HL Deb 19 February 1992 vol 535 cc1255-7

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the progress being made by the training and eterprise councils.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the Government are very satisfied with the progress being made by training and enterprise councils. TECs are turning their ambitious training and enterprise plans into practical action to improve training and business services in every part of the country.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of the TECs face a critical situation—and that is not an overstatement of the case —due to inadequate funding? Is she also aware that, as a result, there is a distinct possibility that the councils may not sign a contract with the Government for next year? Does not the continuing increase in unemployment make the problem even worse?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I hesitate to say this, but I think that the noble Lord exaggerates the situation. It is speculative; negotiations for next year are still taking place. If we appoint leading and competent businessmen to run the training and enterprise councils, which they are doing with great commitment, we must also expect them to negotiate toughly with the regional officers.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a recent report by the Association of Municipal Authorities states that, although some TECs have established themselves very well locally, others appear to be in decline? The reason appears to be financial pressures, exacerbated by unemployment. In the present situation many employers are unwilling to offer placements. Can the Minister say what can be done about the situation?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am unaware of the source to which the noble Baroness referred. However, TECs are accounted and measured. There is great concern that they should provide —as they were set up to provide—needs totally adapted to the local areas that they are servicing. That was the idea behind their formation. There is a total commitment on the part of the Government that training money should follow the needs of unemployment.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, in view of the report chaired by Professor Fred Bayliss, under the auspices of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which made it very clear that special training needs are not being met, what evidence does the Minister have that TECs are able to meet the training needs of special needs groups? If that was the situation six months ago when the report was issued, can the noble Baroness tell us how those needs will be met with the reduced funding which the TECs are receiving?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, there is a direct relationship between financing and the TECs meeting special needs. There are performance related bonuses which require TECs to achieve special targets on special needs before the payment is made. Therefore, their attention is very much focused on the matter. There may have been delays in some areas, but they are now being dealt with.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that we shall not see similar cuts to those made last year as regards training for special needs? For example, NACRO had to cut 7,000 job training positions and stop 24 schemes. Is the noble Baroness also aware that people who have special needs, and who are therefore very unattractive to businessmen running schemes which are meant to balance, are finding it increasingly difficult to receive any training at all?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's concern. However, I believe that there is a climate out there within which businesses are recognising their responsibilities to the community. As I said, there is a definitive contract commitment to work in this area. The Government are planning to spend £2.8 billion on training, enterprise and vocational programmes.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the Isle of Wight the TEC is largely achieving the kind of aims that she told the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, she was hoping would be achieved? Is my noble friend also aware that, although they have had difficulties—as indeed everyone has—on the whole, both industry and the TEC are working well together, as they are with other local authorities?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comment. Bearing in mind its situation, the Isle of Wight does not have one of the largest TEC budgets. However, my noble friend has emphasised the ability of TECs to work in partnership with education departments, local authorities, career services, employers and, where relevant, development corporations. The success is to be seen in many areas.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when a TEC from Cheshire gave evidence to EC Sub-Committee C about training, there was then a problem about having enough money to transport people, especially in rural areas, to places where they could receive such training? If the TECs are now even more short of money, will that not become a greater problem in the future?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the TECs have their budgets agreed from their corporate plans. Therefore, it is for them to decide the effective use of those finances.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that at present in the county of Somerset there are about 500 17 and 18 year-olds without places on training schemes who therefore receive no social security and consequently get into trouble? What do the Government propose to do about that situation?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I do not have evidence relating to specific areas, but I know that estimating the demand for the programme in specific areas has been somewhat difficult. Young people's true preferences have been hard to judge. It is clear, however, that the number of young people who are currently waiting to enter youth training is now considerably smaller. The Government are adjusting the figures to meet the needs.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, is it not regrettable that just after it has been announced that there has been an increase of 53,000 in the number of people who are unemployed, the Government have decided to reduce expenditure on training next year by £170 million in real terms? Can the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, deny that training and enterprise councils are most concerned about the little money that is available to them to finance both youth and employment training? I believe that the figure is £110 million.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I have heard quoted the figure that the noble Lord has given of a reduction. However, the TECs' budget for next year will be increased by £196 million. The concern of their chairmen is part of their negotiating skills. Nevertheless, the turnover among those chairmen is lower than that in many parts of the private sector.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, perhaps I may assure the Minister that I am not condemning all 82 TECs. I am simply saying that many of them face a critical situation and that the Government are not facing reality. Will the Minister confirm that her department is transferring resources from the northern TECs to the southern TECs?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that the principle behind the resources is that they follow the need of the clients' location. If the noble Lord is referring specifically to his region, one must also draw attention to the other resources in that region, including the development corporation, in which the noble Lord is involved and which has made substantial efforts in training. One must also say that the area is alive and well. It must be pleased to be celebrating the award of its new city status.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, the answer is yes.

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