I hope the noble Lords will recognise that enabling more pupils to leave school having studying a basic academic core is a commitment of the Government—and why we are doing this—which does not preclude the study of additional subjects, particularly creative ones. I am quite sure we can have 90% of pupils taking EBacc; I have absolutely no doubt. I know the noble Lord, Lord Watson, does not like me referring to anecdotes, but when we first arrived at Pimlico Academy in 2008 I remember asking the teachers why so many pupils were doing BTECs. Although the answers came couched in a lot of very politically correct words, they basically said that the pupils could not manage “study” subjects. Well, the same kind of pupils are now managing big time and getting into universities and on career paths which were not previously available to them. From my own experience, children never disappoint if you give them enough challenge and satisfy their curiosity. It may be that when we have 90% of pupils taking the EBacc that we can look again at the incentives that we place in the system and we will, of course, respond to the consultation, but I am satisfied that broadly, for the moment, we have our incentives right and I thank all noble Lords for participating in today’s debate.

4 pm

Sitting suspended.


Question for Short Debate

4.01 pm

Asked by Lord Patel of Bradford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Office for National Statistics’ report on deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales in 2014.

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the important issue of deaths related to drug poisoning. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lord Hunt for speaking on this today. The Office for National Statistics report on deaths related to drug poisoning highlights a number of concerns which I have been raising in questions and debates in this House for some time. I cannot begin to cover all these issues today. Suffice it to say that I have grave concerns that the Government’s drugs policy may have contributed to the increase in drug-related deaths in England. I am aware that this is a serious assertion and I hope the Minister will take my concerns with the sincerity with which they are meant.

Heroin is involved in more fatal overdoses than any other illegal drug. The most common form of treatment for dependence on heroin is opioid substitution therapy. Under this treatment, the street heroin to which a person has become addicted is replaced by a pharmaceutical substitute, usually methadone. The evidence is clear that this treatment can halve a patient’s risk of death for as long as they remain in treatment

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but, because relapse is common, the patient’s risk of death increases significantly when treatment ends. So the longer a patient remains in treatment, the better their chances of staying alive. However, rather than being evidence-based, I strongly suggest that the 2010 drug strategy reflects the Government’s concerns that there were too many people on methadone for too long—a point vigorously reinforced by the Work and Pensions Secretary, lain Duncan Smith, who said that he felt too many people were “parked on methadone”. Therefore the Government introduced a payment-by-results system to incentivise service providers to encourage drug users to more quickly complete treatment and achieve abstinence.

What is wrong, you may ask, with encouraging more drug users to become abstinent more quickly? Surely that is a good thing. However, UK and international evidence clearly shows that there are major risks in pressuring drug users to withdraw from treatment. The Government’s own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated that there was strong evidence that time-limiting opioid substitution therapy would increase the rate of overdose death. Of course I understand that the Government’s decision-making must include public opinion and there is a fear of being seen as soft on drugs—there has been from every Government who have been in power. However, I know from working with drug users myself for many years that the first treatment a drug user receives must be about stabilising the chaos in their lives, and abstinence should be about providing the right range of treatment options at the right time. The evidence shows that heroin addiction is a long-lived condition, averaging around 10 years, so drug users must be ready to achieve abstinence, because if they relapse after they have left treatment they are at a high risk of fatal overdose, since their tolerance to heroin is obviously greatly reduced.

What has been the result of the Government’s approach? On a positive note, between 2011 and 2012 an estimated 8.9% of adults used an illegal drug. This is the lowest level of drug use since figures were first collected in 1996. The number of people who completed drug treatment, free of dependence, is at record levels. However, perversely, in 2014 there were 3,346 drug-poisoning deaths in England and Wales, the highest number since records began in 1993. Deaths involving heroin increased by almost two-thirds between 2012 and 2014, from 579 to 952.

More worryingly, Public Health England’s own network—the National Intelligence Network on the health harms associated with drug use, which exchanges intelligence on blood-borne viruses, new and emerging trends in drug use and drug-related deaths—reported in December 2015 that the number of drug-related deaths is increasing, and that the rate of increase is probably accelerating. Amphetamine and cocaine deaths have also been increasing in recent years. However, the network’s analysis showed that treatment is protective against drug-misuse deaths.

I have cited a number of facts and figures, but let me put a human face on this and highlight some wider impacts. A number of local areas have conducted their own drug-related death reviews. Some have found an increase in female drug-related deaths, some individuals

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are parents, some people were released from prison and needed further support and treatment. In fact, in 2010 I produced a national report reviewing drug treatment in prisons and highlighted the importance of ensuring good continuing care for vulnerable people leaving prison to prevent relapses and drug-related deaths.

More people had complex health issues involving repeated presentations to hospital wards and A&E departments. Some have mental problems requiring treatment and repeated admission to mental health wards. They have a dual diagnosis of substance misuse and mental ill health. Only last week, as the Minister will know, we heard that the number of deaths annually among mental health patients in England rose by 21% over the past three years, from 1,412 to 1,713. The number of those killing themselves or trying to do so has also increased, by 26%, from 595 in 2012-13 to 751 in 2014-15. I wonder how many of those people had a dual diagnosis.

In light of this, will the Minister agree to see if an investigation can be set up to look into the causes of the drug-related deaths and the mental health deaths, and to see how many had a dual diagnosis? I understand that an update of the UK clinical guidelines on drug misuse and dependence is expected this year. In fact, I thought it was going to be published by February. These are essential guidelines for all clinicians who provide pharmacological interventions for drug misusers as part of their drug-treatment programme. This is a positive move, but I strongly suggest that it is also time that the Government carried out not just an annual review but, more importantly, a full impact assessment of the current drug strategy. Will the Minister therefore agree to ask the relevant government department that a risk and impact assessment of the current drug strategies be carried out, ensuring that an evidence-based approach be developed that tackles the failures and weaknesses of the current strategy, including, obviously, reducing drug-related deaths; training, employment and housing for drug users; integrating prison and community services; and, as I have already mentioned, the important issue of provision of dual diagnosis?

Finally, we know that there is a major funding issue within the NHS, and this is having an impact on services that work for these vulnerable people. Drug and alcohol treatment are no longer part of the protected NHS spend, but will have to compete for resources in the much harsher local government public health environment, which is likely to result in a reduction in services. In fact, I have seen a reduction in services in many environments already.

As for mental health, suicides among people in touch with crisis resolution home treatment teams, which are there to support people in crisis to stay in their own homes rather than being admitted to hospital, have increased significantly. It has been reported that these teams have lost their funding and have been disbanded or merged into community teams. So their specialist function has been lost, at a time of increasing demand. We also know that the number of specialist mental health nurses has fallen by more than 10% in the past five years.

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In conclusion, I ask the Minister to say in his reply what steps are being taken to tackle the lack of funding for drug misuse and mental health services, which deal with some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, particularly those with a dual diagnosis of drug misuse and mental health problems. Because I have the time, I shall also make one other point. I understood that the evaluation of the payment-by-results pilot studies was to be published either last year or early this year. Can the Minister update me on when publication will happen? I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords, and to the Minister’s response.

4.10 pm

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, for raising this important issue. The increase in the number of deaths from drugs poisoning is a matter of great concern, since every single death is an indication of failure—failure of individual services and failure of the system of health and care to look after that patient. I refer to “the patient” because my party has always believed that individual drug abuse should be regarded as a health issue, and is not always a police issue. The pushers and dealers, however, are a very different matter.

