Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 28 November 2007

Training for Success

28 November 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Jimmy Spratt (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Ms Anna Lo
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Robin Newton
Mr Alastair Ross

Witnesses:
Mrs Catherine Bell ) Department for Employment and Learning
Mr Des Lyness )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
Good morning, Ms Bell and Mr Lyness. You are very welcome. Your presentation will be followed later by a briefing from the Minister, so we have a busy agenda today. We would like you to provide us with an update and then members will ask questions.

Mrs Catherine Bell (Department for Employment and Learning):
Thank you. We welcome the opportunity to update the Committee. As we have said on previous occasions, the Department would be reviewing the Training for Success programme on an ongoing basis; we would not wait for 52 weeks to find out how things were going.

We provided the Committee with information about activities undertaken by our assistant contract managers, our contract managers and the inspectorate. We have also informed the Committee about events organised by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA). Senior departmental officials have visited some organisations to get a feel for how things are going. We have also had meetings with the further education (FE) colleges, the Construction Industry Training Board and the Construction Employers Federation (CEF). Work with the CEF is ongoing.

In addition, we have arranged for training organisations outside the FE colleges to meet with departmental officials, the inspectorate and careers staff on 6 December 2007. That will be an open review with all of the organisations to find out how things are going.

Prior to the introduction of Training for Success, a number of organisations expressed concern about the length of time that young people would spend in the training organisation or college at the beginning of their training. They felt that that would be demotivating. Their thinking was that as those young people did not want to stay at school, nor would they want to stay in a training organisation or college. However, those organisations are now telling us that they appreciate having trainees for a concentrated period, because it helps them to develop a good relationship, to get a good handle on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and to tailor better a programme for them. That is all positive.

The organisations are also saying that they appreciate the fact that they no longer have to work towards a national vocational qualification (NVQ), because they had to be assessed under operational pressure. Training for Success allows young people to develop an understanding of the professional and technical area, rather than merely ensuring that their skills are up to date. Retention rates are also much better while those young people are in-house, but the training organisations did not expect that to be the case. They expected young people to vote with their feet and leave. Those are all positive results.

However, as one would expect, the organisations have raised some issues with us, which is one of the reasons why we want to meet with them on 6 December. One issue that they have raised is the fact that the trainees are with their providers for 35 hours a week. The providers are telling us that 35 hours a week is hard on the staff and on the trainees. They have also said that each of the programmes, under the job ready element, allows the trainees to go on day release at different times. In one programme, they may be allowed day release once a week, whereas in another programme, they may be allowed it twice a week. That is causing some confusion and unhappiness among the trainees. The training organisations would also like the Department to provide more clarification on the range of qualifications that they can use. We will pick up on those issues at our meeting on 6 December.

Another item that the Committee should be aware of is that Training for Success has introduced, for the first time, the requirement for a detailed personal training plan. Although young people on the Jobskills programme had to have training plans, the Training for Success personal training plan is detailed and takes organisations considerable time to complete. Therefore, we have had to extend the length of time for organisations to notify the Department about their trainees, because they will submit those training plans to the Department. The figures that we supplied to the Committee are on the low side because not all of the organisations have submitted their figures yet.

In addition, we employed the LSDA to run a training session on personal training plans, which was very successful. However, when we began to receive the plans, they were of varying quality. Therefore, we asked the LSDA to run a second training day, which it did earlier this week.

That completes my introduction. Des and I are happy to take questions.

The Chairperson:
Thank you. You are aware that the Committee has concerns about Training for Success. Without fear of contradiction, those concerns have been raised at every Committee meeting — or at least some issue about it has cropped up. I take on board that the Department is bringing together the training organisations for an open review on 6 December. Are there plans to bring the students together to ask their views about the programme?

Mrs Bell:
Yes. We will be engaging with the young people after 6 December. During our visits to participating organisations, I have spoken to trainees, because they are best placed to tell us their views on the programme.

The Chairperson:
Have you any idea when that will happen?

Mrs Bell:
It will have to be after the open review on 6 December. The apprenticeship programme does not appear to need any change except that the CEF is requesting a 13-week lead-in period, and we are discussing that with them because the Electrical Training Trust (ETT) does not seem to need that lead-in time. Setting that issue aside, the apprenticeship programme seems to be working fine.

