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Local authorities will also play a key role in the development and agreement of skills strategies at a regional level. We intend to give regional development agencies responsibility for developing a skills strategy for their region which the Skills Funding Agency will be expected to deliver. In developing its skills strategy the RDA will be required to take account of the national priorities identified by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and sector skills councils-to reassure the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that we are

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not ignoring the vital role of sector skills councils-as well as the skill requirements of local areas and any sub-regional multi-area agreement partnerships or employment and skills boards.

The regional skills strategy will form part of the single integrated regional strategy which will be signed off by the local authority leader boards, thus making sure that local authority needs are fully reflected. It is not a question of the RDAs developing in isolation a regional skills strategy which they then impose on local authorities. It is a process of them working together. They will be gathering information from local authorities and will consult employers, reflecting two sides of the equation. We see it as a positive development, not one that undermines the role of the sub-regional group, which I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also has a key role to play.

These proposals reinforce the key principles of the demand-led system, with the RDAs and local authorities articulating the skills requirements within their regions and the Skills Funding Agency ensuring that this new system operates effectively, so that individual learners and employers are able to access the courses of their choice.

Amendment 198 would alter the scope of Clause 88. Although I recognise the amendment's positive intention, some of the detail in this clause is important. First, by removing all references to Section 84(1), this amendment undermines the very clear separation of responsibilities that we are seeking to put in place between local authorities and the Skills Funding Agency. Secondly, it would have a number of unintended consequences, such as removing 18 year-olds subject to adult detention from the scope of the duty to promote participation. I should not have thought the Committee would want to do that in the light of previous remarks on adult detention. Thirdly, on parliamentary accountability, I can reassure the Committee that the requirement in Schedule 4 for the chief executive to produce an annual report and for the Secretary of State to lay this before Parliament is intended to ensure that robust monitoring and reporting takes place.

Before concluding, I want to address some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley-such as whether Clause 88 applies to all adults over 19, to which the answer is unequivocally yes.


Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Does Clause 84 also do that? Reading it logically, if you have the "and" instead of the "or", it applies to persons who are aged 19 and over "and" persons who are subject to adult detention. If it just read, "and who are subject to adult detention" it would be only the one. Do Clauses 84 and 88 apply to all adults over 19, including those who are in detention?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I must check carefully before I respond. I am looking to my team to ensure that Clauses 84 and 88 apply to all adults, including those in detention. I think that I am getting a nod.

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I dealt with the aspiration, which we share, for lifelong learning. The noble Baroness referred to a learning bank; I referred to a skills account, but the destination and the intention is the same. We share her enthusiasm to ensure that people do not see learning as a finite process. We know that there is great benefit both to individuals and to society as a whole if the concept of lifelong learning is embraced. As I said yesterday, we are investing a significant amount of money in adult education.

On the question of Greater Manchester and Leeds having a similar role to London, no decision has yet been taken on funding. I have gone over the role of the RDAs. I stress that we do not see RDAs as imposing their regional skills strategy. They will be formulating that regional skills strategy listening to local authorities and employers, via sector skills councils-to address the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. Those bodies are a vital part of ensuring that, as we develop-

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but, despite his fond hope, I am not much reassured. He seems to be telling me that more cooks will be involved in spoiling the broth. It is bad enough already, but that smacks of further confusion and muddle. I really asked what changes are needed behind the legislative framework to achieve what the Government are trying to do.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I do not think that we need any more legislative changes. We believe that the people required to develop the regional skills strategy are located in the regional development authorities. We have consulted and written to the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and the TUC. We are discussing the case with them as we speak, so there is no question of there not being consultation.

Lord Elton: My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point-

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I was not actually leaving that point. I am sorry, I did not mean to be discourteous, but I had not finished developing that point. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, says, when he talks about too many cooks in spoiling the broth. We must get the balance right in the provision of skills. People do not stay conveniently in one local authority. Hence, we have already agreed the need for sub-regional groups; no one has disputed that. It is now a question of ensuring that in the region as a whole we have the right mix of skills. Are the RDAs doing that in splendid isolation? No, they are not, they are required to consult with the bodies that I, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, identified.

I know that we will be accused of complexity and of adding layers of bureaucracy, but the proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating. These things were always complex. It is an illusion that in the past everything was simple. It is not like that. However, I agree that we have to ensure that what we are creating will not be needlessly complicated. We believe that the role of RDAs, which I have been describing this morning, will involve being responsive to local authorities and

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taking into account the views of sub-regional groups, employers, as represented on the sector skills councils, and other regional bodies.

