not only to LEAs but also to employers, FE colleges and voluntary organisations with whom it will work. However, these arrangements should be a matter for the LSC and not for legislation. I hope that the Committee will be reassured that local authorities will have access to the LSC's reports in this area, and that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I hope that this amendment will not be misunderstood in the context of the council being accountable. However, as the noble Baroness will know, I am concerned about what appears to be a very "top down" system. Directions will come from the Secretary of State to the national council. They will cascade down to 47 local councils and to local education authorities. In addition, rural development agencies and other such bodies have to be taken into account. As regards education, particularly training and links with industry and employment, plans should reflect needs at a local level and should not necessarily conform to the directions of the Secretary of State. This is merely an attempt to make sure that where the council publishes a plan for each financial year it should cover all the things that one would expect. In Clause 15 (4)(a) the council has to set out how it intends to achieve within any financial year objectives which should be achieved in that year. It is about setting out in its plan how it intends to achieve the aims and objectives. The Bill should reflect not what the Secretary of State is saying but what are the education and training needs of each local skills area. I beg to move.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: We on these Benches have considerable sympathy with this amendment. Many organisations, including the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TEC National Council, British Chambers of Commerce and the Local Government Association have all been very concerned indeed that plans drawn up by the LSC, and in particular by the local bodies, should reflect local needs. At national level there should also be some consideration of the overall national skills needs. In particular the CBI is very concerned about that issue.
However, I am not convinced that this amendment rightly fits at this point in the Bill. I have pondered the issue. It is concerned with the annual plans of the council itself, but local needs come later on under Clause 22. We shall be putting forward a number of amendments to take account of local needs. However, generally we support the spirit of the amendment because of the strongly expressed views of a number of organisations that the council should take into account the users of skills as well as the providers.
Baroness Blackstone: The LSC as a whole will draw its strength from having both a coherent national strategy and strong local arms which will ensure that local needs are met. That is at the centre of the new arrangement. We believe in the importance of local arms, contrary to what I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was suggesting in saying that we were adopting an excessively top-down approach. That is why we are recruiting influential people to the local councils of the LSC. It is also why we are devolving decision-making on the allocation of the majority of the LSC's budget to local level and why we are establishing a system which makes possible a bottom-up approach to drawing up local plans which will encourage local providers to put forward their proposals for meeting the needs and requirements that have been identified locally.
Therefore, I believe it is self-evident that the plans of local LSCs, as provided for in Clause 22, will set out how they propose to discharge their responsibilities in the light of the education and training needs of the area. That is exactly what these plans are for.
But it is not what the national LSC's operational plan is for. The purpose of that document is to set out how the LSC will deliver the objectives set for it as an NDPB which has agreed with the Secretary of State what targets it plans to meet and how it will spend its budget. Where the Secretary of State directs the LSC in accordance with his powers in Clause 25, it is surely essential that the council should set out how it proposes to comply with the directions in making and publishing its plan. If it did not do so, its planning would be neither effective nor transparent. Having heard those remarks, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.
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