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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 73:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, although Amendment No. 73 is grouped with Amendment No. 74, I shall not be moving it. I think that a rogue amendment crept in--two versions of the same amendment. Nevertheless, the meaning is well known. Clause 22 provides that,

    "A local council must prepare a plan for each financial year of the Council".

That plan must include a statement of the needs regarding education and training of the population of the local council's area. I have added the words,

    "which must reflect the skill needs of the local labour market".

If there is to be this match between the needs of people-- the whole thrust is to make sure that the business and commercial needs are properly met--there needs to be some reading of those. If there is to be any meaningful plan, it must regard both sides of that same coin. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, on Amendment No. 73, I start by reminding the House of the Government's own Amendments Nos. 22 and 37 to Clauses 2 and 3. As has already been discussed, those amendments address the concern expressed in Committee that the Bill should make plain that the LSC's provision should take account of the skill needs of particular sectors of employment. Amendment No. 73 seeks to require that local LSC plans reflect the skills needs of the local labour market. The amendment is simply not necessary. The current provision in Clause 22(2)(a) requires the plans of the local council to include a statement of the needs of the population of its area. The population of a local area includes employers. The needs of the population of a local area include those which relate to the context of the local labour market. A local LSC would simply not be meeting its duty to plan for the needs of the local population if it failed to plan for provision to meet the

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skill needs of the local labour market. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is again unfortunate that only one side of this coin is being recognised by the Government. Somehow or other it is important to mention one but not to reflect the other. That is unfortunate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 74 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 75:

    Page 10, line 1, leave out paragraph (b) and insert--

("(b) any strategy prepared by any relevant local authority under section 4(1) of the Local Government Act 2000.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 75 refers back to Clause 22 under which the local council must prepare a plan. There are many conditions and criteria for preparing that plan. But it must have regard to,

    "any matter contained in guidance issued by the Council under section 21 (in addition to the matters mentioned in subsection (2) above".

The clause goes on to say that it must have regard to,

    "the strategy prepared by any ... regional development agency".

We are back to regional development agencies. So it will come as no surprise to noble Lords opposite that I wish to see that provision removed from the Bill.

I believe that the local council should have regard to any strategy prepared by any relevant local authority under Clause 4(1) of the Local Government Bill. I am not the only one. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred earlier to the read-across between this Bill and the Local Government Bill. There has not been any serious joined-up thinking about the impact of this Bill and the other Bill and the way in which they inter-relate. It is important that in any planning strategy there should be proper recognition of Clause 4(1) of that Bill.

Amendments Nos. 75, 78, 79, 81 and 82 deal with removing references to regional development agencies from the Bill. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill): My Lords, I must remind the House that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 76 and 77.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, in addressing this group of amendments I shall speak first to the government amendments and then respond to the amendments from the noble Baroness.

In Committee the noble Baroness proposed that the local LSCs should not merely consult local education authorities when preparing their local plans, but all local authorities in their areas. That was in recognition both of the wider concerns for development issues which local authorities might have and their greater strategic role. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, proposed that in consulting local authorities the local LSCs

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should also take account of the new strategic plans which local authorities will be preparing under the powers contained in the Local Government Bill currently before the House. I agreed that such changes would offer useful improvements to the Bill and the government amendments, Amendments Nos. 77, 80 and 83, give effect to that commitment. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the amendments deliver the more positive aspects of her own amendment, Amendment No. 75, and that she will feel able to withdraw it. I note, however, that her amendment would also remove any requirement on the local LSCs to have regard to the RDAs' strategies. The Government believe--the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear this--that that would be a retrograde step for the reasons set out when we debated the issue in Committee.

Amendment No. 76 makes a necessary change to the provision requiring local LSCs to have regard to the strategy prepared by RDAs in order to take account of the new arrangements in London. Without this change we would actually exclude London from the scope of this provision, which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, would find very regrettable, as would I.

When the noble Baroness brought forward in Committee amendments similar to Amendments Nos. 79, 81 and 82 she recognised that she would not win many friends in the House. I simply repeat that we cannot ignore the important statutory role that RDAs fulfil and continue to have in identifying skills needs. RDAs' economic strategies are a milestone in the Government's regional development agenda because they provide the framework for identifying skills needs which are essential for the prosperity and sustainable development of their regions. In practice this means that local LSC priorities and plans need to be consistent with RDAs' regional and sub-regional economic strategies.

RDAs also have an important strategic role in helping to ensure that the new planning and funding arrangements meet the challenges of the knowledge-based economy and address the legacy of low skills and disadvantage that many individuals, communities and regions face. This means that local LSCs and RDAs will need to work closely together to share information and economic assessments and ensure that funding decisions taken by the LSC and the RDA are complementary.

I turn finally to Amendment No. 78. I am sorry to have to disappoint the noble Baroness by telling her that I am no more persuaded by her proposals for the local LSCs to have regard to the LEAs' education plans than I was when she made the proposal in Committee. Quite apart from the problem of definition and our reluctance to include more complexity in the planning arrangements, I simply believe that it is unnecessary. The Bill already includes obligations on local LSCs to include in their plans the education and training which LEAs will secure and to consult them in preparing those plans. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the provisions for close co-operation and consultation are more than sufficient to secure the necessary linkages that we all want to see.

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I hope that, with these assurances, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment and support the government amendments when I come to move them.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, local government will not be much comforted by that. The LSC will not need to have regard to the local authority plan under the Local Government Act 2000. That seems to me to be absolutely monstrous. Indeed, the command and control nature of this Bill is almost Maoist in its style. There are directions from the Secretary of State, the national council and the regional development agencies. What flexibility will be left at local council level? All will be order, command and conformity with no room left for flexibility.

There is even a reluctance to match the words, "There will be 10 to 15 per cent financial flexibility". When it comes to asking whether the national council will prescribe that when they come to draw up the budget, the answer is, no, they will not.

A great many people outside this House will be mystified by some of the wording that appeared in the prospectus and the rhetoric that has been used, and the manifestation of the actual words used in the Bill. They reveal a total reluctance on the part of the Government even to reflect on the points that have been made about the importance of having flexibility for local services providing skills needs for local companies and recognising the new duty which has been placed on local authorities in a Bill which has only just gone through Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said earlier, they have a new duty to be concerned about the economic well-being of their local areas, but they will not have the wherewithal or the flexibility to influence that duty in any way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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