§ Mr. Raffan
asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has concluded his review of the Wales advisory board for local authority higher education; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I have now completed the review. The responses which I received to the consultation paper about the future of WAB were overwhelmingly in favour of retaining a central body to plan local authority higher education in Wales. After considering the responses and after further discussions with the parties concerned I have concluded that the Wales advisory board should continue to operate on broadly the same lines as at present. I do not think that there is any need to change its remit or its three-tier structure of committee, board and working groups. I am satisfied that the committee should in the interests of accountability continue to consist of elected local authority members with a Welsh Office Minister as chairman.
Since there is only one voluntary college in Wales I have not been convinced that there is a role for the WAB analogous to that of the NAB in England of advising me on the distribution of resources within that sector. However I shall continue to look to the WAB for advice on the distribution of initial teacher training places and other teacher training matters in both the local authority and voluntary sectors. In view of the arrangements for local authority capital allocations which exist in Wales, which have been developed in close consultation with the local authorities, I do not believe it would be appropriate for the WAB to become involved in making judgments on capital expenditure in local authority higher education.
The WAB was set up as a joint local and central government body by the Welsh Office, the Welsh counties committee and the Welsh joint education committee. It is important that the WAB should be clearly seen as an independent and impartial source of advice on local authority higher education matters in the Principality. In order that it may fulfil that role I have been convinced that it should have the status of an independent organisation. I am therefore proposing, with the agreement of the WCC and the WJEC, to bring to an end the present arrangements whereby they and the Welsh Office all provide a secretary for the WAB with the executive secretary being provided by the WJEC. In future the WAB will be served by its own independent secretariat and will have only one secretary. However, I do not consider it necessary for the WAB to be given separate corporate status.
I am concerned that greater consideration should be given in the WAB to issues which straddle the "binary" line between the public and university sectors. Although a WAB/university liaison panel has been established progress which has so far been achieved in transbinary co-operation falls short of what I would wish to see. I am therefore proposing that in future a member of the UGC should attend the WAB board as an assessor which I believe will help to increase understanding between the 12W sectors. I will want to keep the issue of university representation on the WAB under review to ensure that these arrangements work satisfactorily.
I am grateful to the WAB for the valuable advice it has given and I commend in particular the work it is doing to develop a sound basis for the planning of local authority higher education in Wales. There is much more to be done and there are challenging times ahead for higher education. It is important that the WAB is now seen to be established on a secure footing to tackle the problems and opportunities ahead.