We are in the process of establishing the expert group for trainees with disabilities or learning difficulties. After 6 December, we want to establish a group of practitioners, to include a trainee and a representative of the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), to review each strand of Training for Success and suggest changes. We will make those changes as soon as possible: perhaps reducing the number of hours worked or reviewing the number of days that trainees spend on employers’ premises.

There is concern that the programme aimed to get as many people into employment as possible, and it appears that the figures for the pre-apprenticeship programme are high. At one level, that is good because young people will gain sound underpinning knowledge and training away from operational pressures, and they will develop essential skills. However, we need to avoid falling back into the trap of employers preferring the Department to pay for training but not wanting to fulfil their obligations to employ. We must keep a close eye on that.

The Chairperson:
There still appear to be problems on the construction side. Will you highlight those for us?

Mrs Bell:
The CEF is asking that instead of an apprentice being employed from day one — as has always been the case and for which the organisation managing the programme receives a substantial grant — he or she should attend a training organisation, such as a college, for 13 weeks. During that time, the CEF wants the Department to pay for the training.

The federation has also said that it then wants a stage-two training programme, and that if a young person has not been employed, that he or she will continue to be paid for up to 52 weeks, during which time the employer can, at any stage, engage them.

The federation also wants to set a rate for the payment of an apprentice once he or she gets employment. The Department is loath to get involved in that because that is not within the remit of Training for Success. As long as a young person is not being paid less than the minimum wage, we can not mandate on rates of pay.

The CEF is saying that it likes the 13-week employability strand and wants that extended to all trainees, including those not employed from day one. However, the ETT appears to be able to handle employment from day one.

The Chairperson:
Given where Training for Success has come from, you can understand why the Committee has concerns. You are probably aware that the ETI gave evidence to the Committee, and there seems to be confusion between what it said and what the Department has said regarding inspections. Will you clarify that?

Mrs Bell:
The Minister will be replying to an oral question on the issue. When individual inspectors carry out an inspection, they may not be inspecting the full organisation; it may not be an institutional inspection. There are different types of inspections and visits, including district inspections in which inspectors visit an organisation that they have responsibility for. One of the pieces of work that they are doing, and have been doing since September, is to examine organisations’ self-evaluation and quality improvement plans, which address weaknesses that have been identified. That work will completed in December.

Specialist inspectors have visited training organisations, including those that train people in business studies, carpentry and joinery, engineering, motor vehicle mechanics and so on.

A range of inspections, which were already planned and were in the Department’s business plan, will take place between now and December. Furthermore, inspections until 31 March 2008 have been agreed with the ETI. The new programme of inspections will start from 1 April 2008 and is currently being discussed with the ETI.

The Chairperson:
Can the Committee be supplied with a copy of the schedule when it is agreed?

Mrs Bell:
Yes, although it will have to be kept confidential.

The Chairperson:
There was an article in a local paper on Sunday about the letter that we received from the Donnelly Group. That letter raised our concerns. The article states that:

“The publication of the letter from Mr Donnelly now shows that the second facility which the civil servants assured the committee had been arranged had in fact not been arranged at all, and still has not been arranged.”

I know that we are working through the issue. However, the reason I am raising it is to demonstrate why the wider community has concerns. We are going to deal with the issue.

The article goes on to say that:

“It is estimated the North needs 270 apprenticeships in motor mechanics this year. About 150 young people are currently training at Mallusk. But there is not a single training place in the north west.”

Again, that was a point that the Committee kept raising. We have been talking about getting closer to communities and young people. However, it seems that apprenticeships and training are being moved further away.

Mrs Bell:
I will have to come back to the Committee on that issue.

We have it in writing and in an email that there are two organisations working with Carter and Carter Group plc, which we have followed up. One is Customised Training Services in Strabane, and the other is Rutledge Joblink. I cannot give the Committee any more information than that, but we can follow up with our contract managers to arrange visits to those organisations.

The Chairperson:
It is confusing when information comes to the Committee through newspaper articles.

Mrs Bell:
The Department will give the Committee a full picture on the location of motor vehicle apprenticeships. As regards the second organisation, I do not know where that information has come from.

Mr Spratt:
You mentioned that there was a programme of inspections, and I assume that it is a rolling programme. Given that there are concerns about certain areas, are snap inspections possible? For instance, if problems are identified in specific areas, can inspectors walk in unannounced, so that there is no time for preparation?

