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First Day of Committee Stage – Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

08 July 2021

On Tuesday afternoon the House of Lords held its first day of the Committee stage for the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. At this stage, the Bill is discussed line by line and any Peer can put forward amendments and request to speak.

Background and what happens at Committee Stage

We have spent the last few weeks working with Peers across all parties to support them to table amendments to the legislation, and to ensure cross-party support on a number of issues. We have recently published our updated list of areas where we think the Bill can be strengthened - this includes a list of the tabled amendments that we broadly support and align to these key areas.

Ahead of Committee Stage, over 100 amendments to the Bill have been tabled, and those that are similar have been grouped together. Each amendment grouping forms a distinctive discussion and is led by a Peer ‘sponsoring’ it. The lead Government representative, Baroness Berridge in this case, then gives the Government’s response. During this stage, amendments are not usually voted on and are often ‘withdrawn’ - however, this does not mean they will no longer be discussed or that they have been addressed.

What was discussed during the debate?

This debate lasted nearly six hours and the amendments discussed focussed on clarifying detail on Local Skills Employment Plan (LSIPs), Employer Representative Bodies (ERBs) and ensuring sustainability considerations are embedded in the legislation. These are areas of the Bill that we had identified as requiring strengthening and further clarity and have been working with Peers to table these amendments, so we very much welcome this scrutiny.

The first grouping of amendments

The first grouping of amendments was opened by Lord Lucas, and focussed on clarifying what the role, responsibilities, and accountabilities of LSIPs are and ensuring no students or providers are left behind in the creation and planning of them and ERBs. It was great to be thanked by Baroness Whitaker during her speech for the advice we had shared with her - she then raised amendments that would require the Government to ensure no child is left behind and for this to become a duty on providers and employers. Peers then raised a number of issues that they wanted clarity from the Minister on, including ensuring that:

  • The interests of students whose needs are not encompassed by local employers are included in LSIPs.
  • ERBs have an understanding of skills that are required nationally, and that may be required by local potential students, but may not yet be required by local businesses.
  • LSIPs provide coordinated strategic all-age careers information, advice, and guidance.
  • LSIPs and ERBs do not place unreasonable burdens on providers.
  • Individuals with EHCP plans and disabled people without EHCP plans are considered and supported in the development of LSIPs.
  • Distance learning providers are taken into account when developing LSIPs
  • Everyone is supported to attain the level of English and/or maths skills they need.
  • LSIPs coordinate careers information, advice, and guidance provision across education providers.

The second grouping of amendments

The second grouping of amendments was introduced by Baroness Hayman and focussed on the environmental and sustainability aspects of the Bill These amendments seek to ensure that sustainability and net-zero aims are embedded within the legislation. It was great to hear Lord Knight highlight our research that 91 per cent of students believe their places of education should actively incorporate and promote sustainability. The rest of the discussion was focussed around:

  • Reaching Net-zero would not be possible without an investment in skills.
  • LSIPs should reflect the need to transition to a net-zero economy.
  • That when designating an ERB, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the body has prepared a climate change and sustainability strategy.
  • LSIPs must report on whether they have taken account of any national skills strategy and consider to what extent the plan aligns with the UK’s net-zero and biodiversity targets.

The third grouping of amendments

The third and final grouping of amendments again focussed on LSIPs. Led by Lord Storey, this discussion sought clarification on who will be involved in both the creation and approval process of LSIPs and ERBs. Lord Watson spoke about the lack of detail in the Bill on this issue, and other Peers were eager to highlight that:

  • LSIPs should involve colleges as joint partners and the input of the wider community.
  • LSIPs need to be collaborative with local further and adult education providers and closely align with existing strategies and plans such as those developed by the Mayoral Combined Authorities and others with influence on funding for skills and education.
  • ERBs should include a wider range of local employer interests including small and medium-sized enterprises, the self-employed, and public and third sector employers.
  • ERBs should be required to publish a conflict of interest policy and required to give regard to national strategies (including the Decarbonisation Strategy).
  • Colleges and other providers should have the power to challenge LSIPs and propose revisions if they believe plans fall short.

The Minister’s response

Baroness Berridge gave the Government’s response after each of the grouped amendment discussions, answering where possible the concerns Peers had raised. In response to many of the issues raised by Peers, she was clear that in the Government’s view, the Bill already addresses many of these concerns. On the role of LSIPs and ERBs, she highlighted that the Bill is meant to be used as a framework and the finer details will be worked through and communicated through statutory guidance after the Bill has passed. However, she made sure to clarify that LSIPs will be required to give regard to national skills needs, including those highlighted by the Skills and Productivity Board, and particularly those focussed on achieving net-zero. A number of Peers also highlighted the need for the sector to be funded properly if these reforms are going to be successful, which is something we’ve been making clear in all the discussions we’ve been having with them in recent weeks, with the Minister setting out the Government’s argument that funding has been increased recently.

Next steps

We were really encouraged by the number of Peers who participated in the debate and who engaged meaningfully with the detail of the Bill. Many of the issues that colleges have been telling us they are concerned about were drawn to the attention of the Minister, and due to the detailed discussion on these issues, Peers were not able to cover all the amendment groupings they had hoped to discuss. Another day of Committee Stage has therefore been added, to ensure that this stage is completed before Parliament goes on its summer recess. These will be taking place on:

  • 15 July – day two
  • 19 July – day three
  • 21 July – day four

We will continue to work with Peers over the next couple of weeks as we progress through Committee Stage and are also continually speaking to officials at DfE to share your concerns about the Bill and the impact that this legislation will have on colleges. We are still waiting for the Government to bring forward details of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement – this will need to be scrutinised at Committee Stage so we expect them to be published shortly and will share further information as soon as possible. We understand that LSIP pilots will be announced later this month and we are expecting further consultations during the summer – we will share more information on these when we have them.