As has been said, although some are suicides, most of these deaths are accidental, caused by lack of knowledge of the strength of the drugs that people are taking, or someone’s lack of understanding of their own body’s ability to process the chemicals. I will return to that point later. Accidental deaths also occur when a person is not in full possession of his or her faculties and has a fatal accident. I have read the various reports that have tried to analyse the statistics, and that is clearly a very complicated and difficult task, because in many cases there are several causal factors and they are hard to untangle. Few of those who die from drug use have one single simple problem. About one-third of patients abuse alcohol as well as banned or prescription drugs, and many have mental health problems. There is clearly interaction between the various issues.

A recent report called “Solutions from the Frontline” by MEAM—Making Every Adult Matter, an alliance of mental health charities chaired by my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield—calculated that there are 58,000 people who face homelessness, substance abuse, mental health problems and offending behaviour, distributed all over Britain. Of course, not all of them are at risk of accidental death because of their drug problems, but clearly their risk rises because of their multiplicity of needs and the great difficulty that services find in reaching and helping them. The problems get worse because people experiencing multiple needs are also likely to live in poverty and experience stigma, discrimination, isolation and loneliness—and, of course, loneliness is a great mental health and suicide risk. Although the ONS report indicates a large protective factor when people are in treatment, which is encouraging to know, those services are suffering, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford.

I shall concentrate my remarks on dual diagnosis, and on offenders and ex- offenders. According to MEAM, people experiencing multiple needs often have ineffective contact with services, as in most cases services

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are designed to deal with one problem at a time and to support people with single severe conditions. This can mean that people with multiple needs are more likely to access emergency, rather than planned, services, such as going to accident and emergency rather than their local GP. Accessing services in this way is costly as well as risky: estimates suggest that costs for the 58,000 individuals nationally are between £1.1 billion and £2.1 billion per year. So it is absolutely vital that people who are registered as being addicted to drugs, especially the depressive opiates such as heroin, have their mental health needs assessed and addressed. This is not always happening, partly because of cuts and partly because of shortages of staff with the right experience. Many patients claim that mental health crisis services are not there for them and many have to wait far too long for routine therapies. I do not underestimate the difficulty of dealing with these patients but we must make more effort to do so, for their own sake as well as for the sake of the NHS budget.

The recommendations of the MEAM report include asking the Government to ensure that funding structures prioritise recovery and rehabilitation and allow local areas to develop a flexible response. As part of this, they should consider a new national focus on multiple needs. Locally, commissioners should be accountable for ensuring that local areas have joined-up services and identify where people with multiple needs could fall through the gaps. At the front line, services should involve staff and people with multiple needs working together in designing programmes and the environments where they are to be delivered.

As for drug-using offenders, of course there are a lot of treatment programmes in prison although we know that security in many prisons is poor and they say you can access any drug you like in most prisons. It should, of course, be easier to help addicts when you have them incarcerated in prison than it is when they are part of the general population, and a lot of good work is done. However, I am not convinced that the underlying mental health problems are always addressed in the same way. It is difficult for a lay person like me to understand whether it is the mental health problem that brings people to take drugs in the first place or the drugs themselves that cause mental health problems. I understand it can be either way round, but what matters is to accept that dual diagnosis is not always properly addressed; it is very risky, and we need to do something about it.

The other issue that I would like to raise is continuity of services after release. There is supposed to be a seamless transition into community services but too often that does not happen, perhaps because the services are not there, the person drops out, or the professionals concerned are too busy to work with each other and do not realise how important and effective that is. A very senior psychiatrist told me only yesterday that, if someone gets clean while in prison and then comes out and starts using again, they are at greater risk of dying. While they are under treatment their liver stops having to process the poisonous chemicals in the drugs, so it stops being able to do so. If an ex-offender then starts using again, they should be advised to start on a very low dose and build up, but actually they tend to go back on the high dose they were used to using before

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they went to prison. This is too much for the body to cope with and it kills them. The dose they were accustomed to before prison now becomes an overdose.

Obviously, we do not want ex-addicts to come out of prison to start again at all but, if they do, they should be made aware of the danger and they should have continuity of care until their rehabilitation is well embedded. Often a patient has very good motivation to keep off drugs but, if something goes wrong in their life, such as losing a job or becoming homeless, the mental health problems recur and they do not have the support or resilience to resist self-medication with drugs that make them feel better.

The mention of resilience brings me to my final point. The roots of mental illness often go back a very long way. We must address the issue we are debating today in the very long term. By that I mean that we need to focus on two things in schools: education about the harms of drug and alcohol use and prevention of mental ill-health among children and young people. We need schools to be able to recognise mental health problems and know how and where to get help. They should also positively promote good mental health and well-being and help their pupils to develop resilient personalities. Of course, we should also go even further back in life and provide mental health therapists in all maternity units and help new mothers bond well with their children, given the crucial importance of attachment to the child’s future mental health. I wonder whether the increase in deaths is not because more people are taking drugs—from what the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, said, that is not the case—but are we getting more mental health problems that push users over the edge?

Good mental health does not happen by accident any more than good physical health. Just as we need to foster good physical health through diet, exercise and avoiding risky behaviours, so we also need to be aware that good mental health can be fostered. This should be part of the healthy community plans of all local authorities as well as schools, but sadly it is often at the bottom of their priority list because they have the money to do only what is mandatory. But by ignoring this we are storing up problems for the future. I would ask the Minister to be kind enough to comment on the points I have made and let noble Lords know how the Government are dealing with them.

4.20 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I warmly endorse the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and welcome my noble friend’s introduction to this very disturbing and important debate. We have all studied the ONS figures and noble Lords have already referred to the fact that the mortality rate from drug use has been recorded as the highest ever. My noble friend referred to how deaths involving heroin and/or morphine between 2012 and 2014 increased by almost two-thirds, while other figures from the ONS also show increases. It would be fair to ask the Government what their current analysis is of the reasons for that.

My noble friend has said that he is concerned that a change in government policy, because they felt that too many people were, as he put it, “parked on

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methadone”, has seen the introduction of an incentivised programme essentially to encourage drug users to complete their treatment more quickly and achieve abstinence. However, that has brought with it some perverse consequences. One thing it shows is that there are always risks in trying to incentivise clinical behaviour through some kind of payment or lack of payment, so we need to be very careful. What risk assessment was undertaken of the impact of this change, because it is important not only in itself but in relation to the future direction of government policy?

My noble friend asked two specific questions: whether the Minister will agree to set up an investigation into the causes of these drug-related and mental health deaths in order to see how many had been given a dual diagnosis and, as I have mentioned, a risk assessment of the decision to bring in, as he called it, a payment-by-results approach to discouraging the use of methadone. He asked for another risk/impact assessment of the overall current strategy, and I must say that I very much endorse his recommendations.

My understanding is that Public Health England is investigating the trends around drug misuse deaths. I have looked at its recent publication, but what I could not find was any reference to the issue raised by my noble friend—the policy change to payment by results. In the light of this debate, is PHE investigating that specific issue? Will PHE, which is after all a part of the Department of Health, explore that area?

