HL Deb 30 January 1991 vol 525 cc704-6

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to ensure that the recession does not cause a cutback in expenditure on training.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, the Government's plans for strengthening the skills base of the country are unaffected by the economic down-turn. We are establishing training and enterprise councils with resources and influence to transform training locally. We are proceeding with major reforms of education to provide a proper foundation of working skills. These, and other reforms, will provide a strong framework for training, within which it is primarily for employers to decide how and when to invest in skills.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Will he comment on the recent press report that government funds for training for the unemployed will be cut by 12.5 per cent. in cash terms, and that youth training budgets are planned to fall from £907 million to £828 million? That is a reduction of 9 per cent. Is it not unwise in the present circumstances to cut arrangements for training and retraining for unemployed people?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, training is not always the most appropriate solution to the problems that the long-term unemployed face in getting back to work. We are offering a better mix of provisions by expanding by some 100,000 places job clubs and job interview guarantee schemes which already have a track record in helping long-term unemployed people get back to work. Turning to the youth training budget, the resources for youth training will be increased by about £38 million compared with previously planned resources. This includes extra funds for piloting training credits for young people.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, what is the position now as regards one of the best of the training boards, the Construction Industry Training Board? The Minister will know that last week I made a fine speech in which I thoroughly covered the work of the training board. However, the Minister who replied to that debate simply said that he would drop me a line on the matter. That is not very satisfactory. Will the Minister give me some more information now?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I read with great interest the fine speech that the noble Lord made on that occasion. Appointments to the CITB are made for a three-year period. I believe the noble Lord indicated that to your Lordships. As is normal for all non-departmental public bodies, including industrial training boards, a review of the continuing need for such bodies—and in this case for a statutory levy—will be carried out before a decision on reconstitution is made in 1993. However, I understand that my noble friend Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne will write to the noble Lord on the issue shortly.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that money paid through the training and enterprise councils—I believe it is also paid to the TECs—will, at any rate to some extent, be dependent on results? Results are interpreted as the number of jobs which trainees obtain. If that is the case, is it not true that with rising unemployment and in areas where unemployment is highest, funds will be reduced in just the areas and at just the time when it is extremely important to increase training?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct to a certain extent. Targets will be set for the TECs, not only on the number of jobs that are secured but also on the level of training issue and the qualifications gained, especially by youngsters undergoing youth training. I do not agree that the reassessment and the amount of money being passed from one block to another will have the effect that the noble Baroness has referred to.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the recent CBI report, which I understand was published yesterday, highlights the considerable increase in funding for training? That has become an evident and important point in this Government's favour over the past few years.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. They demonstrate the success of our voluntary approach. The CBI survey, to which I believe my noble friend was referring, continues to show that more employers are planning to increase training than to cut it. Here is an indication of a steady employer commitment to training despite the downturn in the economy.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he gave a puzzling reply to my noble friend? The Minister has spoken of TECs. Will he confirm, as I am sure he must, that training in this country is now based on the private sector? In those circumstances, and in view of the many redundancies which are being declared every week, and the reduction in expenditure in industry because of the recession, is it not inevitable that companies and industries will cut costs? The Government have no control over that.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government's role is to help young people to acquire the skills that are needed in the labour market; to help unemployed people to acquire new skills to enable them to find jobs; and to improve the training infrastructure and create a climate in which enterprise can flourish. That is why I detailed what the TECs will be doing. It is their commitment, and the commitment of local industries to TECs, that will result in that programme being delivered.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, will the Minister please confirm or deny the truth of the report, to which I referred, that government funds for training the unemployed will be cut by 12.5 per cent. in cash terms in the coming financial year? Is that report in the Financial Times correct?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I do not believe that the figures have been released, so that is speculation.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that many directors of training and enterprise councils are very despondent because, far from the funds that were promised when TECs were originally envisaged, funds have been reduced constantly? Is he aware that the directors now say that "enterprise" might as well be wiped from the name and very soon "training" might as well also be removed?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I find that a most extraordinary statement. Many of the TECs—and I have visited a few myself—are extremely pleased with the funding that they have received. In cash terms they have the same money this year to do what they and the Government have to do. While the amounts of money in their budgets have been changed, there is a great deal that they can do themselves in directing that money, and that is a demonstration of the flexibility that we needed to build in.

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