HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc731-2
4. Mr. Gordon Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to make the TECs more accountable to the communities they serve.

Miss Widdecombe

TECs already consult widely in planning and publish their plans and annual reports. Their performance is open to public scrutiny through the comparison tables published by the Department.

Mr. Prentice

If the TECs are to made more accountable, will the Minister join me in unreservedly condemning the decision of my local training and enterprise council, East Lancashire TEC, to refuse to appoint any elected member from the local district councils and instead to appoint the chief executive of Hyndburn? He has many excellent qualities, but being elected is not one of them. Does the Minister take any responsibility for the mushrooming number of quangos and the anti-democratic culture that they spawn?

Miss Widdecombe

I am rather surprised at that question because ELTEC has the leader of Lancashire county council on its board.

Mr. Paice

But is it not the case that more than 90 per cent. of our work force is in work and that, however important it may be to provide schemes for the unemployed, TECs should be accountable to the businesses that employ those 90 per cent. and on which we primarily rely for the well-being of this country?

Miss Widdecombe

That is why it is important that TEC boards consist of leaders of the business community; that they are involved in partnerships; and that they are delivering training locally according to local business needs and local business perceptions.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

The Minister will have seen the highly critical report that was published by the London School of Economics on the performance, management style and use of resources of TECs in England and Wales. One aspect that worries many Opposition Members is the proposal in that report to halve the number of TECs and thus to make them much larger and less responsive to the needs of their communities. Do the Government intend to respond to that report?

Miss Widdecombe

The report by the London School of Economics was based on much outdated material, and much of the material was gathered when TECs were at fairly early stages. Therefore, many of its criticisms were not well founded. We have no current intentions of changing the present TEC structures.

Sir Donald Thompson

Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the Calderdale and Kirklees TEC in my constituency? Does she agree that, had Labour local politicians tried to help their communities for the past 15 years, rather than blindly opposing any Government policy, TECs would perhaps not have been necessary?

Miss Widdecombe

The answer to that is yes on both counts.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The House knows that many questions have been asked about the accountability of TECs as regards Astra Skills Training Ltd. Precisely why was the Department of Employment prepared to account, and to pay, redundancy payments on civil service terms, to TICC Ltd.'s former employees at the point of bankruptcy, but not to make the same offer to those people who had given many years of service to Astra and lost literally tens of thousands of pounds because of the actions of this Government?

Miss Widdecombe

In the case of TICC, at the point of liquidation, the employees still enjoyed civil service redundancy rights because their terms had not changed. In the case of Astra, the employees themselves had twice agreed to a change of terms.