My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also talked about the issue of drug treatment funding and the role of local authorities. I was interested to see the NICE guidance, or at least the local government briefing it produced in May 2014, which provides a lot of good advice for local authorities. I know that advice to local government from NICE is not at all mandatory in the way in which a technology appraisal might be for the NHS, but what is the Minister’s analysis of how far local authorities are following that guidance? Do the Government or NICE itself have any responsibility at all to make sure that local authorities are doing the right thing here?

One then comes to the issue of funding. On Monday, the noble Lord again referred to the amount of additional money put into the health service. He will know that around half has come from other pockets of Department of Health expenditure, including of course the public health budget. Clearly, the concern is that there will be an impact on those services where we depend on local authorities for funding under a public health banner. Again, what assessment has his department made of the impact of the reduction in funding for public health on the kind of community services that are so much more important?

None of this can take place without echoing a concern around mental health issues more generally. We all signed up to parity of esteem. The Government have said that they are committed. I believe that they have issued instructions to clinical commissioning groups about mental health service funding, but word reaches us that the reality is somewhat different. My noble friend Lord Patel has raised an important, difficult specific point. It cannot be divorced from overall considerations about mental health policy. If one considers

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the four-hour A&E target that is not being met, we know that a lot of people who are coming to A&E one way and another have mental health issues. I cannot help wondering whether for CCGs to reduce funding to mental health services has not been counterproductive in terms of the pressure that it has put on other parts of the system. I accept that my noble friend has raised a specific, serious point. If the Government cannot answer the exact point today, I hope that they will agree to some kind of review so that we see the outcome.

4.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for raising this issue. It is clearly hugely important. He said that this rise in deaths was a direct result of government policy. We should take that very seriously coming from someone who knows so much about the issue. I also thank him for warning me earlier about the likely thrust of his comments.

This debate is particularly timely as we are currently finalising our new drug strategy and thinking about what it needs to say in relation to this important issue. It will take a very close look at the impact of the current strategy. It is due to be published later in the year. The noble Lord’s comments today will certainly be taken into account.

We are especially concerned about the increase in drug-related deaths. Separately, Public Health England is now convening an inquiry into the reasons for the rise. I encourage noble Lords to give their views to PHE. A key part of its inquiry will be an in-depth analysis of the drug-death data. A national expert group will rapidly review the data, including the ONS data, and local experiences to better understand the causes of these deaths and how they can be prevented. That report is expected in a few months. This is not a Chilcot inquiry; it will be out in a few months, and it will include looking at dual diagnosis.

Although my comments today will largely cover England, since health is now a devolved matter, the PHE inquiry will look at experience in Wales and Scotland. Interestingly, both countries have widely differing results, so if there are lessons that we can learn from them, clearly we will do so. I will come back to the specific question about payment by results, if I can, towards the end.

As the noble Lord said, the ONS reports of 2013 and 2014 showed that registered drug-misuse deaths increased in England very significantly from about 1,500 in 2012 to 2,120 in 2014. They are a matter of huge concern and highlight the need for further national and local action. A small part of the increase might be explained by changes in the speed of registration of death. That is probably not significant, but it will be looked at in the PHE review. We are assuming that it will not be material.

Overall, fewer people are using drugs such as heroin. Those that do form an ageing cohort, which means that the health harms from the use of heroin are increasingly concentrated among older, more vulnerable users, particularly men aged between 40 and 49—the “Trainspotting” era, in a sense—and those who have

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not had recent contact with the treatment system. We may need to accept that because of their long-term drug use, the health problems associated with that and the recent availability of purer heroin, all of which can contribute to a much greater risk of death, deaths may still rise in future years, despite our best efforts to reduce them. Again, that is something that PHE will be looking at very carefully. This means that although overall drug use has declined in recent years and the treatment system has helped many more people to recover—some 70,000 in 2014-15—we need an enhanced effort to help these entrenched users and thus reduce the number of deaths.

Local authorities are best placed to be responsible for drug prevention and treatment because of their knowledge of the local population and its needs. They can approach a system on a place and local population basis, bringing together their experience of local employment, education, housing, social services and the like. That is the reason why this has been devolved to local authorities. Much improvement has been achieved, and the Government are determined to continue that improvement. We have therefore added a condition to the central public health grant which requires local authorities to further improve the take-up of the drug treatment services they provide and to achieve improved outcomes. I will turn to funding later on, if I can.

About half of the deaths involved opiate users. PHE analysis found that most of those who died from opiate overdose were not in treatment and, in most cases, had not been receiving treatment for some time. This emphasises the need to encourage drug users to engage with treatment services, because treatment has a protective effect, as the noble Lord referred to in his speech, and can help prevent deaths. It also emphasises the need for local authorities to ensure that vulnerable drug users outside the treatment system are given advice on how to reduce the risks from drug misuse and are encouraged into treatment—all the more so as heroin is becoming purer.

As mentioned earlier, Public Health England is convening an inquiry into the recent rise in drug-related deaths. The national expert group will rapidly review data and local experiences to better understand the causes of those deaths, how they interplay with other health issues such as mental health, and how those deaths can be prevented. We know that some parts of the country have much higher death rates than others, and PHE’s local centres are working with those areas to understand the factors contributing to those higher figures and what can be done to reduce them: for example, by spreading best practice.

We have also asked PHE to work with local authorities to make sure that services are available to anyone who needs them. So PHE is working with local commissioners and providing them with expert advice, evidence and management information, including outcomes and value for money data. This helps to ensure that services are evidence-based, effective, available, integrated with local health services and supported by local housing and employment policies.

In October 2015, we changed medicines regulations to widen the availability of naloxone. Naloxone is a medicine that almost instantaneously reverses the effects

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of opiates, and we have made it easier for drug services to supply naloxone to more people who might witness overdoses and could use it to prevent overdose deaths.

Turning to prisons, the thematic report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, Changing Patterns of Substance Misuse in Adult Prisons and Service Responses, published in December 2015, acknowledges that substance misuse treatment provision in prisons has improved very significantly over the past 10 years. I am told that there is strong evidence that evidence-based commissioning by the NHS has had a positive impact on prison health more generally, as well as in this area.

PHE, NOMS and NHS England are working together under the auspices of the National Partnership Agreement to tackle the new challenges presented by new psychoactive substances and the misuse of prescribed medication. PHE recently published a toolkit for custody and healthcare staff to support their response to NPS and is currently delivering a national training programme across the prison estate.

PHE is working closely with the National Offender Management Service and NHS England to improve “through-the-gate” arrangements between prison and community services, including improved commissioning of services. It is also using new post-release supervision arrangements and licence conditions to make sure that prisoners are more effectively engaged in drug treatment after release. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, when people have been off drugs and then come out and go back on to drugs, that can have very severe consequences.

As I mentioned earlier, engagement with good-quality drug treatment has a protective effect. It stabilises people and helps to improve their physical health and well-being. For example, people in treatment for their opiate use are less likely to inject drugs, experience overdose or transmit blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C. People in treatment are also more likely to be tested and treated or vaccinated for blood-borne viruses. There were nearly 300,000 adults in contact with treatment services in 2014-15. Over half of the 130,000 patients who left treatment in 2014-15 had successfully completed their treatment free of dependency. This is an improvement on past performance and is helping people to achieve their potential and live a fuller, more rewarding life.

