From education to employment

Government defeated on amendment to Further Education and Training Bill

Giving the LSC powers to intervene if an FE institution is being mismanaged has been defeated in the House of Lords by just two votes.

The government were by 159 votes to 157 during a debate on Commons amendments to the Further Education and Training Bill.

Explaining the Liberal Democrats” objection to Commons Amendment No. 1, which increased the Learning and Skills Council’s powers to intervene in the running of FE colleges, Baroness Sharp of Guildford said: “Our main reasons for opposing the inclusion of the amendments and supporting the Opposition’s Motion is that the Minister began by saying that these amendments are necessary if we are to maintain powers of intervention.”

“It is not a question of retaining powers of intervention: the powers are already there. What we are looking at is actually a subtle extension of the powers of intervention on behalf of the LSC. On the one hand, under Section 56A(6), we have the power to direction collaborations. Collaborations are extremely important, but whether directed collaborations are the right way forward is a moot point.”

Baroness Sharp continued: “Under present legislation, the local LSC identifies poorly performing colleges and works with them to improve performance. Often that means a merger or collaboration with a better performing institution; collaboration is a frequently used mechanism. If the college fails to come up to scratch, the LSC can withdraw funding and put that provision out to competition. In the last resort, the LSC may ask the Secretary of State to use their powers of intervention, and it has clearly done so on one or two occasions, although it has never proved necessary for the Secretary of State to issue a formal direction of intervention.”

“The only difference between the current situation and what is being proposed is that the national LSC takes the decision and issues the intervention notice instead of the Secretary of State. Why do we oppose that? The national LSC is an unelected and unaccountable quango. The Secretary of State is answerable directly to Parliament. There must be some element of democratic accountability. Given that the power is not used very much, the democratic element is vital.”

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