HC Deb 05 July 2001 vol 371 cc384-6
2. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What recent representations she has received on the responsibilities of the learning and skills councils; and if she will make a statement. [870]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge)

We have received few representations on the responsibilities of the Learning and Skills Council. I have had several meetings with its chairman and chief executive in the past three weeks, and I am confident that the council will make a genuine difference over the coming years to widening participation in learning, driving up standards and improving achievement.

Miss McIntosh

I congratulate the Minister on retaining her post in the Government. I shall share with her some representations that I have received from local firms, which are confused about who is responsible under the new arrangements for the Investors in People initiative and want to know whether it is the Learning and Skills Council or the Small Business Service. Guidance would be most welcome. Can she assure me that businesses will continue to be involved in the delivery of training to young people, as they were so successfully under the training and enterprise councils?

Margaret Hodge

On the hon. Lady's second point, I can assure her that businesses will continue to be involved. On the first, the Learning and Skills Council is responsible for ensuring than we meet our Investors in People target, extend the system and ensure that more people participate in it. However, there is nothing to prevent the Learning and Skills Council from negotiating and contracting with local business links or the Small Business Service to ensure that it delivers. I am pleased to tell the House that in North Yorkshire, which includes the hon. Lady's constituency. 43 per cent. of medium and large companies have attained the IiP standard, as have 132 small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West)

How will the Learning and Skills Council increase participation in post-16 education? [Interruption.]

Margaret Hodge

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just said that I could write an essay on that. However, bearing in mind what you, Mr. Speaker, said about answers, I shall try to keep my response brief.

The Learning and Skills Council will set a strategy and business plan that will be implemented by the 47 learning and skills councils, which will work through existing institutions such as the further education sector and private providers, among others, as well as sixth-form schools and colleges to ensure that we extend participation. Extending participation is an essential part of the Government's manifesto commitment and is not only good for individuals, but key to ensuring that we build economic prosperity.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

One of the responsibilities of the Learning and Skills Council is the funding of school sixth forms. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Wentworth (John Healey), said earlier that there was no equivalence between schools and further education colleges, but the Government's funding arrangements are based on exactly that proposition. Many school sixth forms are under threat from the new funding arrangements under the Learning and Skills Council, which allow fees to be charged. Will the Minister give a pledge today that no school will face a reduction in its funding for pre-16 education as a result of the new arrangements, and that the funding allocated by the Learning and Skills Council to local education authorities for school sixth forms will all be passported to the schools?

Margaret Hodge

In fact, there have been no closures of school sixth forms since the Labour Government were elected in 1997. Any such closures took place under the Conservative Government, pre-1997. We gave a real-terms guarantee of funding at 2000–01 levels to all sixth forms when the funding was transferred to the Learning and Skills Council, provided that they maintained their pupil numbers. That is an unprecedented guarantee. We have instructed the Learning and Skills Council to passport through the entire funding to the sixth forms that will receive funding from it.