We have commissioned and received advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs about the contribution that opioid substitution treatment such as methadone can make to helping people recover. This is not in the least at odds with long-term prescribing of methadone to protect the health of those who are not able, or not yet able, to achieve full recovery. A question was raised as to whether at the time the policy was implemented—in 2010, I think—an assessment was done of the potential perverse consequences of that policy. I am not aware of whether such an assessment was done, but I can revert to the noble Lord about that afterwards.

Over the last decade, treatment outcomes have steadily improved, but have slowed in the past couple of years, most likely because the people remaining in treatment are those with more entrenched drug use and long-standing and complex problems. This is why recovery remains at the heart of our approach, with the key aim

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to support people to free themselves from drug dependency for good. We have moved our focus beyond the treatment system, to look more holistically and to include factors that help people recover from drug dependency and fully integrate back into the community.

We know that mental health can be a particular issue for many drug users. Some may use drugs as a form of self-medication for a mental health problem. Some will find that drugs exacerbate or cause mental health problems. PHE is encouraging substance misuse and mental health commissioners to work together at a local level to ensure that the services they commission are responsive to the needs of this client group, and there are clear specifications and transfer arrangements that describe how they will be effectively co-ordinated and delivered. I do not have time to talk about prevention; I thought I would have more time but I have only two minutes left.

The issue of funding is an important area. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned that the number of specialist mental health care nurses was down 10%. This reflects a more fundamental problem that over the past five to 20 years so much of the budget has gone into acute care. Community and mental health care has unquestionably suffered over that time. It illustrates a much broader problem. It is clear from the mandate of NHS England that parity of esteem is a key part of our policy over the next five years. Each clinical commissioning group’s spending on mental health will increase in real terms. There will be more money available for mental health care.

However, it will still be tough. There is not a lot of money in the system, but we are prioritising mental health care, and I think that, together with the public health grant, which is ring-fenced in local authorities, there will be resources available to tackle what I accept is a hugely difficult, complex and, as we have seen from the figures today, tragic area in which society, not just healthcare, has so dismally failed.

Briefly on the PBR point, the DH has done an evaluation on the payment by results pilots for drug and alcohol recovery, which will be published later this year. The preliminary evaluation, which is already published, suggests that the pilots did not lead to inappropriate pressure to discharge people from drug treatment—but it is preliminary and the full results will be published later in the year. I was going to say a little more about prevention but we can discuss that at another time.

4.41 pm

Sitting suspended.

Further Education

Question for Short Debate

5 pm

Asked by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on young people living in rural locations of the area review of further education colleges currently taking place.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests as a fellow of Yeovil College, and I thank noble Lords taking part in the debate. Those of us who hail from rural areas often appear to live in idyllic surroundings and enjoy much that those who inhabit urban areas do not. However, there are many challenges facing us, especially for young people. Last week, my noble friend Lady Sharp led an excellent debate on the future of adult education. Today, we look at the other end of the spectrum: the challenges for young people in continuing their education and training beyond 16. The aim of the current programme of area reviews of FE providers is to have,

“fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient colleges”.

I quote from the paper published by the Secretary of State in July 2015. I believe there are significant disadvantages to this approach, and I especially quail when I read further that,

“the status quo will not be an option”.

While the context of reviews can be adapted to take account of local circumstances and requirements, the statement does not appear to be bear this out.

The FE sector, colleges in particular, has been subjected to a series of significant cuts since 2011. Between 2010 and 2015, funding for 16 to 19 year-olds fell by 14%. The adult skills budget, which made up a significant amount of college funding, has been reduced by more than 40%, while public funding for adult learning is set to be removed completely by 2020. Spending on 16 and 17 year-olds is 22% lower than on 11 to 16 year-olds. It is a further 17.5% less for 18 year- olds, and adult education funding was cut by 28% last year alone.

Students, in particular, have been hit by the loss of the education maintenance allowance and the adult learning grant during the 2010 Parliament. These were weekly grant payments for FE students from lower income backgrounds. FE colleges appear to be hit from all sides. Some 72% of sixth-form colleges have reported dropping courses due to funding cuts, 33% have been forced to cut the more expensive to run modern language courses, and 24% have cut STEM subjects. What are we doing? STEM subjects are in great demand. I live close to the only remaining helicopter manufacturer in the country. It finds it difficult to recruit locally. Schools often take parties of pupils round, and teachers have been overheard saying to pupils, “If you don’t study hard, this is where you will end up”. This is appalling. We desperately need skilled and qualified engineers, and we need to fund colleges adequately to cover the courses their communities need. They know their students and can tailor the courses to fit.

Transport is a major factor which enables young people to access education and training. Young people in FE and sixth-form colleges often have to travel further than those who study at school because of the specialist provision that colleges offer. In a recent survey, the average learner travel time was two hours and 48 minutes per day at an average distance of 11 miles, 51% of FE students cannot always afford their travel costs and 40% of students spend £5 or more a day travelling to their college or place of training.

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Across the country local authorities with transport responsibilities are cutting bus subsidies, and bus routes are, at best, less frequent than previously. In many cases, they are axed altogether. This is, of course, not a perverse measure but a reaction to the drastic budget reductions they face in the coming months and years. The Campaign for Better Transport has also highlighted the impact of funding cuts on local bus services. It says that funding for local authority-supported services has reduced by more than £78 million since 2010, meaning more than 2,400 essential bus routes and services have been cut. I live in a village, like many around the country, where there is no daily bus service but is an infrequent service that assists those without cars to go into the neighbouring town to do their shopping, get their hair done, visit the dentist or GP and have a cup of coffee. The timing of the return journey does not allow them to do all of those things on one visit. They have to choose which it will be.

For students attempting to access A-levels, apprenticeships and training, public transport is not an option. Often there are notices in the Post Office from post-16 students asking if anyone can give them a daily lift into town. For those students whose parents can afford to transport them to college, there is choice. For those whose parents are in straitened circumstances, there is no choice. I was lucky in that I lived just over two miles from the FE college of my choice. Even so, there was no transport allowance, and although my parents gave me the bus fare, I often walked in order to save the fare for other treats. If an FE college is 20 miles away, transport will be a major headache. Who is going to transport students across the countryside, even supposing they can find an FE provider running a course that suits their career prospects? Yet again, it will be those on low incomes who have no choice. Will the Minister say just how these young people are going to access the skills they need to achieve their aspirations and take charge of their lives? Will the costs of additional travelling be taken into account during the area review or is this going to be the student’s responsibility?

I note that the area review process has been tested in cities and in a rural area of Norfolk and Suffolk. I trust that the lessons learned have been carried forward, but each area will be different. The local steering groups include representatives from local enterprise partnerships. However, when an FE college is situated close to a LEP boundary, it will serve a very large area indeed and will stretch into the neighbouring LEP’s territory. Will the Minister say whether both LEPs will be represented on the area review in such cases and will the geographical spread of students be taken into account when deciding how the rationalisation is to take place? A distance of 20 miles from one FE college to the next is considerable. If an FE provider is to be closed, rationalised or have the curriculum it offers limited, students will have to travel.

The second principle of the review is:

“An open-mindedness to change for the greater good, irrespective of vested interests and personal preferences”.

That is very laudable. Will the Minister confirm that the personal preference of students will be taken into account as part of this open-mindedness?