Lord Elton: When the Minister originally described the role of the RDA to my noble friend, I thought I heard him say that, at the end of the process, the RDA would hand the policy to the local authority, which would sign it off. If that is what he said, then, to me, "signing off" means-I may be wrong-(a) accepting, (b) being responsible for, and (c) having the last word. Is that the case? Will the local authority be able to prevail against the RDA if it has a difference of opinion? I think that that is what my noble friend wants to know.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: The noble Lord is right that that is what I said. I shall repeat it to be absolutely clear. The regional skills strategy will form part of the single integrated regional strategy that will be signed off by the local authority leader boards, thus making sure that local authority needs are fully reflected. This is consistent with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill currently going through the House-what a wonderful mouthful that is. The noble Lord is right. I hope I have conveyed the fact that this will not be imposed but will be done together with local authorities. Let us hope that it works out that way in practice.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for responding to this amendment. In relation to paragraph (a) in Amendment 198, if the only objection is that it does not refer to those in adult detention, I would point out to him that encouraging individuals to undergo post-19 education and training comprehends all individuals whether they are in detention or not. I do not think it can be said that it excludes those in detention.

Members of the Bill team seem to be a little uncertain about whether Clauses 84 and 88-particularly Clause 84-comprehend those outside adult detention. The wording is ambiguous. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, took my amendments to apply only to those who are in adult detention, and I was a little taken aback by it. Clause 84's heading-

"Education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention"-

is ambiguous, and if we are uncertain, the greater public might be even more uncertain.

The Minister did not respond to my suggestion that there would be an advantage in monitoring whether the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency was fulfilling this remit to encourage individuals and employers to encourage participation in post-19 education. If this remit is created, it is worth checking on from time to time.

On the other two amendments and the whole issue of regional development agencies and their role, the Minister claims first that the situation is basically much the same as before the Mandelson letter. Yet the letter itself says:

"I can confirm that I am considering the case for modifying the existing plans for the creation of the Skills Funding Agency ... to allow the existing skills landscape to be simplified by making the RDAs the single body with responsibility for producing the regional skills strategy".

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Lord Young of Norwood Green: I want to be helpful before the noble Baroness sits down. First, on accountability and monitoring, I have said that I can reassure the Committee that the requirement in Schedule 4 for the chief executive to produce an annual report and for the Secretary of State to lay this before Parliament is intended to ensure robust monitoring and reporting. We will certainly take into account the noble Baroness's point that the report ought to include adult education.

Obviously we do not want to introduce ambiguity and we will check to ensure that there is no unintended ambiguity in Clauses 84 and 88.

We have been around the track a number of times on the role of the RDAs. I have given clear and explicit assurances on the relationship with the local authority. The noble Baroness's concern is, as always, to ensure that the voice, needs and requirements of local authorities are reflected. I would have hoped that assuring her that the local authority leader boards will be able to sign-off any integrated regional strategy would be a reasonable and sufficient guarantee and that, in the light of the assurances that I have given, she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Elton: May I revert quickly to the question that I raised? I understand that there will be a considerable number of local authorities in every region. The Minister has told us that each local authority will have the authority to change the RDA policy, because each of them will sign it off. That being the case, it is difficult to see how a consistent regional policy can be developed where there are differences. Many colleges deal with a number of regional authorities anyway, so it is impossible to see how this thing will work in practice.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, again there is the impression that this will somehow be a handed-down process. It will not work that way. The RDAs will have a duty to consult the local authorities. It is in their interests to ensure that the skill requirements of local authorities are reflected in any regional skills strategy. I do not understand what the motivation would be to do anything else but that. As the noble Lord rightly says, they have a vested interest in ensuring that there is a sign-off process, so it would be rather self-defeating to develop a skills strategy in isolation and then seek to impose that when the very people whom they are seeking to impose it on in effect have a veto. I stress again that this is a process in which people work together co-operatively to ensure that they develop a regional skills strategy that genuinely reflects the requirements of local authorities, employers and learners across the region. Again, the proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for attempting to clarify these issues, but I am still increasingly sceptical. Let me quote again from the letter, which says very firmly that the RDAs will be:

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And subsequently it goes on to say:

"Under this scenario, RDAs would be assigned the lead role in identifying as part of their wider responsibilities for regional economic development, demand-side needs for skills in their regions. These needs will be expressed in a regional skills strategy, led by the RDA, which will constitute an investment plan which would become binding on the Skills Funding Agency".

That is new and it is not in the Bill. There are many questions for us to ponder on this, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 198 withdrawn.

Clause 88 agreed.

12.15 pm

Clause 89 : Duty to secure availability of apprenticeship places

Amendment 199

Moved by Viscount Eccles

199: Clause 89, page 59, line 27, leave out from "to" to end of line 28 and insert "maximise the number of apprenticeship places available for as many persons as possible-"

Viscount Eccles: My Lords, this is a probing amendment. As it stands, the clause lays a duty on the chief executive,

This seems to be a severe duty. How long is a piece of string? The more successful the apprenticeship schemes are, the greater the number of people who will apply. If, as we have been told, this is a demand-led affair, there must be a question as to whether the chief executive is being given a realistic duty to make,

In the eyes of Parliament, the duty will not be that of the chief executive but of the Secretary of State, and there is no escaping that. When accountability is asked for, while certainly a Select Committee might wish to see the chief executive, Parliament will ask questions about the annual report, to which the Minister has referred, of the Secretary of State. My amendment seeks to modify the duty so that it maximises,

We all agree that we wish to see many people going through apprenticeship courses and we hope that the demand for them is such that it is possible to satisfy everyone who applies. However, if we take into account the Minister's remarks yesterday about focus and priorities and how there is not the money for everything, it may not be possible. I hesitate over whether it is right to lay a duty on the chief executive and thus on the Secretary of State that will be difficult or impossible to fulfil. In

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my view, that is not good legislation. What evidence does the Minister have that this duty is in truth achievable? I beg to move.

