PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT INDUSTRIAL TRAINING (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1990

Tuesday 1 May 1990

LONDON: HMSO

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1

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR. JAMES HILL

Barnes, Mr. Harry (Derbyshire, North-East)

Beggs, Mr. Roy (Antrim, East)

Bell, Mr. Stuart (Middlesbrough)

Faulds, Mr. Andrew (Warley, East)

Hinchliffe Mr. David (Wakefield)

Marshall, Mr. Jim (Leicester, South)

Needham, Mr. Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)

Nelson, Mr. Anthony (Chichester)

Nicholson, Miss Emma (Torridge and Devon, West) Norris, Mr. Steve (Epping Forest)

Sackville, Mr. Tom (Bolton, West)

Shaw, Mr. David (Dover)

Skeet, Sir Trevor (Bedfordshire, North)

Stewart, Mr. Andy (Sherwood)

Thompson, Mr. Patrick (Norwich, North)

Walters, Sir Dennis (Westbury)

Warren, Mr. Kenneth (Hastings and Rye)

Wise, Mrs. Audrey (Preston)

Mr. B. M. Hutton, Committee Clerk.

2
3 First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 1st May 1990

[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]

DRAFT INDUSTRIAL TRAINING (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1990

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Draft Industrial Training (Northern Ireland) Order 1990, which was laid on 14th March. Yesterday in Northern Ireland the Government published a new economic development strategy for the Department of Economic Development which spells out the crucial role of the new Training and Employment Agency. The new strategy, "Competing in the 1990's —the Key to Growth", in which the training agency will have a pivotal role, has five essential strands. They are, first, that Government assistance directly tackles the obstacles which prevent industry growing and becoming internationally competitive; secondly, that areas with growth potential are identified and targeted through sectoral studies carried out in partnership with the private sector; thirdly, that the drive for high quality internationally mobile projects is intensified; fourthly, that the development of entrepreneurs and the growth of an enterprise culture is stimulated; and fifthly, but most important to this debate, that the newly created Training and Employment Agency builds up management and workforce skills without which the remainder of the strategy cannot succeed. If Northern Ireland industry is to compete in the international market place, the entire workforce, from top management to shop floor operative, must have the necessary skills, knowledge and flexibility to produce goods and services as profitably as possible and to the highest quality. Recent studies show that too much of Northern Ireland's industry is not as competitive as it should be. Part of the answer to that problem lies in improving the standard of senior management and developing the capability of the work force by improving its skills and broadening its experience. The agency's job is to enable the Northern Ireland work force to obtain the right skills for the 1990s. We already have a population with strong technical aptitude and infinite adaptability. It is essential that we take advantage of that and develop our potential to move Northern Ireland to the top of the competence league. To do that, the new agency, working in partnership with the private sector, must seek to make training relevant to the needs of the Northern Ireland economy in terms of priorities, content, standards and quality. Employers must realise that a trained work force is a motivated work force and that a skilled and confident worker is a more productive member of the corporate team. The Chief Executive of the agency will be helped in these objectives by a competent and talented board which I have already appointed. The board will be chaired by John 4 Spence, who has had a successful career in local industry, and will have the advice and guidance of people such as John Hougham from Ford United Kingdom, Andrew Smith from Marks & Spencer and their colleagues, who are experts on Northern Ireland problems. I expect the board to have an original and innovative impact on attitudes to training. The trade union movement through its members will, I am sure, play a constructive and flexible part. An early priority is the improvement of the standard of management training. One of the agency's five directors will have special responsibility for that. The agency will examine a number of initiatives to get access to relevant management training and development facilities tailored to companies' own circumstances and requirements. The Government spend about £170 million a year on training in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of that money is spent through the training and employment agency. Although a significant proportion is spent on meeting Government guarantees to young people and the long-term unemployed, we are making a substantial contribution to the improvement of skills within industry. The manpower training scheme has had an increase in provision of £9 million in this financial year, bringing the total expenditure to £16.7 million. That will be used to raise skill levels in 250 companies, and by 1993 I expect over 500 companies to be involved. That investment will come to nothing without co-operation and enthusiasm at the top in ensuring that the skills of the work force are fully utilised. The order will wind up the Northern Ireland Training Authority and Industry Training Boards. I should like to pay tribute to the important contribution to training ii. Northern Ireland by the existing training organisations. The Training and Employment Agency will build on those achievements by drawing together the various fragments of the current training system and it will provide dynamic and constructive solutions to our training needs. The 1990s can be a decade of economic regeneration for Northern Ireland. On the success of the Training and Employment Agency will depend the success of much of Northern Ireland's economy