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I am indebted to the National Union of Students and the Association of Colleges for the extremely useful briefings they have sent me. I saw with interest the report of the Public Accounts Committee in the other place on overseeing financial sustainability in the further education sector which was published on 16 December 2015. Its summary said:

“The declining financial health of many further education colleges has potentially serious consequences for learners and local economies, but the bodies responsible for funding and oversight have been slow to address the problem. Too often, they have taken decisions without understanding the cumulative impact that these decisions have on colleges and their learners. Oversight arrangements are complex, sometimes overlapping, and too focused on intervening when financial problems have already become serious rather than helping to prevent them in the first place. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Department for Education appear to see area-based reviews of post-16 education as a fix-all solution to the current problems, but the reviews do not cover all types of provider and it is not clear how they will deliver a robust and financially sustainable sector”.

The Government would be wise to take note of this statement and act accordingly before the FE sector is altered out of all recognition and not to the benefit of learners and their communities.

5.09 pm

Baroness Byford (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for introducing this short debate. I do not wish to suggest for any reason that I do not understand the challenges that are faced, because clearly I do, but I am slightly more optimistic than she is. I, too, live in the village that I was born in, but ours is much more urban than the area she is from. Clearly, the number of students coming in for further education has been in decline, particularly since we increased the number of apprenticeships, so it is right that the Government are looking to get the best for young people coming through.

To start at the beginning, most of the children who go to school in rural areas actually come out with better results than their urban counterparts, so they are quite resilient. In the academic year of 2013-14, 70.7% of pupils living in rural areas left school with five or more GCSEs at A to C level, compared with 64% of pupils living in urban areas. That trend continues, with the rate of full-time entry to higher education institutions by 18 to 20 year-olds in 2013-14 being higher in predominantly rural areas, at 130 per 1,000, compared with 123 per 1,000 in urban areas.

I declare an interest as one of the patrons of Landex, which represents the land-based colleges. They, too, have clearly been going through challenging times—there are no two ways about it.

The review going on at the moment, as the noble Baroness touched on, is only at the start. Only three reviews have taken place; there is another tranche to come. The review in Leicester and Leicestershire, which is my home, is not happening until September. So the Government have a little while to wait before they can respond fully on the outcomes that we all are interested in.

The concern that the noble Baroness and I share, along with many people in this room, is for transport. My brother is a county councillor, and anybody living

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in a rural area knows very well that there is a great pressure on councils to provide or not to provide buses. The truth of the matter is that, in many places, buses sometimes run nearly empty, and to sustain them is not on. In some places, on some occasions, it is cheaper to pay a taxi to go and do it than it is to run a bus service. So to me, there are opportunities in the new proposed system. I came from Moulton agricultural college in Northamptonshire, and I have visited many other agricultural colleges. Moulton has its own bus service which goes around the villages picking up the students who want to come to the colleges. That is part of the deal; they know that that is going to happen. It will probably take them an hour to get there, sometimes an hour and a half, but they think that what is on offer at the college is worth doing.

So the question is: do we continue to have smaller colleges offering a more restricted curriculum or do we move to bigger colleges with a very specialist curriculum? Certainly, with the need that the noble Baroness rightly touches on to have more engineers and people with that sort of skill, the more we can do to encourage people, particularly women, to follow some of the STEM subjects and get involved in engineering the better. There is no reason why women should not be doing it. My niece became a mechanical engineer many years ago.

As far as I am concerned, it is a question of needing to reflect on what there is and where it is. I agree with the noble Baroness that there will be some areas that will do it very differently. I was interested to hear in the news this morning that Cumbria, for example, has looked to have a community bus area because there are no buses there. So while I understand the issues, and I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate tonight, I look forward to seeing the responses that we get. I hope that they will cover all the colleges, including the land-based colleges, because we all have a lot to offer. At the end of the day, it will be up to business and the review panels to come up with their suggestions as to the best way forward. I hope that we will return to this when the reviews are complete, in another year’s time.

5.15 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, because I regard this as a fundamental issue. Noble Lords know of my interest in apprenticeships, so they will not be surprised if I focus on them. I have mixed feelings about this issue because I think that it probably is time for a change. I must admit that, given my brief experience as a Minister in this area, I was somewhat disappointed when the Wolf report came out—and that is me using the gift of understatement. It made me think very carefully about how to invest money and outcomes. We should not imagine that simply pouring more resources into something will necessarily bring about a result. It was a disappointing report that made me ask about the quality that is being delivered. Although there are many extremely good colleges, some do not always measure up. Being the glass half full type of person that I am, I probably tend to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that this is potentially an opportunity if the Government get it right.

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I want the Government to recognise that this is a big challenge which they have created. Three million apprenticeships means a lot of training and so on. I keep reminding the Government that if they want to deliver on quality as well as quantity, it is a key part of that. One of the better and smarter policies we introduced was raising the participation age. That is important, and this review will obviously impact on that. We expect young people to be either in education or training, or in employment that encompasses training as well.

I listened carefully to the statistics quoted by the noble Baroness, but I still think that we are facing some challenges. It can be said that we are doing better, but what about the 30%? We need to ensure that those young people are not discouraged and that transport does not present too great an obstacle. I had to smile at the description of walking two miles, because I am a “four wheels bad, two wheels good” person. Two miles on a bicycle would get you there in a trice. More seriously, transport is clearly an issue. If all colleges are going to adopt the enlightened approach of Cumbria, perhaps we can pull it off. However, I do not feel that young people are getting a particularly good deal. We get the Freedom Pass and a triple lock on pensions. We are the people who have benefited from property price increases. What are young people getting? They have a ton of debt because they no longer get EMA, and the possibility of them getting on to the housing ladder is small. I hope that the Government will look at this carefully.

I have said previously to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that it is time that this was looked at in an integrated way. We have LEPs, colleges and local authorities, so we ought to be looking at the best performers, the ones that are creating the most employment opportunities and setting up the maximum number of apprenticeships. The Government ought to be monitoring and reviewing them because if they are doing it well, they are the success stories and we should be building on them.

I share the concern about the funding cuts, because it is worrying to see things like STEM courses being cut. Noble Lords should do as I do and work with the Lords outreach service. Go into schools and ask 15, 16 and 17 year-olds where they are going. Most hands shoot up and the response is “university”, although whether they are all fit for that route is another matter. When you ask them about the alternatives, you are lucky if even one individual mentions apprenticeships. We still have the problem that schools are not fulfilling their legal requirement to tell students about all the career path options. That is important. We will not get more women into engineering and similar occupations—a desire I share—until employers come into schools, some of which do not seem to understand the importance of links with business. We also need successful apprentices to come and tell students what a good opportunity apprenticeships are.

I understand why the Government are doing this review. If we get it right, it will be a great opportunity, provided that we listen to the words of caution.

5.20 pm

Baroness Maddock (LD): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this timely debate on an important issue for young people living in sparsely

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populated rural areas. For a long time, working and learning in the FE sector has been challenging. We have seen frequent changes in funding and in governance. Being a teacher, a leader, or a governor in this sector has been challenging for many years. I saw this at first hand when I served as a governor at Brockenhurst College in the New Forest some years ago. I sincerely hope that this review enables long-term planning in the sector and gives as much control as possible to local communities and the interested parties within them. I am thinking particularly of young people and businesses.

