HC Deb 04 May 2000 vol 349 cc290-2
14. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What representations he has received about the abolition of training and enterprise councils; and if he will make a statement. [119637]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks)

We have been holding regular discussions with TECs and the TEC National Council since the publication of the "Learning to Succeed" White Paper in June last year. Throughout those discussions, individual TECs and the TEC National Council have been supportive of our plans to introduce a new coherent approach to post-16 learning. I welcome that support and the contribution that TEC board members and staff are making to the development of the learning and skills councils.

There are obvious anxieties in the period of transition between TECs and the new learning and skills councils. We are talking with the TECs all the way. I thank all involved in the TECs for helping during that period.

Miss McIntosh

The Minister obviously understands that it is a period of great uncertainty and instability for those working in the TECs. Will he join me in paying tribute to those in such TECs as the North Yorkshire one, which have achieved a certain degree of excellence, particularly in bringing together business expertise and placing those in schools in future employment?

Will the new organisation be so complex and so big, as indicated by Baroness Blackstone in evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, that everyone will be placed, or will some people who are currently employed by TECs be made redundant?

Mr. Wicks

The situation regarding individual TECs is complex because TECs' responsibilities vary a great deal. Many staff will perhaps transfer from TECs to the learning and skills councils. Others, given their functions, may seek places with the Small Business Service or other agencies, including the Employment Service. We are working very closely with TECs to ensure that anxieties can be met and that we have a good future. I join the hon. Lady, as I did earlier, in paying tribute to TECs for much good work, not least the North Yorkshire TEC, which I have some knowledge of and which I visited recently.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the establishment of the South London learning and skills council and the new lifelong learning partnership in my borough of Merton? Does he agree that the Government's new lifelong learning initiatives will be a golden thread that binds the strands of the Department for Education and Employment and will give greater strength and coherence to the Government's approach to welfare reform, labour market reforms and economic reform?

Mr. Wicks

I do indeed agree with my hon. Friend. The great lesson is that we have to make lifelong learning a reality—not only, at the first chance, for those who are aged 16 to 19 but for everyone of whatever age, including those who are in their 50s and early 60s so that they can reskill and retrain. I look forward to the work of the South London learning and skills council, in which my hon. Friend and I have a common interest. I should add that the new Learning and Skills Council will save much money: there will be a £50 million reduction in public spending, which is money that can be used in the front line for learning. Much of that money will be used across the country, but not least in south London and in Greater London. I say that on a day when democracy returns to Greater London.