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Baroness Blatch: My nervousness is shared by so many people outside. Clearly, from what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said and the list of outside bodies mentioned by her, there are concerns about this matter. It is all very well to say that the national council will reflect local needs. The truth is, whatever the local councils and the LEAs do, they will be obliged under this Bill to act only in conformity with what is happening at national level.

There is a worry that a straitjacket will be created and movement within that will have to be in conformity with the framework sent down from on high. I heed the cautionary words of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in that this might not be the right place in the Bill to deal with this issue. What we

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all want is something in the Bill which gives force to what the noble Baroness aspires to; namely, that the process should be bottom-up and not top-down.

At the moment everything in the Bill emanates from the Secretary of State through the national council down to the local skills councils. There needs to be something on the face of the Bill to indicate that that is not so. The plan will be business driven, skills and local education needs driven, but very much at a local level. When we speak about people moving from education training into the workforce, it is only the local influence which is going to work and not national plans or strategies, which may dovetail together in some parts of the country but not in others. We all know that this country is very diverse. The idea of a single plan coming from on high within which everyone has to operate is a cause of concern. We shall continue to badger on this point until we find something on the face of the Bill which gives strength to the points that we are making. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 96:

    Page 7, line 33, at end insert--

("(5) The Council must send a copy of the financial plan to the Secretary of State and to each local authority.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment suggests that the council must send a copy of the financial plan to the Secretary of State and to each local authority. It is important. This amendment is also linked with Amendment No. 98 where the council has to set out how it intends to achieve its objectives within the budget.

We have had a good deal of aspirational talk. I have been reading the document ConneXions. I reached about paragraph 5 and said to myself that I could not disagree with a single word of it. It uses aspirational and reassuring language which makes one feel good, but when one asks what will happen on the ground and what are the practical policies to deliver the aspirational hope, it is difficult to find real material and practical points and policies. It is very hard.

All policies begin with the grand visionary statement, but ultimately the devil is in the detail. Where aims and objectives are set out, however laudable they are, it is important to set out in a practical way how they are to be achieved within the set financial parameters. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Amendment No. 96 is not necessary. The plan will be published and made available, including on the Internet, for whoever wants to see it. We have to take into account new technology even in areas of this kind. Local authorities may well have an interest in the plan, but a statutory requirement to send hard copies to each of 388 local authorities in England is unnecessary. It is also bureaucratic and not quite in touch with the 21st century. Given the concerns expressed by noble Lords earlier this week about the need to reduce bureaucracy, I am surprised that this amendment has been tabled.

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As we made clear in the prospectus, local authorities already have a dual role in the new arrangements that this Bill will secure as key providers of adult and community learning and as bodies which have a vital strategic role to play in furthering the social and economic interests of their communities. Our arrangements reflect that dual role. Clauses 22 and 23 provide ways of preparing the plans. Local LSCs will set out the provisions which LEAs will be expected to secure and the resources to be made available.

Turning to the issue of the Secretary of State being sent a copy, we would expect DfEE officials to discuss with the LSC its proposed annual plan in the course of the normal relationship between a sponsor department and an NDPB. A specific provision to send a hard copy to the Secretary of State is therefore not necessary. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will agree to withdraw this amendment.

Turning now to Amendment No. 98, the rolling strategy document provided for in Clause 16 will have a medium-term scope of at least three years. It is designed to identify strategic objectives and priorities for post-16 learning and as an account of the role that the LSC will play, alongside others, in pursuing those objectives and in achieving targets set by the Secretary of State--for example, the national learning targets.

This document is not the place to set out in detail what the LSC will purchase with its budget--indeed, it may not know in detail its forward budgets for the whole of the period in question. The place for this more detailed information is in the annual plan provided for in Clause 15. I hope, therefore, that this amendment also can be withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch: There is an inconsistency in the Bill and in what the noble Baroness said. The Minister's argument on Clause 14(2) was that it was important to put on the face of the Bill that the council will send a hard copy of the report to the Secretary of State. Her argument on Clause 15 is that of course the Secretary of State will receive a hard copy of the report and therefore there is no need to put it on the face of the Bill. That seems to me to be an inconsistent argument. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed to.