I want to highlight the issues of concern in the north-east of England, in particular in Berwick-upon-Tweed, my home town, which lies at the northernmost tip of England right up against the Scottish border. In the north-east, the proportion of adults qualified to national vocational qualification level 4 is 7% below the national average. The north-east LEP strategic economic plan highlights that by 2020, some 120,000 jobs will require that qualification. The last economic survey conducted by the North East Chamber of Commerce found that 71% of businesses in the service sector and 83% of businesses in manufacturing were experiencing difficulties recruiting staff.

In Berwick-upon-Tweed the sparsity of the population and of college provision only exacerbates the difficulties for young people and businesses. If you are a young person currently finishing your GCSEs in a school that is improving a bit but less than in other parts of the country, your options are very limited. In Berwick there is a high school with a small sixth form. Fifty miles away there is Northumberland College, the only college in Northumberland, which means a long journey by bus. Sixty-seven miles away is Newcastle, where there are many more opportunities. It takes 45 minutes by train but because it is 67 miles away, the journey is pretty expensive. It is clear that transport is a big issue that is preventing those in our area gaining access to education and training, and to a wide variety of it.

The history of paying for transport is mixed. I served for three years on Northumberland County Council and we campaigned to have youth transport paid for. My Lib Dem colleagues took minority control and we were able to do that. I regret that when Labour took over it took that away for the over 16s. I can partly understand why: the budget had gone up because so many people needed it.

Like others, we have had a lot of briefing on this subject, and I am particularly grateful to the Association of Colleges. It has provided statistics showing that the average distance travelled to college by 16 to 18 year olds in the Berwick constituency is 25.5 miles. That is the furthest in the whole of England—they top the league. It is slightly better for the 19 year-olds. When the review that we are debating was announced, the Minister said that he expected policy options to include rationalising the curriculum and considering opportunities for specialisation, merger, collaboration and closure. When there is only one college, there is not much scope in any of those areas.

It is even more difficult because the other providers in the area are not being taken into account: sixth forms. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Bakewell

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quoted from the 13th report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee:

“It is unclear how area-based reviews of post-16 education, which are limited in scope, will deliver a more robust and sustainable further education sector”.

The recommendation was that:

“The departments need to demonstrate that the area-based reviews are taking a sufficiently comprehensive look at local provision taking into account all FE providers and school sixth forms, that they are fair, and that they result in consensus on sustainable solutions to meet local needs”.

I sincerely hope that that is the case. I would like the Minister to assure me that there will be no one-size-fits-all solution when this review ends, and that the particular situation I have outlined in Berwick up in north Northumberland will be substantially enhanced by the outcomes of the very important exercise that we are debating this evening.

5.26 pm

Lord Lingfield (Con): My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for this important debate, and remind your Lordships of my registered interests, including the chairmanship of the new royal chartered Institution for Further Education.

During the last few years, I have had the opportunity of visiting many FE colleges, and I soon became aware of the extraordinary variety of provision among them; this is both a strength and, of course, a weakness. It is clear that there are many first-class institutions, as we have heard, which have quickly learned to adapt to the ever-changing requirements of employers in a high-tech environment. Others, although still good teaching centres, are pursuing courses that are no longer so relevant and not so attractive to students. There is still too much duplication of courses by colleges in the same area. That is fine if there is high demand, but our colleges really need now some closer co-operation among themselves if they are to deliver the best quality while making the most sensible use of resources.

The NAO’s report last year suggested that the financial health of the post-16 sector has, as we have heard, been declining. But many colleges have not been able to respond adequately to this and will face serious financial challenges unless they fundamentally reform their offer and their delivery of it.

Announcement of the area reviews last year, and their commencement in September, quite naturally caused anxiety within the FE sector. Would they recommend the closure or mergers of colleges, which would force redundancies? Would they appreciate the excellent work often done by quite small colleges? What about rural area provision, the proper subject of today’s concerns? I hope very much that, as the rest of the reviews take place in the coming year, these concerns will be alleviated.

The reviews will have to show sensitivity to the fact that FE colleges themselves, and this is an important point, are often significant employers of many people and thus considerable contributors to the local economy. It is particularly welcome that the Government recognise the need to support the sector in the implementation of structural changes that may result from the review

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by providing access to a restructuring fund. However, it seems plain to me, I am afraid, that the sector cannot go on just as it is. I hope that the reviews will give some valuable insight into how its provision can be improved.

It is helpful that the reviews are looking not just at the physical location of colleges but at how the imaginative use of modern technology can link learners in different ways to different places. There are innovative forms of curriculum delivery that can help provide a wider experience for students, and which could be of use in rural areas.

The reviewers must keep in mind that although they are operating within administrative boundaries, such as local authorities, business and commerce do not do boundaries, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said. It is essential that the wider economic environment is considered. Some specialist colleges will have students from all over the country and could deal with several dozen local authorities.

Very importantly, from my perspective as chairman of the new royal chartered institution, the reviews are looking at quality—this was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young—and ensuring a strong focus on delivering the right outcomes for learners, including progressing students into high-grade apprenticeships and high-grade technical and professional skills which improve their employment prospects. It is worth remembering that construction-based skills vacancies have more than doubled since 2013, from 5,000 to 11,900, and that of the 900,000-plus job vacancies in England last year, 209,000 were the result of skills shortages.

We most seriously need to attain the Government’s target of 3 million apprenticeships in this Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, hopes, and to provide better and more advanced education and training to the volume of young people who must progress into these British industries, which in future years will drive our economic growth in ever-competitive world markets. I hope that the area reviews, if carefully handled and, very importantly, based on clear and sustainable factual evidence, will help colleges change to meet these needs now and in the future.

5.31 pm

Baroness Pinnock (LD): My Lords, I live in West Yorkshire, where the review has begun, and I am a councillor in Kirklees, which is a large metropolitan authority serving more than 400,000 people. That sounds as if it may be an urban area but it includes very large rural parts. Those of your Lordships lucky enough to have the time to watch “Jericho” or “Happy Valley” will have seen the very landscapes and areas to which I refer. Many young people in my part of West Yorkshire, despite it being largely urban, have similar challenges in accessing further education as do the residents in Somerset to whom my noble friend Lady Bakewell referred.

I have five concerns that I would like the Minister to consider. First, the review does not seem to be responding to the needs of business, which is telling us time and again that it wants the general skills of young

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people to be improved, as well as their particular skills —more learners and learning more often. Secondly, I repeat the point that others have made about accessibility. Without going into the detail, accessibility in my part of West Yorkshire is similar to that in Somerset, although the distances are not as great as they are in Northumberland. But if you live up in the Pennines in Marsden, which is featured in “Happy Valley”, it can take you a very long time to get to Leeds or Bradford, which is where the expertise in the FE colleges can be based.

My third point is about the rationalisation which is one of the aims of the FE review. I have no quarrel with that. From time to time, you have to have a look at what is on offer to see whether it can be improved for the benefit of all. While that is a rational approach on the surface, however, it does not necessarily take into account how students will react to it. From looking at post-16 access figures for the young people who leave the school where I am a governor, I know that they tend to select—this may sound ridiculous—the colleges which they can access. It is not the colleges that might meet their needs; they select by access. That is a rational approach from their end, but it may not be the best outcome for them or for society at large.

