HC Deb 20 March 1984 vol 56 c895
5. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are currently attending skillcentres; and how this compares with the position 12 months previously.

Mr. Peter Morrison

There were 11,484 people in training in skillcentres on 30 January 1984, the latest date for which figures are available. At 31 January 1983 the number in training in these establishments was 13,131.

Mr. Powell

Is the Minister aware that that drop of some 2,000 is appalling? Is he further aware that apprenticeship schemes throughout the country have been cut by employers and that that will create a burden? If we have an upturn in the economy as the Government predict, where shall we find the trained personnel that we need? Is it not nonsense to talk about closing job training centres when we should be putting more money into increasing them and the number of available jobs?

Mr. Morrison

I am not aware that the drop is appalling, because the training division of the Manpower Services Commission is spending its money more sensibly. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as a result of the way in which it purchases its training, 2 per cent. more people will be trained in 1984–85 than in the previous year? That seems to me to be a more effective way in which to achieve our aims.

Mr. Ashby

What is the under-used capacity of the skillcentres? What steps is my hon. Friend taking to reduce it?

Mr. Morrison

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been negotiating with the Manpower Services Commission on that matter. In the year ahead the gap between the amount of purchasing and the cost of running the skillcentre training agency will be about £24 million. My right hon. Friend has agreed with the MSC that that gap should be closed to zero in the year beginning 1986.

Ms. Richardson

The Minister will be aware that only 3 per cent. of trainees at skillcentres are women. Effectively, the Government are denying women the right to training opportunities on an equal basis with men while the Government do not provide, for example, nurseries at skillcentres, child care allowances and, most important, more flexible training hours. It is difficult for women with children to take the opportunities that should be on offer while rigidity exists in the skillcentres.

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Lady puts her finger exactly on the point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said in the White Paper that we want more flexible and more relevant training. That might mean the training is not provided in the skillcentres. Whether the training occurs there or elsewhere is relevant only to the extent that the training is of the type that trainees want.