7 p.m.

Clause 16 [Strategy]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 97:

    Page 7, line 34, after ("a") insert ("workforce development").

The noble Baroness said: Although Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 are grouped together, they are separate amendments and I shall speak to them separately.

Amendment No. 97 seeks to require the National Learning and Skills Council to formulate a development strategy at national level which expressly reflects national workforce needs. The amendment

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picks up the proposal from the National Skills Task Force that the Government should develop a national workforce development strategy.

As we know, in this country we have for many years had problems in terms of skills and we suffer from inherent skill shortages from time to time. The concept of the national workforce development strategy is that there should be within the rolling plans to which the Minister referred a short time ago--which are the strategic plans--some consideration of how such national needs should be met.

That, of course, is complemented by developments at local levels as well, and I shall speak later about local needs and the need to reflect local needs. We spoke a little about that in the previous amendment.

The amendment reflects the desire of the employer organisations that proposals put forward by the Learning and Skills Council should reflect needs at a national level and also at a sectoral level, and the involvement of the national training organisations here is another example. The amendment reflects the deeply held view that the Learning and Skills Council should develop a strategic overview of its functions. Without the amendment, the clause implies that a broad overview strategy should be involved. We feel that it is important that such an overview should take account of the supply and demand situation within a broad national market.

Turning to Amendment No. 99, this amendment concerns a somewhat different issue. The amendment seeks to place a duty on the Learning and Skills Council to consult with government departments other than the Department for Education and Employment and to consult also with local authorities. Again, we are looking not at the question of consultation at a local level but of consultation at a national level. Other government departments and local authorities are important as providers, commissioners and users of skills and it is important that there should be some discussion with them. The amendment is, if you like, seeking that joined-up government be put on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: On the issue of workforce development, let me reassure the noble Baroness that that will be an important part of the LSC's remit. That is partly why we have said that 40 per cent of the members of the national and local LSCs will have substantial recent business or commercial experience, together with the national chair and most local chairs. The LSC will work at both national and local levels with a wide range of other bodies with an interest in workforce development.

At national level this will include NTOs, trade unions, the Small Business Service, RDAs, Investors in People UK and the UfI. Working with these partners the national LSC will be responsible for articulating a clear agenda for action on workforce development, for driving this forward through its local arms and for working in partnership with others. For example, it will work very closely with NTOs in developing frameworks for sector workforce development plans.

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Local councils will prepare workforce development plans for their areas, taking account of the national framework and the skill priorities identified by the RDAs. We have a real opportunity with the new arrangements to build on the success of TECs, with initiatives such as Investors in People, and to strengthen links between learning and work--links which are at the heart of what we are striving to achieve.

But the amendment that we are considering, in seeking to emphasise the importance of workforce development, would mean that the LSC's three-year rolling strategy would only cover workforce development and nothing else. I am sure the noble Baroness does not intend this. I hope that she will withdraw Amendment No. 97. I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that the plans that the LSC draws up at both national and local levels will give full weight to workforce development.

The sentiment behind Amendment No 99 very much chimes with our expectation that the LSC should be an inclusive body which reaches out and works effectively with all relevant partners. We want to see meaningful consultation ingrained into its culture. We expect that the people we recruit to the most senior posts will be people who can network effectively across a wide range of interests.

As I said, we certainly intend that the LSC will consult widely with all its key partners in putting together its strategic plans. We stated that clearly in the LSC prospectus. This will be essential if it is to draw on the experience that others can offer.

However, we see no reason to set this out as a specific obligation in the Bill. Consultation is already required with a number of bodies, including LEAs, on the national LSC's guidance to its local arms. There is also already provision for wide consultation on the important local plans, and we will consider how we might secure the involvement of all local authorities in this. Key partners will also have a direct input into the direction of the national LSC through their links with members of the council itself, and, of course, with members of the adult and young people's learning committees, and through links at sectoral, regional and local level.

With these assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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