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I mentioned the other day the words, "Auftragstaktik", "Fingerspitzengefuehl" and "simplification" and I fear that we are once again in those three areas. We are seeing two separate agendas being played out in parallel. One is being played out in this House, based on the Bill: the Ministers and we are engaged in a debate on what is or might be on the face of that Bill. Outside this House, another and totally separate agenda is being conducted within ministries, initiated, I believe, in the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, from where a document has been sent to us all saying that there is no need for a legal framework for the dissolution of the Learning and Skills Council and transfer of functions and staff because it is provided
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The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, put her finger on the fact that, when we started discussing this Bill in Committee in June, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was adopting a bottom-up approach. That ministry no longer exists and the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has inserted a top-down approach. Indeed, all the RDAs appear to have been gathered together into one department in the BIS where they sit together with the funding agencies under one empire, which is run by the Secretary of State.
We are told that RDAs are responsible for the skills strategy and are required to produce regional plans. We are also told that regional plans are subsidiary to national plans. By regional plans, we are talking about the nine produced by the regional development agencies, each of which has a different strategy, because their areas are different, complicated by the multi-agency area agreements, with sub-regional strategies for places such as Manchester, Leeds and now London. These regional plans, including those of the sector skills councils, are meant to be approved by the Secretary of State to ensure-these are the words that I was given-that,
Now, I am sorry, but that is an absurd objective because each of the regions has different capabilities, different perspectives and different strategies. Because of these regional differences, it is impossible to issue one coherent instruction without being involved in a compromise that may well damage all those strategies and sub-strategies that have been worked out to be appropriate for the regions.
To complicate this, I understand that there is another area of committees, which are not mentioned in the Bill. There is another organisation, which I did not know about until earlier this week, called the Regional Economic Council. The Regional Economic Council is chaired jointly by the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and the Chancellor and consists of the regional Ministers, the RDAs and the regional economic forums plus the chambers of commerce. They are responsible for reviewing what is happening around the country and how successful the Government have been at combating recession. At a recent meeting of the council, the chambers of commerce were extremely concerned that the RDAs were representing a very different picture of what was happening, and particularly the employers' point of view, from what the chambers of commerce, which are in touch with the employers, felt to be accurate. In other words, there is a definite feeling that people are going to that forum and representing to Ministers what they think Ministers want to hear rather than what is actually happening. That is very dangerous.
In the context of the Bill, there is also a new notion that, again, I had never heard of, called the NINJA, which stands for the new industry, new jobs agenda. We are talking about looking at the future of Britain and at the jobs that will be needed to take Britain out of the recession. In other words, we are looking at technologies 10 to 15 years ahead. If we were looking seriously at NINJA, surely to goodness we would be planning to make certain that not only are those technologies there and ready to go but the people to operate those technologies are trained and ready to go. If we think it through, that means that we ought to start influencing our 10 and 11 year-olds now to show an interest in all these activities. Those will not be the same in every region, so what is the point of having all this centralised, top-down direction when we know that each part of the country is different?
All I can detect in what is going on is confusion. I am seriously worried. While I do not in any way disparage all the work that a lot of people are doing, I detect that it is not clearly directed, starting from the basic premise that the one raw material that every country has in common is its people and woe betide it if it does not identify, nurture and develop the talents of all its people; if it does not, it has only itself to blame if it fails. I fear that this enormously complex situation, with two separate agendas being run at the same time, is likely to make the situation worse, which will damage the future of our country.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I shall focus on the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. They preclude the chief executive of the SFA allowing a regional development agency to be the body that is awarded powers to,
Noble Lords will be aware that we favour a sectoral, rather than regional, approach where the aim is to create a demand-led method of adult skills funding. We favour the role of the sector skills councils, not the regional development agencies, so we are deeply dissatisfied with the approach that has been taken in this legislation.
It is difficult to believe-the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to this-that over the summer such a dramatic change in policy could take place without due consideration for the process of scrutiny that was occurring in your Lordships' House. I share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on this. It appears that the Government think that no amendments are required to the legislation, but does the Minister acknowledge that such a change in approach impacts materially and substantially on the operation and implementation of the proposals in the Bill? There should be proper time for assessment and analysis of this new approach.
"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. Those 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 SFA".
The job of the chief executive of the SFA, with all the different interest groups, has all the hallmarks of being almost impossibly complicated and frustrating. We favour a sectoral approach and are concerned that the Government's new position will undermine that, even with the stated reassurances that the RDAs must take account of the views of UKCES, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I, too, wanted to address the questions of the untoward innovations that have been inserted in this part of the Bill, but I will restrict my remarks to Amendment 130, which substitutes the word "is" for "are" at the top of page 70 without removing the word "which" before it or changing the word "designed" after it. I query whether in properly constructed English information can be "designed" in the sense in which "information" is used in this sentence. I also query whether "which" is the right word to have in front of it, even if you retain the word "designed". The purpose of "which" is to refer us back to the earlier "systems" rather than to the immediately preceding "information". In the essence of good grammar, it surely would have been better to make a more comprehensive amendment than to just substitute one word, which leaves us in a state of grammatical horror.