10.35 am

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South): I thank the Minister for taking us clearly through the order and its likely consequences. I also thank him for his expression of hope for the future of Northern Ireland's economy. As we are discussing retraining, I can assume only that my hon. Friends, both those of the official Opposition and those who have constituencies in Northern Ireland, are on retraining programmes. I am sure that they wanted to be here, but need to improve their efficiency and expertise in various aspects of Parliamentary life has taken precedence over the need to be in the Committee this morning. On behalf of my hon. Friends, I apologise for their absence. The Minister has made it clear that there is a need for training in Northern Ireland. The Committee will be aware that I have drawn attention to the lack of industrial efficiency in Northern Ireland compared not only with other parts of the United Kingdom, but with other parts of the European Community. If we are to close that gap it is essential that all aspects of Northern Ireland's economy should be addressed, especially the need for a highly skilled and motivated work force. Undoubtedly, one way of doing 5 that is to increase and improve the impact of training upon not only young people, but all people who are, or might be, employed in Northern Ireland's economy. It is only by having a highly skilled and motivated work force that Northern Ireland's industry will be able to compete nationally and internationally. The Opposition welcome the order for that reason. We believe that it represents an advance and that it will help to achieve at least some of the aims that the Minister outlined. There is a need to ensure that the new scheme in the Province is not over-centralised and remote. I recognise that Northern Ireland is a relatively small place and that the Department of Economic Development will claim—we might argue about it—that it is in touch with everyday thinking in the Province. But even within such a small community, there is still a danger of over-centralisation and of officials becoming remote from real needs. I shall emphasise four specific and constuctive points, which I hope will counteract the tendency to over-centralisation and towards remoteness from the sharp end of industry. There is a continuing need for advice, expertise 'and information. That can be provided only by people at the sharp end—the delivery end—of the required training. First, there is a need for the various sectoral interests in the Province to put their opinions to the Department of Economic Development. I should feel happier if that were put on a more formal footing than is presently envisaged. I do not have a specific structure in mind, but there should be a mechanism whereby the various sectoral interests could have a consultative role to play in formalising training in the Province. That is not a revolutionary suggestion, and I hope that the Minister will accept it. Secondly, the existing system provided for local participation in the delivery of YTPs. How will the Minster encourage that participation in the new system? If it is to succeed, the scheme will be dependent on local people who can deliver the service at the point at which it is required. Thirdly, the YTP in the Province is of increasing importance. We could have a long political debate about its efficacy, but it would not be appropriate to do so here. The importance of that programme was recognised under the existing system, which has a special committee to deal with it. Will the Minister include a formal advisory committee on the YTP in the new agency's structure? Fourthly, I said earlier that there is a danger that the new agency will become over-centralised and too remote and inward looking. Without wishing to denigrate civil servants, I am sure that there is a tendency in the Department of Economic Development—as in all organisations— to be overwhelmed by the power of its own intelligence and intelligence-gathering bodies. We all recognise that there are times when independent advice and information can be a spur to development. Will the Minister assure us that the new agency will have recourse to independent advice and information under the new scheme? I hope that the Minister will reply constructively to my four suggestions. We all wish the new agency a successful future. The future of the Province will depend on the skills and expertise of its work force. Whatever our views on a future political settlement in Northern Ireland, we all want its economy to improve so that all sections of the 6 community can share increased prosperity. That would have a direct impact on the divisions in the Province, and on the political developments there.

