HC Deb 17 November 1987 vol 122 cc904-5
7. Mr. John M. Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received regarding the future of industrial training boards.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)

The representations that we have received most recently have concerned our proposals to appoint additional members to the boards, together with representations concerning the role of the engineering industry training board.

Mr. Taylor

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but does he agree that while some industry training boards may have some continuing and residual usefulness, others have become burdensome and oppressive to the industries that they are supposed to serve? Should not their continuing existence be reviewed?

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is right to say that before the last series of reforms many employers felt that these boards represented an unnecessary burden, and that is why we reduced their numbers. Having said that, we keep under review the future of industrial training boards, which obviously includes the EITB.

Mr. Eastham

Is it not a fact that when employers approached the Government to reduce the number of industrial training boards they undertook to deal with the shortage of skills, yet in several questions today it has been pointed out there is a serious shortage of skilled people? Is that not an indictment of what happens when the number of industrial training boards is reduced?

Mr. Nicholls

If industrial training boards are not doing their job, that can be the case only if the non-statutory training organisations are doing theirs properly. There are some good NSTOs and some bad ones. Currently, studies are considering the effectiveness of those training organisations, and we shall consider the position in the light of what we hear.

Mr. Favell

Does my hon. Friend agree that some trade unions are still set on demarcation? Is that why the construction industry training board is opposed to the multi-skill courses? Is it not sensible for a plasterer to be able to tile, or vice versa, in case it rains?

Mr. Nicholls

In this day and age the mere mention of demarcation has a very dated sound to it. It is fair to say that in some industries the concept dies harder than in others. One of the matters with which we must get to grips is that the days when apprenticeships were done purely on a time-serving basis have long since passed.

Mr. Meacher

Was not the Secretary of State's announcement last Friday of a further review of Government skillcentres, which have already been cut from 90 to just over 50, simply a device to cut the number by half again to pave the way for the real objective of the Government—the privatisation of training? When will the Secretary of State get the message that the private sector in Britain already provides the worst trained work force in Europe? It is because we spend only one twentieth of the comparable training bill of Germany, Sweden and other European countries that a public sector lead is vital. The number of skillcentres should be increased, not cut.

Mr. Nicholls

The skills training agency stands or falls on its ability to deliver training efficiently and at the right price for our work force. We need no lectures from Labour Members about our record on training. In 1979–80 Britain was spending only £458 million on youth and adult training; this year we shall spend £1.8 billion.