Mrs Bell:
The process is something that the Committee needs to discuss with the ETI, but when the Department agrees a programme of inspections it is by negotiation, and it is based on risk. That programme will be carried out between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009. Specialist and district inspectors can go into organisations at any time, unannounced. That is part of their role.

Specific district inspection visits, which look at quality improvement and self-evaluation plans, would usually be arranged with organisations in advance. My background is in inspection, and that is how things operated. District and specialist inspectors do have time to plan their own visits. If the Department were concern about a specialist matter, we would get in touch with a specialist inspector, or the assistant chief inspector, and ask one of them to investigate.

Mrs McGill:
I apologise to everyone for being late.

Catherine; thank you for the very substantial documentation, and again I am sorry for missing the initial part of your presentation. When I arrived, you were saying that the numbers taking up Training for Success programmes have increased compared to previous programmes. That is not the information that I have received. Are you content with that?

Mrs Bell:
What I said — or intended to say — was that unlike the Jobskills programmes, where the organisations have to provide information to the Department within 13 weeks, Training for Success organisations, because of the emphasis on personal training plans, which we now know are taking a considerable amount of time to complete, do not have to have everything with the Department until 20 January, so we will not have the complete figures until then.

At the moment, it appears that the numbers are lower, but that is because we do not have information from all of the centres.

Mrs McGill:
I want to comment on that. I was surprised that it was being said the numbers were up, because I was given figures, and they are down.

Mrs Bell:
I am not saying that the figures are up. What I am saying is that the figures are down on those for Jobskills, but that that is not unexpected as all organisations have not sent in their information yet. We do not have a complete picture at the minute. The picture will be complete by 20 January.

Mrs McGill:
What is the trend?

Mrs Bell:
From the figures that we currently have, it would appear that the trend is downward. However, we do not have the information from all the organisations and, therefore, I cannot comment any further.

The Chairperson:
Is it possible that you might have a better idea when the groups are brought together on 6 December?

Mrs Bell:
Yes. We could take a straw poll.

Mrs McGill:
I understand that the framework for electrical and technical services is provided by a firm in Ballymena and covers all 26 contract management areas. Do all apprentices in the North go to Ballymena?

Mrs Bell:
The ETT, which is based in Ballymena, manages the contract on behalf of all of Northern Ireland. We know that that organisation is successful; it has an 80% success rate for apprentices. There is an issue regarding the north-west, and we have just had a consultant’s report on an investigation that has been carried out. I cannot give members the outcome of that investigation yet. We do not know whether the issue is with ETT or with the college. We have carried out a full study, and the Committee will receive a copy.

The Chairperson:
When was that completed?

Mrs Bell:
I am sorry; my mind has gone blank. I will have to ask Nuala for the details, as I was not closely involved. However, we can certainly give the Committee that information.

Mrs McGill:
My question refers to the Chairperson’s point about provision of motor-mechanic programmes for people in the north-west. When I raised the issue initially, I was concerned about people from Derry and Strabane having to go to Mallusk for training. It then appeared that someone in the Derry area — I will not name the company — was providing the service. Is the service being provided in places other than Ballymena?

Mr Des Lyness (Department for Employment and Learning):
Although the ETT is based in Ballymena, it subcontracts with FE colleges in the regional areas, and the delivery of the technical training would be carried out there. The final test — the AM2 test — that the young people have to go through would be carried out at the ETT. However, the young people are trained in their local area.

Mrs Bell:
There is an issue between the ETT, the north-west and the college. I am not sure where the balance of responsibility lies, and that is why the investigation was carried out.

Mrs McGill:
Could the training be carried out at the college in Omagh?

Mrs Bell:
That could happen. I do not want to mislead the Committee and say that the training for the ETT is done in the North West Regional College, or in Omagh, or wherever, because that was the subject of the investigation. I will have to come back to the Committee on that.

Mrs McGill:
Thank you, Catherine.

The Chairperson:
Catherine, you must have been aware that there were problems in order to bring in a consultant to look at the matter.

Mrs Bell:
The issue was raised by an MLA. I am talking from memory, and I would need to look at all of the papers.

There appeared to be fewer apprentices in the north-west than in other parts of the Province. However, when we looked at the provision for electrical training at the college there appeared to be many more people taking up that training through mainstream further education than were coming through the apprenticeship route. That is why we carried out the investigation. It had nothing to do with the fact that we thought that anything was afoot. I apologise that I am being vague on the issue, but it is some time since I looked at the matter.