Fourthly, it is totally bizarre that sixth-form colleges are included in this review, but not school-based sixth forms. The post-16 landscape should be considered as a whole, if duplication is to be avoided, which is one of the aims. I have a letter from BIS and DfE to the West Yorkshire leaders.They requested that no more sixth forms in schools be opened because they were trying to do this review. The reply was that:

“There are no plans to prevent any schools from applying to do so … Following an area review,”—

and I find this a bit disturbing—

“we expect regional schools commissioners, local authorities and schools with sixth forms themselves to take into account the review’s analysis and findings when considering any decisions about future post-16 provision in the area. Therefore reports and area reviews may make general observations about opportunities for collaboration, improved progression and signposting and efficiency savings across all providers”.

As a councillor, I serve on a scrutiny committee looking into this review in West Yorkshire. What concerns me is that it is not engaging with other interested parties—high schools, sixth forms, students, parents and staff—whose views we ought to take into account. It is focusing on college estates, curriculum duplication and finance. They are all important, but the voice of learners, staff and parents ought to be heard.

This review is not taking into account the wider issues that are essential if post-16 education is to be accessible, meet students’ needs and enable and encourage participation. I hope the Minister will take these comments into account.

5.37 pm

Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on securing this debate. It is important because it affects our young people and their potential life. I declare my interest as I was CEO of Tomorrow’s People for 30 years, and much of what I have learned in this field

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has come from that. I am patron of the Rye Studio School, which serves a large rural area, and am governor of a Bexhill Academy.

None of us would be here today if we did not care. I take great comfort from the fact that we all care that the right thing is done for our young people. However, even in better fiscal times, any business worth its salt will look at what it is doing and ask whether it is doing the best it can and whether there are things it should or should not do. I look on this review as an opportunity to do what anyone would to ensure that we are giving the best we can to our young people in colleges. I hope the review will enable us, within those confines, to give up the best to get the better for people.

Rural areas face a variety of issues, and depending on how rural they are, those issues are exaggerated to various degrees. Noble Lords have already raised the issue of the cost of travel, but is the transport going to the right place at the right time to enable people to get to their college? If it is not, how are we going to get them to work? We need to look at this. We have to make sure that people can learn and get to work, and that is where innovation and opportunity come in.

The other issue they face is in making decisions about their lives. Sometimes in a rural area it is all doom and gloom: “There are no jobs”. But in the areas I have been involved in, that is not what we found to be true en masse. I will come on to that more later.

What should young people study for? Is the right thing being laid on? That has already been referred to. What will help them secure work? Who is helping them understand the labour market in which they live to make sure that they undertake the right training? There is a place in East Sussex called Heathfield. It is not as remote as some of the places that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referred to, but there are issues there. A partnership between East Sussex County Council, the Heathfield Partnership, Tomorrow’s People and the business community has been a real eye-opener. It has been about local solutions and trying to sort the issues that each individual faces, rather than people telling you that you cannot boil the ocean. It is about people and local solutions. They told us that there were no jobs, but the minute we went round the rural community we found jobs. Then we were able to match young people to those jobs and, in all of that, to ensure that they could get to those jobs because there were distances to cover.

One way that was resolved was that the council, the police and crime commissioner and the Heathfield Partnership bought into the Wheels 2 Work scheme, where funding was made available to young people for the loan of a scooter to enable them to get to work. We had a young lad who wanted to become a landscape gardener. An employer took him on and taught him to drive—at his expense. The young lad now has his own van and goes round doing his work. When the boss met him, he took great delight in telling him that every time that van goes out for a day there is £60 in VAT for the Exchequer.

So these are challenging times. The review is challenging but it creates opportunities, including ways to do things in different ways, responding to the needs of

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young people. If noble Lords had been here earlier for the waste debate, they would have heard the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, refer to sell-by dates. Too many young people have sell-by dates on them and I hope that this review will create opportunities and that we can overcome the challenges to make sure they can be at the right place at the right time and achieve their destiny.

5.42 pm

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, this has been a very good debate and we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for initiating it. It has been good in several ways. First, it covered the ground. Secondly, we all seem to be broadly agreed about the opportunities that the area reviews may present, provided that they are a genuine exercise aimed at revivifying a key sector. There are also issues that perhaps need to be built into this that are more than just to do with one area and reflect what was in the initial wording for this debate in terms of the rurality issue.

The key question that the Minister must answer when she comes to respond is the quotation that has already been given from the Public Accounts Committee about whether these reviews will actually achieve the laudable aims for the sector. My quote from that committee is slightly different from those already given, but it makes the same point. The committee states:

“With so many parties involved in running the reviews, there may be no clear process for making difficult decisions on the future of individual colleges”.

I think that fits into the general concern expressed by both those who have spoken today but also the PAC, that this is an interesting—others might say brave—way of conducting a review but it will not necessarily come up with results that are sustainable and robust.

The other side of that coin is what would constitute a more robust and sustainable FE sector. Those of us who are concerned about this—I had a job a long time ago in a further education college so I have some experience—worry that a haphazard and not very clear set of procedures has been adopted. As many people have said, those procedures deal only with FE and sixth-form colleges, and others may or may not be involved depending on their individual interests. There is no student voice and no consistent way of addressing that.

If those were not sufficient problems in relation to individual reviews or indeed the totality of the review process, which of course is still ongoing, there are concerns at the end-point the Minister might wish to help with. Is this genuinely a review for the benefit of the sector and for the young people who will be a part of it or is there a hidden agenda about money? A Minister is on the record saying that the motivating principle is not to save cash. Then he covered himself by saying that it would be quite nice if it did result in reduced costs in the sector. It would be helpful if that could be brought out in more detail by the Minister here when she comes to respond.

Then there is a wider question. What is the Government’s intention here? It is quite hard to read in the Red Book what will be spent in the sector and

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I think it is probably beyond the capacity of the limited resources behind the Minister today to give a full explanation. Perhaps she could write to us to explain what the Government’s three-year to five-year projection is for spending in this sector as it is complicated, for reasons I want to go on to as well.

So much for the reviews. The rural transport dimension has been very well ventilated by noble Lords who have spoken, who live out in the country and have experienced it in real time. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, mentioned, it is not just about FE and the provision of learning, it is also about future careers, jobs and prospects. These two must be seen through the same prism because if you can train but cannot get a job that is not going to be of any real effect.

There are other concerns, raised by the rather good report from the Commission for Rural Communities which was in the Library’s list of reading for this debate. There is the issue of what has happened to careers advice generally in the country but particularly in rural areas, small villages and towns with people not being able to access advice. There is the question of the Work Programme operated through DWP which does not have a rural component and perhaps needs to be better tailored for rural areas. There is the fact that most local authorities have had to abandon youth services because the funding is not there for that. That element is discretionary rather than a main centre and that will mean that there are not proper and appropriate approaches to youths living in rural areas. Underpinning some of the optimism that might be around this is the question of whether we could think about new routes for flexible learning but that heavily depends on broadband. The Minister gave a visual clue there; for Hansard, her eyebrows went up in agreement that there is still a problem with rural broadband. Perhaps she should be a bit more masked in future when she responds to debates but I think we all get the point that this is not working well. Although there may be investment on the horizon, rural areas are still crying out for the ability to operate to a standard which at least is better than dial-up and that is not happening everywhere.

