22A Line 8, at end insert—
("(c) must liase with the Regional Development Agency and agree a common operational framework and guidelines with other local councils operating within the area covered by the Agency.").
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 22A. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made clear, Clause 20 deals with the functions of the local learning and skills councils, while Amendment No. 22 deals with cases where the national learning and skills council wants the local council to perform certain functions "out of area".
Clause 21 makes it clear that in drawing up the guidance for each local learning and skills council, the national LSC shall consult with the local regional development agencies. Likewise, Clause 22, which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, makes it clear that in drawing up their own plans the local LSCs must have regard to the strategy of the local RDAs. Amendment No. 26 makes it clear that in drawing up such a plan, they must keep their eye on the economic development and regeneration of their particular local area.
Nevertheless, each local learning and skills council covers only sometimes as little as one-tenth of the area covered by the regional development agency. Usually five or six learning and skills councils will be contained in each RDA, and sometimes more than that. I shall put once more the issue that the Liberal Democrats have stressed many times: given their functions in relation to workforce development and local regeneration, the links between the regional development agencies and the local learning and skills councils must be very close. It is vital that those local learning and skills councils work together—this is a part of the function of Amendment No. 22—but also work together with the local regional development agency. On many occasions we have highlighted the absurdity of the London situation where no co-ordinating committee exists. However, we are delighted to see on the record a commitment from the Minister which implies that some element of co-ordination will be established in that case.
However, the problem does not apply only to London, it applies in many other regional areas such as the North East and the North West. The aim of this 789 amendment is to ensure that such liaison does take place and that the requirement is written on to the face of the Bill.
Moved, That Amendment No. 22A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 22, be agreed to.—(Baroness Sharp of Guildford.)
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, perhaps I may attempt to deal with the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We agree with her that RDAs' responsibilities for skills and economic development at the regional level should be woven into the work of the local LSCs. We must draw the link between the regional and the local. That is why the Bill already requires extensive co-operation and consultation in at least four ways: first, RDAs must be consulted by the national council on its draft guidance to local LSCs, as required in Clause 21(4). Secondly, the strategy of the relevant RDA must be taken into account by the local LSC when it is drawing up its annual plan, as required by Clause 22(4)(b). Thirdly, RDAs must be consulted by the local LSCs on their draft annual plans, as required by Clause 22(5)(a). Fourthly, the RDA must even be consulted by the national council on whether the local LSC's plan should be approved, as required by Clause 22(6).
By any reckoning, these extensive requirements mark out how important the regional dimension is to our proposals and underline how influential will be the role of the regional development agencies and their regional skills strategies in the new arrangements.
We do not believe that it is necessary to add yet a further layer of requirements in the Bill to ensure agreement on a common operational framework. Many noble Lords have urged us to avoid bureaucracy and we remain very mindful of that sensible advice. But if the noble Baroness's concern is that there should be effective co-ordination of all the neighbouring LSCs operating within a region, I hope I can reassure her further on that point. When these issues were discussed extensively in Standing Committee in another place, there was a broad recognition of the importance of effective consultation across borders. The Government made a commitment that the Secretary of State in his initial guidance to the national council would stress the need for the LSC to consult widely and to take full account of the activities of other partners at both the local and regional level in the planning and delivery of its functions. Consulting widely will, of course, mean that neighbouring local LSCs will maintain an ongoing and productive dialogue with each other at all times. I am happy to reaffirm that commitment today. The Secretary of State's guidance will stress the importance of neighbouring local LSCs within a region working together within a framework which supports the relevant regional development agency's strategy.
I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will agree that the Bill already guarantees the regional dimension that she seeks, and has done since the Bill's early stages 790 in this House. I hope, too, that the further reassurances that I have attempted to give will enable her to feel that she need not press her amendment.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I wanted to make a comment on Commons Amendments Nos. 22 to 26. Something that the noble Baroness said about a London co-ordinating body makes me feel that it is right to do so now, and I hope that I am in order in doing so. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who raised the matter in this House with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, would probably speak to this amendment, but he did not.
There was quite a discussion on this matter at Report stage in another place. Mr. Brooke, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster, raised the subject. It is important that there should be a co-ordinating body for the five LSCs in the capital. I need not go into the reasons for that. They relate to transport, business, labour management, and so on.
The Minister, Malcolm Wicks, gave a reassurance on the matter. Although there is nothing on the face of the Bill, it would be helpful if in this House the Minister could give a similar reassurance that there will be an opportunity for a London co-ordinating body.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, as always, I find the noble Baroness irresistible. As the matter of London has been raised, perhaps I may return to it. I read with great interest the report of the debate in another place when the matter was raised by the right honourable Member for Cities of London and Westminster, including the response from the Minister, Mr Wicks.
I raised the subject in February, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. Since then, we have elected a Mayor and a Greater London Assembly, and we have appointed a London Development Agency which is now up and working and has assumed its powers. At each stage, the Government have moved a little further in their reassurances. I noted that the right honourable Member in another place hoped that the Minister might write to him giving further details and placing more emphasis on the matter. I do not know whether such a letter has been written. It would be of great help and interest to us all if the Minister is able to say a little more today about what is envisaged specifically for London, given that the other players, including the chairman and the chief executive, are in place. That said, I welcome the commitment from the Government, as far as it goes.
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady David and to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Since we last discussed these matters, the noble Lord has been elected to the new Assembly and continues to take an active interest in matters relating to the Bill.
The answer to my noble friend is: yes, I give the same reassurance as the Minister gave on Report in another place. The Government Office for London is beginning discussions about the establishment of the co-ordinating body as recommended by the London Development Partnership. When the local chairman 791 and executive directors are in place, we can take forward the arrangements. That is as far as I can go today. I hope that my reply gives satisfaction to noble Lords who have spoken.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. It is good that we have arrived at a satisfactory arrangement in relation to London. I hope that similar arrangements, perhaps slightly less formal, will obtain in other regional development agency areas. The question of coordination is, as the Minister stressed, extremely important. In the light of his reassurances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment No. 22A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 22, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Motion agreed to.