Lord Elton: I wish to add a grace note in favour of what my noble friend has just said. The object of the amendment is to shift the operative word from "systems" to "information". I do not know whether that is advisable or not, but this is not the way to do it. I also echo what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. He described a process that we have all witnessed in the past three or four years in Europe as a whole, where the Foreign Office element of the United States of Europe is being built in anticipation of the signature and ratification of the treaty. That has come to pass and no doubt this Bill will come to pass, but the House deserved the courtesy of an analysis of what is afoot outside the House before it was assumed that we would rubber-stamp this piece of legislation.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this interesting set of contributions. I can see that my initial assurances have not fully satisfied everyone, so I shall make a further attempt to deal
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The concern seems to be about the establishment of a giant, overarching RDA control, which would undermine the ability of local authorities to shape the requirements and-according to those on the side of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley-somehow undermine and ignore the requirements of the sector skills councils. We do not believe that to be the case. Let me try to put it into context.
The skills strategies developed by the RDAs will be an integrated part of single integrated regional strategies agreed by joint local authority and RDA partnership boards, consistent with the sub-national review approach to devolution agreed across Government. The RDAs-and I think this is a really important point-will work closely with sub-regional and local partners. That is a point that I know greatly concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. This includes local authorities, which will co-chair 16 to 19 regional planning groups, form an integral part of the sub-regional multi-agency area partnerships, and the employment and skills boards. I stress that they will be required to sign off final strategies through their leaders' board. Therefore, there is absolutely no point in RDAs seeking somehow to impose their analysis on sector skills councils or the local authorities. It has to be a partnership, and I agree that it has to be a bottom-up process. They have to be aware of the requirements of local authorities, and the requirements of employers represented on, for example, sector skills councils or other bodies such as chambers of commerce. This role is completely consistent with empowering sub-regions and local authorities.
I am not quite sure how to deal with the elaborately constructed conspiracy theory of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. There are two theories of history, as I am sure he knows. The conspiracy theory is one, but I tend to favour the other theory of history. I am not sure whether the language is parliamentary, but I am sure he is familiar with it. It is not a totally separate agenda. There is no question of having created a bottom-up approach that was suddenly destroyed on the creation of BIS; I speak as a former Minister in DIUS. I am sorry to disappoint him in what I see as almost a conspiracy-theory approach.
As for the new industry, new jobs agenda, of course we are committed to identifying people's talents, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, required us to be. Why does he think we commissioned the Leitch review? It was precisely for that reason. We recognised the paramount need to identify the skills required right across UK plc. We had to identify the programmes and policies that we needed to introduce-hence the huge investment in training and apprenticeship programmes. I agree wholeheartedly with him that if we are going to develop the new industries in a low-carbon, green economy, we will need the talents of people, will need to start those training programmes and will need to capture the imagination of young people at the age he talked about. In some areas I agree with him, but not, if he does not mind me saying so, on what I felt was verging on the conspiracy-theory approach.
I understand and share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. I do not, and the department does not, want to see large regional bodies coming up with strategies which have not involved employers at grass-roots level. Certainly, I tried to make clear in my opening contribution the importance of involving the sector skills councils-something I can remember from the early stages of this debate. We were led by the Sharp amendment to see the error of our ways in that area, so I genuinely recognise those concerns.
We were told that the House feels it has been ignored. That was certainly not our intention in the decision to make RDAs responsible for regional skills strategy. We have not yet taken the decision and we want to take account of the views expressed, including those from today's debate, so this is by no means a fait accompli. It is important to get this right. When decisions are made, we will ensure that the House is informed and has an opportunity to comment.
One of the major concerns was whether local authorities would have real input and influence. The answer is yes, they will have. The employment and skills boards will be required to sign off final strategies through their leaders' board. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked whether the sector skills councils will be involved. Yes, they will be. As regards the idea that somehow RDAs will override the employment and skills boards, we have always been clear that employment and skills board strategies will need to be consistent with an overall regional strategy. However, it does not mean that they will have to forgo their role in shaping the overall strategy.
I think I have answered the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I have come to respect the forensic ability of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but he has now moved on to syntactical analysis. Far be it from me to argue with him or the parliamentary draftsmen. However, I share his view that we want to remove any solecisms and to get the syntax right. Therefore we will send that proposal back to ensure that it makes sense.
I conclude on the important point. Will this be a bottom-up approach? Will we ensure that local authorities have a real voice and that it is heard? Will we ensure that the sector skills councils are involved? The answer is yes, we will and the views expressed today will be taken into account. We have not yet reached a conclusion in this area. I hope that with those genuine assurances the noble Baronesses will feel able to reconsider their amendment. We have an opportunity for further dialogue, if necessary, to reinforce those assurances, because I understand the crucial importance of this area. I commend Amendment 130 to the House.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in support of Amendment 131. Many of my doubts remain after the very powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He indicated that we have been taken for granted, and it is not right that we should have been. I am also left with many doubts about whether the old fashioned, top-down labour market planning with our single integrated strategies, our NINJA boards and all the rest of it, is the right way to do it. I would therefore like to test the opinion of the House.
(b) persons who are subject to adult detention."
(1) The Chief Executive of Skills Funding and the Young People's Learning Agency must formulate a single capital buildings strategy for England to include all providers of education and training for those aged over 16, except institutions in the higher education sector.
(a) local education authorities in England;
(b) providers of education and training for those aged over 16, except institutions in the higher education sector.
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