I end by asking one question which is perhaps a little peripheral to this issue but was raised by my noble friend Lord Young: where do apprenticeships fit into this? The Minister may have read with interest the discussions we had when the Enterprise Bill was going through this House in relation to apprenticeships and the good decision by the Government to try to bring forward a gold standard for what constitutes a proper apprenticeship, getting away from some of what look like apprenticeships in name but are not in substance. That is to be applauded. However, we made many points about that in the debate—roundly rebutted by the Minister at the time—on what would actually be there to change the nature of what was being taught and delivered through the apprenticeships programmes. She felt that there was enough going on for that not to be required. However, she write to noble Lords yesterday:

“We need long-term governance arrangement which will support employers to uphold the high quality of apprenticeship standards and be able to respond to the changing needs of business. We intend to amend the Bill at Commons Committee to establish a new independent body; the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA).

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It will operate in England, supporting employer-led reforms and regulating the quality of apprenticeships. It will also have a role in advising Government on apprenticeships funding. We expect the IfA to be operational by April 2017”.

That is bit of a U-turn because this was resisted entirely by her during the debate. I would be grateful if the Minister could add a bit to explain what exactly is the IfA, what its role will be and how it will impact the reviews we are assessing today.

5.49 pm

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for initiating this debate and to all noble Lords for their contributions.

The objective of the area review programme is to ensure that we have sustainable colleges which provide a strong offer to their learners and support their area’s broader economic strategy. Through encouraging greater efficiency, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, the reviews will create the capacity for colleges to reinvest in the offer for their students, so students and improving provision are at the heart of these reviews, driving better quality and greater specialisation. Colleges must be in the strongest position possible to achieve the right outcomes for their learners: outcomes that will enable them to go on to further training or compete in the job market, confident that their training or apprenticeship has given them a firm foundation on which to build. The area reviews will also enable colleges to help deliver our national ambitions to support young people, including creating 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, rightly said, need to be of high quality. I will come back to apprenticeships later.

To get this right, it is important that the reviews are locally led. Each review will have as its starting point the needs of students and local economic objectives, so I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that the business and economic needs of an area are indeed central to the reviews. The views of business will be taken into account. From there, we will examine existing provision and identify the most effective structures for meeting those needs. The review steering groups are composed of a combination of college chairs of governors and principals, local enterprise partnerships and local authorities.

Several noble Lords raised concerns about students. I reassure them that we are keen to engage learners, and the National Union of Students sits on the national advisory group for the programme. It has actively contributed in setting up round-table discussions to ensure that student voices are heard.

As we have already seen from the pilot reviews, which have informed the development of this approach, it will work. Colleges in Nottingham, Norfolk and Suffolk are in a much stronger position now to deliver good quality education to their learners based on the best evidence available to them. Because the reviews are locally led they are well placed to consider the needs of all learners, particularly those in rural areas where access to education is more likely to be impacted by wider factors, such as the availability of transport, which I think all noble Lords highlighted as a key issue, and access to broadband. Most reviews will

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include a proportion of learners who are considered to be living in rural areas. The first two waves of reviews, for instance, included Solent, Sussex and the Marches and Worcestershire.

The reviews will draw on the best available evidence in each area, including information on how current learners travel to study, the current and future demographics of each area, the potential role that technology can play and the future demand for skills and professional and technical education at all levels. They will develop recommendations about the future pattern of provision for the area based on that evidence. Any recommendations about future provision will take account of travel, access and the availability of the right courses for learners in the area now and in future.

In the north-east Norfolk and north Suffolk pilot review conducted in 2015, there was a significant challenge to meet the needs of learners dispersed across a rural area and dependent on limited travel. The options considered took account of this; accessibility was one of the criteria against which they were judged. For instance, while three institutions were merged no campuses were removed, ensuring that learners could continue to access the provision that they needed.

For students in rural areas this may mean that reviews include recommendations on improvements in the use of technology, as my noble friend Lord Lingfield highlighted: for example, to improve online curriculum and assessment or shared services such as information management. I can assure noble Lords that the reviews will examine how transport arrangements can be improved. This may well include the cost of travel. Because local authorities are also involved in the area review steering groups, they can consider how to align travel with the provision needed. Obviously, different reviews will result in different options, depending on the area, the needs of the students and the provision.

Where combined authorities assume responsibility for the adult education budget through devolution deals, successfully conducted area reviews will provide a firm foundation so that provision for adult learners can meet the future needs of local businesses and students, as determined by the local areas themselves.

The area reviews are being supported by an important review undertaken by Landex, as my noble friend Lady Byford will be aware, of the national offer of post-16 land-based provision in England. We expect Landex to report by early March and its conclusions will inform the wider programme of area reviews. This will ensure that land-based provision, which has an important role to play in supporting the rural economy and often has wider application than the area in which the college sits, is taken into account, to ensure that high-quality delivery is available to meet the needs of employers, whether in that area or more widely.

Yeovil College, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned her close local interest, will be considered as part of the Somerset area review, which is currently scheduled to commence this November. This will provide the opportunity for the colleges in this area to consider the best provision for learners and employers across Somerset, and it will undoubtedly consider the impact of the rural nature of much of that county on current and future access to high-quality technical and professional education.

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As I said, business and its needs are central to these reviews. The LEP is on the steering group and involved in the analysis of business demand. An important objective is to align businesses better with the improvement in delivery of apprenticeships. For instance, in Birmingham, as a result of the review, an apprenticeship company is being created with business leadership, drawing on the resources of all colleges. Apprenticeships are very much part of the thinking within these reviews.

Several noble Lords raised further education funding. The coalition Government indeed had to take difficult decisions to reduce the deficit, which included reducing the adult skills provision budget, other than apprenticeships, year-on-year. The Autumn Statement, however, provided a good settlement for FE. Through the new apprenticeship levy, we will see £2.5 billion being spent on apprenticeships by 2019-20: twice the cash amount being spent at the start of the decade. We are expanding our programme of advanced learner tuition fee loans for those over 19. On top of that, we have been able to maintain in cash terms a £1.5 billion per year adult education budget across this Parliament. I will need to write to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, with some of the further details he requested.

The combined adult education budget will provide colleges and training providers with the freedom and flexibility to determine how they use funding, working with LEPs and local commissioners to determine the appropriate distribution of funding to meet local needs best. These reforms represent an overall expansion of funding, meaning that total spending power to support participation will be £3.4 billion in 2019-20, which is a real terms increase of 30% compared with that for 2015-16.

We believe that the current structure of the post-16 education and training sector is unsustainable. We need to move towards a simpler and more financially resilient system which meets the needs of the economy. We recognise that there are circumstances particular to rural communities which the reviews need to take into consideration. Indeed, by referring to different areas, a number of noble Lords have highlighted that perfectly today. The pilot reviews provided an opportunity to test this in Norfolk and Suffolk. To reassure noble Lords once again, that is why we have been clear that the reviews must be tailored to meet local needs, based on the best evidence available and, most importantly, must have learners at the heart of the process.

Baroness Maddock: Will the Minister comment more fully on the reasons why sixth forms in schools in the areas are not included? It seems to me that that is absolutely crazy, particularly in rural areas.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: There is certainly an urgent need to ensure we have high-quality and resilient FE colleges. School sixth forms are included in the initial analysis and general findings but, practically, with more than 2,000 schools with sixth forms compared to 333 FE and sixth-form colleges, it is not going to be possible to cover them in the same degree of detail.

Committee adjourned at 5.58 pm.