The Chairperson:
The Deputy Chairperson and I have tried, at every opportunity, to work closely with the Department, and we have built up a good relationship. The Department and the Minister are well aware of the Committee’s concerns on Training for Success. It would have been common courtesy for the Committee to have had a copy of the report.

Mrs Bell:
I do not think that the report has been published yet. We have only a draft copy.

The Chairperson:
Can the Committee have a copy of the report as soon as possible?

Mrs Bell:
Yes, of course.

The Chairperson:
The Committee needs to be made aware if a pattern of problems is emerging. We are looking at this subject regularly, and we will hear information from ground level.

Mrs Bell:
Our investigation was not in relation to Training for Success and was not about apprenticeships under the new Training for Success programme. An allegation was made that there were fewer apprenticeships in the north-west coming through from the ETT.

The Chairperson:
Similar issues will come to the Committee.

Mr Newton:
Catherine and Des, thank you for attending. Members have concerns, and it is right that they should be raised at this meeting. They have already been raised in the press.

I believe that we have moved a long way from the fiasco of the Jobskills programme — and a long way in the right direction. While aspects of the Training for Success programme may well need attention, the underpinning ethos is right, and the approach is going in the right direction.

The economy is demanding higher levels of skills, and it is demanding people with qualifications that are transferable throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, which tend to be at apprenticeship and technician level. Training for Success has brought together several strands and programmes at different levels, from level 1 to level 4.

My first question relates to the need for more time to be spent with people who have essential skills needs, say at levels 1 and 2, and also to provide more stretching work and qualifications for those at levels 3 and 4. Is there merit in distinguishing between those two groups, but always ensuring that there is a pathway from level 1 to level 4? What is the Department’s attitude to that approach?

I am pleased to hear that there are personal training plans — that is certainly a step in the right direction — and that the Department is seeking consistency in the quality of documentation produced. What obligation is on the employer to provide skilled instruction to the apprentice or trainee while they are with the employer?

In my experience, a very willing apprentice, or trainee, can be placed with a person who is skilled at the job, but who is not skilled in the art of teaching the job. I do not know if there are requirements to ensure that skilled instruction is being delivered in a professional way to the trainee.

Mrs Bell:
The Department’s view is that apprenticeship needs to be separated completely from Training for Success, and should be called the apprenticeship programme. We wish to discuss that point on 6 December, because apprenticeships have a status and value that we must promote.

The remaining strands — personal development; skills for work at level 1; pre-apprenticeship and employability — should all be branded under Training for Success, with the key aim of either a young person progressing to an apprenticeship if they are able to do so, or progressing into employment, because the apprenticeship programme is taxing.

An NVQ for a technical certificate is broad based, requires essential skills, and is very demanding. However, there is no reason why a young person who, for example, completes a personal development programme, or a skills-for-work programme, and who may not be capable of doing the whole apprenticeship framework at that moment, should not progress into work. The programme needs to be broken into two distinct areas.

On specific skills training by employers; it is the responsibility of the organisation that we contract with to ensure that the employers that they place young people with are capable of providing skilled training. Young people will get skills training during their off-the-job training in a college or a training organisation, but that is where the Department relies on the inspectorate, because it not only visits, and inspects, the training organisations — the colleges, or the other kind of training organisation — but also the apprentices in the workplace, and makes a judgement on the quality of training being given there. However, while its reports refer generally to employers, they do make it clear that it is the responsibility of the contracted training organisation, or body, to make sure that the training provision is of the right standard.

The Department would like to move, and over time I have no doubt that it will move, to a position in which all organisations who deliver training will be trained to the standards set by the Lifelong Learning UK sector skills council. That will not be a big jump for the FE sector, but it will take some time to introduce those standards to other organisations. After that we will need to look at the employers, but it is the responsibility of the contracted organisation to ensure that the employer is up to scratch.

Mr Newton:
Perhaps I did not phrase my question terribly well: does the personal training plan contain a document that stays with the trainee during the course? You said that some of the standards are not what you would like, but is there a national standard for the personal training plan?

Mrs Bell:
My understanding is that the Department arranged for the LSDA to work with us on that matter. That organisation has the benefit of viewing standards of provision across the United Kingdom.

Mr Lyness:
The idea behind the plans is that they set out the young person’s training needs and the milestones that he or she should achieve. The plans stay with the young people while they are on the programme. The LSDA uses best practice to set the standards.

