Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills to the Chairman

  I am writing to update you on the revised timetable for the agreement of this proposal, as this has changed since I sent you the Explanatory Memorandum 9697/06 on 12 June.

  As a result of the late agreement of the financial perspective, the timetable for the Lifelong Learning Programme became increasingly tight. Following discussions at COREPER on 21 June, the Austrian Presidency decided to place the Lifelong Learning Programme on the agenda of the Environment Council on 27 June, as an "A" point for political agreement.

  Owing to the fact that the Committee will not have had the opportunity to discuss the proposal on 27 June, the UK will abstain from the political agreement at this stage. However, the common position is due to be agreed in mid July, by which stage I hope that the scrutiny process will be complete and the UK can vote in favour of the proposal.

27 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Your Explanatory Memorandum dated 12 June was considered by Sub-Committee G on 29 June.

  We note that a final Council decision on the budget package proposed is expected early next month. We also recognise that the outcome is the product of lengthy and detailed negotiations under Austrian Presidency, although it is perhaps regrettable that we were not given an opportunity to consider the likely results at a much earlier stage.

  As you know, our Inquiry Report on the Life-long Learning (HL Paper 104-I) noted that the budget of €13.62 billion originally proposed would require searching investigation and convincing justification. I drew your attention to this in my letter to you dated 31 October 2005 while confirming that we were broadly content for the proposed partial political agreement to be secured at the Education and Youth Council on 15 November 2005.

  On the whole, we are satisfied that the total budget of €6.97 billion now apparently agreed is much more realistic and we note that the Government is content with it.

  We are rather more concerned about the proposed allocation between the respective integral programmes. We welcome your assurance that, although the minimum allocated to the Grundtvig programme has only been increased from 3 per cent to 4 per cent, the actual allocation will be 5.14 per cent. This is undoubtedly a welcome improvement and in-line with our Report's Recommendations, although we would have preferred to have seen even more allocated to Grundtvig. We are also anxious that the 5.14 per cent allocation should be maintained consistently throughout the life of the programme and not cut back to the 4 per cent minimum in future years. We would appreciate a clear commitment from the Government to ensuring that this will happen.

  We would also have preferred an increased allocation for the Leonardo da Vinci programme and are disappointed that the Government was unable to secure that. We firmly believe that adequate allocations are essential for both programmes if the aim of a genuine life-long learning programme is to be achieved. We are also most anxious that everything should be done to make participation in those programmes in particular as inclusive as possible.

  The increase in the Comenius allocation is also welcome in principle. We hope it can be used imaginatively, but we recall from the Inquiry how witnesses from schools in particular found the bureaucratic requirements and lack of supply teacher cover a significant disincentive. It would be a great pity if those difficulties led to an underspend so far as the UK is concerned.

  We are also disappointed that some reductions appear to be necessary in the Transversal programme to improve policy development, dissemination and good practice and enable projects to bridge sectoral strands, especially to help improving standards of language and ICT development. You will see that our Inquiry Report described the Transversal programme as a potentially positive innovation, although many of the details of how it was intended to work in practice remained unclear at that stage. We look to the Government to ensure that this programme is imaginatively and effectively used and hope that the funding allocated will indeed prove to be adequate, especially as the programme gathers momentum in the later years.

  We are also disappointed that Member State Governments apparently have so little scope to vire funds between individual programmes especially, it seems, where more than one national agency is involved. Since we understand that the UK is unlikely to appoint only one national agency it appears that we may be at a disadvantage in this respect and would welcome your clarification.

  As things have worked out, it seems that we have really very little say in the allocations at this late stage. On balance, we are prepared to release this document from scrutiny to enable the expected Council agreement to be secured. But we would be grateful if the Government would bear the above reservations in mind as the programme progresses and especially when it comes to be reviewed.

  In the meantime, we trust that the Government will make every effort to ensure that the money available is well spent and that the UK derives maximum possible benefit from these programmes. We look forward to our continuing informal dialogue with your officials about the latter aspect.

3 July 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 27 June. This arrived too late to be considered by the meeting of Sub-Committee G on 29 June, but was considered by Sub-Committee G on 6 July.

  By now you should have received my letter to you dated 3 July conveying our decision, following the meeting of Sub-Committee G on 29 June, to release this document from scrutiny to enable the Government to endorse the Council agreement which was then expected in early July. That letter also made some observations about the individual programme budget allocations on which we look forward to receiving your comments.

  We are very grateful to you for writing to inform us of the unexpected last minute action by the Austrian Presidency to place the programme on the agenda for the Environment Council on 27 June. We are glad to note that the Government, quite properly, abstained from political agreement at that meeting because scrutiny clearance had not been given by then.

  Please let us know if the expected Common Position is agreed at Council later this month.

6 July 2006

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