10.44 am

Mr. Needham: I welcome the words of the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). I also welcome the news that the benches behind him are empty because his colleagues are on a training course. I hope that the same is true of the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) who is the Ulster Unionist spokesman and who should have been here, whatever training he may need, to put the views of his party. Perhaps he has more important things to do. The hon. Member for Leicester, South may not have had time to read the document that I sent him on our economic strategy for the 1990s. I apologise if he has not received it. That strategy is based on the sectoral approach. Our worry is that the organisations that have been set up in Northern Ireland to deal with industrial and commercial development have been too diverse. We should try to tie them together within sectors. I am determined to ensure that sector working parties will have links with the Local Enterprise Development Unit, the Industrial Development Board and the training agency and that they will be the drivers behind our economic strategy in each sector. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, when it comes to assistance and grants for industrial or commercial development, companies will have to show that they have an acceptable training strategy, a marketing plan and a corporate plan. We are moving away from the idea of giving grants to companies that come forward with capital requests on the back of job creation hopes. That will be a crucial part of our plan. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to have local participation where possible. We shall ask local chambers of commerce and trade for advice. We shall look to local community workshops, local sponsors and local sectoral groups to ensure that the training that we provide in each area of Northern Ireland is relevant. We shall not make that too formal a process, because it will depend on the relationships in various parts of the Province. There is a wide variety of economic arrangements, which we should build on, on the basis of custom and practice, and ensure that we deliver what is required in each part of Northern Ireland. The most important thing about YTP is to ensure that we set tighter targets on qualifications and that we get a higher quality of training into the YTP. The standard is good, but we need to build YTP up throughout Northern Ireland to ensure that everybody who comes out of the programme has a good skill and a good qualification.

Mr. Jim Marshall: I am delighted to hear the Minister refer to the need for skills as part of the YTP. The Minister may recall that I wrote to him recently about the impact of the new YTP on future training. He will be aware that in the Province, especially in colleges, one worry is that the new system will make it more difficult for YTP people to receive formal education as part of their training. Can the Minister respond to those fears? How will he overcome them?

Mr. Needham: The hon. Gentleman is referring to my discussion with community workshops in Northern Ireland, to the job training that they are asked to provide, 7 and to the amount of assistance that we give them. I do not wish to go back through that argument, as the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed it before. Local education and the technical colleges are matters for the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). He is aware of the important link between community workshops, YTP sponsors, companies and technical colleges, which are sponsors themselves. He is in discussion with them, and I shall have a conference in the autumn when we shall examine the community workshop scene to see how it has developed and how the workshops are moving into the new system. It is important that every young person on a YTP scheme in Northern Ireland completes the scheme with the right attitude towards work and a qualification for work. I am determined to ensure that we increase and improve the skills of youngsters in YTP. Fewer jobs are available in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the country, but that is not an excuse for us all to fail to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to find a job through the skills that he or she has learned. That applies also to YTP sponsors in the education sector. They are in discussion with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is aware of their difficulties. The hon. Member for Leicester, South asked whether the new training authority could contract for independent research into any aspect of training problems in Northern 8 Ireland. The answer is that it can. I strongly believe that the key to the success of the new agency will be not only the staff and motivation and leadership that they receive from the top but, most importantly, the quality of the board and its members. I have chosen the board members on a sectoral basis and want them to come forward with strategies for each sector to ensure that in the 1990s we achieve the quality and skills that we require. If we achieve such quality and skills, there is no doubt that Northern Ireland, because of its low-cost base and large number of well-educated bright young people, will have an opportunity to cut itself off from its long dependence on the United Kingdom economy, and do extremely well. The proposals are the catalyst for that success, and if we all work together, as we shall, it will be a great success for the future of Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved. That the Committee has considered the Draft Industrial Training (Northern Ireland) Order 1990.

Committee rose at eight minutes to Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)

Marshall, Mr. Jim

Needham, Mr.

Nicholson, Miss Emma

Norris, Mr.

Sackville, Mr.

Shaw, Mr. David

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Thompson, Mr. Patrick

Warren, Mr.