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Lord Tope: I shall speak specifically to Amendment No. 132, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp. Speaking more generally, I support all that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. I had the good fortune to be serving on our Front Bench for both the Local Government Bill and this Bill, which have been going concurrently through your Lordships' House, sometimes on the same day. Therefore I have followed both with excitement and interest. It has occurred to me from time to time that the Government, for all their proclamations of "joined up government", have not yet realised the significance of one Bill to the other. If I may say so, this issue is an example of that. I hope the Government will take the intentions of the amendments very seriously.

A local education authority is by definition a local authority. However, many local authorities are not also local education authorities. The Local Government Bill, when it is enacted--we are not quite there yet--will give all local authorities, whether education or non-education, responsibility to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area. It seems to me entirely appropriate that this Bill, which will be enacted at the same time, should refer to local authorities rather than exclusively to education authorities. For instance, when a local authority prepares a strategy under the provisions of the Local Government Bill, it will need to prepare strategies that, arguably, fall outside the remit of an education authority. Similarly, district councils, which are not education authorities, will also have an interest in promoting economic well-being in the learning and skills needs of their local people.

I do not mind, and I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, does not mind, whether these amendments are technically correct. Their purpose is to urge the Government to join themselves up a little more and to recognise that what they seek to promote in one Bill should match up with the provisions of another Bill. For that reason, this Bill should refer specifically to local authorities as distinct from the narrow definition of education authorities. That is the case in my amendment. Clause 22(4)(b) would then read,

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10 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: Of course the Government take the noble Lord's amendment seriously. As regards Amendment No. 123, it is important that local authorities with the key statutory duties and powers in relation to education and training are consulted on the national LSC's draft guidance to its local arms. It is the 150 local education authorities, within the total number of 388 local authorities, which have such statutory functions. For that reason, it would be inappropriate to introduce a requirement on the face of the Bill for the national LSC to consult all 388 local authorities on its draft guidance. That would not make much sense.

However, we recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that all local authorities, including district councils, should be recognised as having a contribution to make to the plans drawn up by local LSCs. I shall have more to say about that in relation to the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 129, and Amendment No. 132, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

I turn to Amendment No. 128. As drafted, Clauses 22 and 23 require the local LSCs to include in their published plans details of the learning provision which, subject to consultation, they would like local education authorities to offer adults and the financial resources they will make available to local education authorities to enable them to do so. There is also provision for the Secretary of State to issue directions to any LEA which does not secure the education and training provision set out in the plan.

Amendment No. 128 proposes that local LSCs should also include a statement of the education and training they would like a local authority, rather than, as drafted, a local education authority, to secure. This would extend statutory obligations for provision of education and training to the 238 district councils which have none at present. Coupled with Amendment No. 143, it would expose all local authorities, rather than, as at present, only local education authorities, to statutory direction on education and training matters. Amendments Nos. 128 and 143 would therefore extend the scope of the Bill far more widely than we think necessary to achieve the changes in local learning opportunities that we want to see.

As regards Amendments Nos. 129 and 132, as currently drafted the Bill already requires local LSCs to consult with LEAs when preparing their draft plans. This is in recognition of the key role LEAs can have in the provision of accessible, appropriate and attractive learning opportunities. However, we also recognise that some district councils offer learning opportunities for adults in their areas and we want local LSCs to use their influence to encourage and support the wider range of district councils to plan and develop coherently all the learning opportunities they offer, alongside those funded by the LSC. We also recognise that, in deciding the nature and range of local provision and understanding local needs, it is

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appropriate to consider learning against the background of wider economic and social developments in which local authorities in general are the lead players.

The provisions under Clause 4 in the Local Government Bill are significant and it is important that we act in a way which promotes joined-up government. For that reason, and in response to the arguments that have been put forward, the Government will consider further this proposal and come back with an amendment. In our view, this would provide the basis for strong linkage between local LSC plans and both the interests of local authorities in education and training and their wider responsibility--as enhanced under the proposed Local Government Bill--for the economic and social well-being of their areas.

Amendment No. 130 goes further by proposing that, in preparing their local plans, local LSCs must have regard to,

    "the local education authority's education plan".

Noble Lords may be aware that LEAs prepare a number of plans relevant to learning for both statutory and other purposes. They include the education development plan, the schools organisation plan, plans for asset management and, where LEAs want support under my department's standards fund, plans for the development of lifelong learning.

The effect of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, would be to impose a statutory obligation on local learning and skills councils to have regard to all those and others in preparing its own plan. During the debate at Second Reading, the noble Baroness accused us of having, "plans, plans, plans"; that is, too many. I believe that now she is ignoring her earlier points and imposing additional bureaucracy here.

The Bill already includes obligations on local LSCs both to include in their plans the education and training which they agree LEAs will secure and to consult with them in preparing those plans. In our view, those obligations, together with guidance which the national LSC will give on how local LSCs should pursue them, will be sufficient to ensure that local LSCs take full account of what LEAs are doing. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Certainly on one of the amendments we have received an offer which we cannot refuse. Therefore, I believe that any further thinking will be helpful. If an amendment is brought forward, we should like early sight of it, if possible.

With regard to my Amendment No. 130, I was not creating another plan. I believe that that is the last thing that we want. However, perhaps I should have referred to the local education authority's development plan. That is the over-arching plan for its area. One of the concerns that local authorities have is that because of the top-down system they will be left having to do the bidding of the Secretary of State/national council/47 local skills councils.

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Given that I favour the bottom-up approach, I was hoping that the initiative would be with the local authorities and that they would have freedom, flexibility and autonomy over their own plans. I hoped that they would not be left at the end of the day, as, indeed, the Bill sets out, to develop their plans in conformity with and within the framework of all the other plans that will be developed nationally. Therefore, it was an attempt not to create a new plan but to turn the emphasis round to being bottom-up rather than top-down. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 125A:

    Page 9, line 15, at end insert--

("( ) The Council shall have power to amend the guidance given to a local council or to alter its budget during the course of a financial year.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 125A, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 142. These two amendments fit together and relate respectively to Clause 21, which is concerned with guidance from the national council to the local learning and skills council, and to Clause 22, which relates to the plan which each local council must draw up each year.

As currently framed, once made, the plans and budgetary allocations of both the national and local LSCs must be implemented as they stand. In reality, the fast-changing pace of learning and skills needs strongly suggests that at both levels LSCs will need to be able to amend their plans and budgetary allocations to take account of developments during the course of the financial year. For example, an unexpected plant closure in a local area might generate hundreds of redundancies and throughout a massive need for retraining not envisaged in the original plan. It would be unreasonable for the council and/or its local arm to be unable to respond to that situation until the next financial year. The proposed amendments would give local and national LSCs an explicit power to vary plans to cope with such situations.

In addition, it is most unlikely that the national LSC will achieve a pattern of resource allocations to the local LSCs in its first few years which entirely matches the needs of each local area. I must say that our experience of manpower planning in the past would indicate that that is the case. It needs to have the power to keep some of its resources in reserve at the beginning of the financial year to allow for variations in the local LSC allocations in the light of emerging needs. It is for that reason that I move this amendment. I beg to move.

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