Lord Rix: I rise to speak to Amendment 201. Due to consultations that took place during the Recess, I believe that the Minister will be able once again to give the Committee clarification and assurances regarding disproportionate expenditure. I look forward to hearing those assurances.

Lord Layard: The proposal set out in these clauses to introduce the entitlement to an apprenticeship for every young person qualified for it is one of the most important policies being introduced in this Parliament in terms of raising the productivity of our workforce and equality in our society. It is incredibly important that it should be achieved. The greatest problem will be finding the number of places from employers for all those people who want places and who are qualified for them. We know that there is already an excess demand for places and so this is a massive task. It is clear that we will not achieve this unless some money is given to the employer who provides a place. At present the normal arrangement is for all the money for an apprenticeship to go to the training provider, who then finds the employer; the employer pays the wage but gets none of the money, no financial support, not even for the time that the apprentice is spending away from the workplace. This is very different from the practice in most countries which operate the most successful apprenticeship systems. It is clear that we will not get all the places we need unless we find some way of channelling some money to employers.

There are various possibilities. There is the one proposed in our amendment that there should be a fixed sum for every apprentice taken on. One could, alternatively, imagine a limited version of that where money was given only for each extra apprenticeship place provided by an employer; this would minimise the deadweight involved in paying for places that already exist. Or one could imagine a third possibility where any employer who took on an apprentice could ask for and receive the existing money that now goes to the training provider, provided the employer made the necessary arrangements to discharge the responsibilities involved. Even that would be a major step forward towards involving employers more directly than they are currently involved. My colleagues and I strongly urge the Government to pursue one or other of these steps; otherwise it will be impossible to deliver the entitlement. I apologise on behalf of my co-proposers, who wanted to be here but are not able to attend and send their regrets.

I should like to comment on what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, because to accept the possibility that we do not discharge this entitlement is just not on; we have to do it. We have to use all the resources at our command, which includes not only the energy of the National Apprenticeship Service and its approach to employers, but it will have to involve local authorities in a profound way in relating more closely to their employers and impressing on them the importance of this entitlement for the local economy. We should not contemplate not achieving this but

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should have regard to the fact that we will not achieve it unless we involve employers more closely, not only organisationally but financially.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support, particularly, Amendment 202 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, because it is absolutely essential. All the evidence we have shows that we are falling behind other countries and that we need to upskill tremendously in the whole area of apprenticeships. Indeed, the Government have recognised that and have done a great deal already to move in that direction. But not to disadvantage employers at a time like this is equally important. The only query I have is that the amendment refers to an apprenticeship place to a person aged under 19. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is no longer in his place, is concerned that we might also be talking about people with learning difficulties-the noble Lord is now back-and suggests that the limit should perhaps be extended up to the age of 25 for such people. I raise that matter as a particular question.

Again going back to all the points raised by the Minister in support of lifelong learning-the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, also has added her name to the amendment-the main point I am trying to make is that everyone has been talking about what Lord Dearing did in the past and how he tried to move the whole country in this direction. I would have thought it would have been ideal to put some emphasis on, and some resources into, this direction at this time, and rather more than is already planned.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Layard. I think he put "under 19" in the amendment because it is important that we increase the number of apprenticeships among 16 and 17 year-olds. I believe that currently only 3.8 per cent of all 16 year-olds and 6.3 per cent of 17 year-olds are on level 2 or level 3 apprenticeship in England.

There is a precedent for what the noble Lord is suggesting. A recent report by the CfBT Education Trust called Lessons from History: Increasing the Number of 16 and 17 Year Olds in Education and Training points out that offering wage subsidies to encourage employers to take on young apprentices during a recession actually works. Between 1979 and 1983 the Training for Skills programme helped 57,000 16 to 18 year-olds to obtain an employer-based apprenticeship. It is clear from this that it can and should be done if we are to achieve what I think the whole House wants to achieve. We hope that the Government will look kindly on the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Cotter: I follow my noble friend in supporting what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said a moment ago. My interest in the House stems from my interest in small businesses. I have been in small business all my life. I am reassured that we are still raising the issue of exactly how to see that there will be enough apprenticeship opportunities in this country and talking about how this could be funded. That is important for the small business community, and is such an important aspect of apprenticeships, not just for providing apprenticeship places but for small businesses to be able to gain from having apprenticeships.

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