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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall withdraw my amendment. As regards my amendments dealing with composition, I believe that there is now enough on the record for the Government to be held absolutely to what they have said about that. The business world, and indeed the local government world, will be looking very carefully at how that works out in practice.

I turn to dual membership. If I were appointing members to the national council, I should be deeply suspicious of anyone who was a member of a local council and also busy in his own right--because I accept that those people will be involved, in some way, in their own sphere. I should be equally suspicious of someone who was a member of the national council who then applied to become a member of a local council. I should be concerned about the amount of time that such people have to give and whether they were anything other than full-time committee gatherers. I regard that as not the most refreshing talent to bring to the national council.

However, I accept what the Minister said; namely, that that is likely to be a very rare occurrence, if it happens at all. I should like to think that that would be the case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 63:

("( ) In appointing members of a local council, the Council shall ensure that the majority are representative of different providers of education and training in the area, and of local authorities, and that all members shall have experience relevant to the Council's functions.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, like those amendments just moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, this amendment relates to Clause 19 and the membership of the local learning and skills councils. However, unlike them, it does not specify a proportion of membership. Indeed, it lays down very broad parameters for membership of the council.

As the Minister knows, on these Benches we are concerned, as we made clear in Committee, that local authorities should be represented on the council. After all, under the current Local Government Bill which has just passed through this House, local authorities have a duty to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area which they

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represent, and their members are elected to represent the local community. The Minister stressed that the local learning and skills councils should be driven by the needs of local communities and by the local economy. In that sense, the local authority has a community leadership role to fulfil.

When the amendment was discussed in Committee, the Minister said,

    "We have already set out in the prospectus that we expect local LSC members to understand the needs of employers; employees, through trade union representation; local communities, through local authority experience; people who are disadvantaged or excluded, through voluntary sector experience; young people and adult learners; people with special learning needs, learning difficulties or disabilities; and people who face discrimination".--[Official Report, 10/2/2000; col. 849.]

As she said, the aim as set out in the prospectus is that the councils should represent the views of both providers and consumers.

The amendment does not seek to be prescriptive. It is a general amendment. We are asking for local authority representation, but not for specific representation by a particular interest group. We accept what the Minister says; that the councils should be able to provide vision and leadership. As she says, that is set out in the prospectus itself. However, I should stress that the prospectus is not the Bill. The prospectus has no statutory status. It is aspirational and visionary. As many of us remarked during Second Reading, that vision, sadly, is not represented in the Bill itself. An amendment such as this offers an opportunity to translate a little of that vision into the Bill. For that reason, I beg to move.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I share the noble Baroness's surprise that Amendment No. 63 appeared on the Marshalled List in the second group of amendments which we debated earlier. I continue to believe that it would have been better to consider it in the context of the amendments dealing with local council membership which we have just discussed, but let us deal with it now.

I should like to begin by reassuring the House that members of local LSCs will certainly have the expertise and experience required to do their jobs and to do them well. The national council will be looking for no less in making its appointments and the Secretary of State will be looking for no less in approving them. I remind noble Lords also that all appointments to councils, whether national or local, will be carried out through open competition according to Nolan principles.

I hope that we have already made clear enough our approach to the representation of various interests on both the national council and the local councils. In terms of the amendment, we certainly agree that the views of local learning providers should be represented on the local councils and, as has been pointed out, we made that explicit in the prospectus. We have made it clear that we expect each local council to include at least one member with current local authority experience.

But the vast majority of those speaking on local councils should speak for the views of the consumers of the learning system; namely, individuals and employers. Therefore, we cannot accept the

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amendment, which could lead to our new system being dominated by the views and needs of providers. I know that a letter was sent by my noble friend Lady Blackstone to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, a copy of which was sent to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has had an opportunity to see it.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Yes, I have.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am glad to hear it. The letter sets out clearly what we say about the matter. It states,

    "You ask for clarification of our intentions in respect of local authority representation on the Learning and Skills Councils. As the LSC Prospectus makes clear, and as I reiterated during Monday's debate, we would certainly expect national and local LSCs to have members who understand the needs of local communities through current local authority experience. But this is not a matter for legislation. All appointments will be made under Nolan principles. We want to appoint the very best people we can find to the LSC from the candidates who come forward. We want to ensure that all members serve the interests of the LSC as a whole, rather than be representatives speaking on behalf of individual organisations".

That is a fairly sensible point of view to hold.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister. I believe that is a sensible point of view. I regret the fact that so much of this is spelt out in the prospectus and not on the face of the Bill. It seems to me that there are aspirations here and it would be nice to see some of them reflected in the Bill. However, with that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 64 to 67 not moved.]

10.45 p.m.

Clause 21 [Guidance to local councils]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 68:

    Page 9, line 12, at end insert ("and in doing so must confirm the proportion of a local council budget which may be allocated at the discretion of the local council").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 21(1) states that in relation to each financial year of the council it must prepare guidance for each local council and in doing so, the guidance must set a local council's budget for the financial year.

There was much discussion early on in Committee about the degree of flexibility there would be at local level. If my memory serves me well, I remember Ministers arguing that there would be local flexibility. My understanding is that something like 10 to 15 per cent of financial flexibility was mentioned.

If I had tabled an amendment to codify 10 to 15 per cent on the face of the Bill, I expect that the Government would have said, "Absolutely not; this is not a matter to put on the face of legislation", and I would agree with that. However, I believe it is right to place an obligation upon the council in setting the budget, when producing the guidance, to confirm the proportion of the budget

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which may be allocated at the discretion of the local councils. I hope the Minister will find that an attractive proposition. I beg to move.

Lord Bach: My Lords, local LSCs will ensure that local needs are met through the LSCs' funding and planning systems. The national learning and skills council will allocate the vast majority of its funds to local LSCs. They will have discretion over the allocation of their budgets within the terms of the council's funding methodology.

We are currently consulting, through the funding and allocations consultation paper, on how the learning and skills councils' funding system should work and what sort of local flexibility would be required. But, as was made clear in Committee, local LSCs will make important decisions about how the LSC's main budgets will be allocated. They will be able to exercise discretion to vary the rate of payment set out in the national tariff. They might do so, for example, where they think that is necessary to address shortages of good quality training for skills which are in particular demand.

We expect the allocation of resources at local level to follow the pattern of demand by learners. We have also said in the prospectus that the local LSCs will also have substantial discretionary funding which will amount to around 10 to 15 per cent of the overall funding for the learning and skills council. Local learning and skills councils will have a still greater degree of discretion over their allocation. These funds will support activities such as workforce development and improving access to learning and support for the regeneration of local communities. In those ways, local councils will enjoy different amounts of discretion according to the nature of particular activities.

We believe that it would be impracticable to quantify this in a simpler way--simple in the best sense--as the noble Baroness seeks to do. I would therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.

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