Mrs Bell:
During one of our recent visits, a reputable organisation asked us whether they can continue to use personal development planning as they have been using that particular system for some time. We have committed to opening up the subject for debate on 6 December 2007. There must be a minimum standard, and it should be in line with best practice. However, if an organisation has gone some way in developing such a plan, we would like to build on that work.

The Chairperson:
For information, the LSDA will provide evidence to the Committee on 16 January 2008.

Mr Attwood:
There are various levels of inspection of training organisations. Is there a dedicated inspection of the new providers who have been awarded contracts for the Training for Success programme? The ETI advised us that the schedule for the inspection of training organisations was agreed before the award of the new contracts. The inspectorate told us that those new organisations are not included in the schedule; therefore, dedicated inspections may not take place.

Mrs Bell:
Every organisation, whether new or existing, carries out self-evaluation and self-improvement programmes. If an organisation is included in the schedule of inspections between now and April and it offers the Training for Success programme, that programme will be inspected, because it is the organisation that will be inspected. We are in the process of determining with the ETI what will happen with new organisations. However, it is highly likely that they will be inspected in the first raft of the new inspections.

Mr Attwood:
The first raft of inspections will take place in April 2008.

Mrs Bell:
That is correct. However, if there were cause for concern during an inspector’s district or specialist visit, or if our contract managers identified a cause for concern, there is no reason why we could not ask the inspectorate to carry out a specialist visit or to swap one organisation for another on the list. We work closely with the inspectorate.

Mr Attwood:
Given that the Committee has expressed concerns about one or more of the training organisations; as of the end of November, the inspectorate has not been instructed to take on inspections. The inspectorate has written to the Committee to advise that if certain issues were raised with the Department, it would, in turn, raise them with the inspectorate and make a request to carry out an inspection. The Chairperson has referred to a press article. Also, in the light of the issue between Carter and Carter Group plc and the Donnelly Group, I believe that we have reached the point where the instruction should be issued.

Mrs Bell:
We can consider that, but the inspectorate has limited resources. The inspection programme between now and the end of March has been agreed on a risk basis. The inspectorate would have to assure us that it is necessary to replace one of those inspections, bearing in mind that our contract managers, assistant contract managers and specialists are out on visits.

Training organisations are being visited quite often. We visited an organisation last week and were told that it has received eight visits since September, three from departmental officials and five from inspectors. Therefore, the issue is not that organisations are not being inspected; it is perhaps that they are not having institutional inspections.

An institutional inspection examines every aspect. Therefore, it is more useful to let the programmes bed down before looking for developing trends.

Mr Attwood:
The inspectorate made the same point, but I wonder whether we have reached the tipping point.

Mrs Bell:
We will certainly consider what the Committee has said.

Mr Attwood:
Does the problem of confirming the number of trainees for Training for Success exist in training organisations across the board? Is it concentrated among new training providers or does it comprise a mixture of new and old? I am asking this because, at the end of August, an established training provider told me that a new provider was desperate to get hold of trainees who had been on its books. The new provider had anticipated, and planned for, being awarded a training contact to begin on 1 September 2007, for which it had been recruiting trainees. The new provider was, therefore, trying to persuade the existing provider to hand over its trainees.

Mr Lyness:
No. The difficulties and delay in getting the numbers onto the register were due to minor IT glitches; the real problem is the volume of work required due to the quality of the input that the Department is requesting for personal training plans. We are not aware of any particular trend: the problem exists across the board.

Mr Attwood:
Did the Committee get an answer on the situation involving Carter and Carter Group plc and the Donnelly Group? The Donnelly Group advised the Committee that claims that they had an agreement with Carter and Carter Group plc were inaccurate?

Mrs Bell:
We responded to that, although I am not sure whether we did so orally or in a written response. Carter and Carter Group plc had an oral agreement with a manager in the Donnelly Group that had not been confirmed in writing with the chief executive. Carter and Carter Group plc has since written to the Department and has sent a written apology to the Donnelly Group. It has now entered into a partnership with the two providers that I named earlier.

Mr Attwood:
Are you saying that Carter and Carter Group plc, in its advice to the Department, relied on an oral understanding?

Mrs Bell:
Yes.

Mr Attwood:
What is your view on a training provider relying on an oral understanding with another organisation?

Mrs Bell:
It seems most unwise: it would have been better for Carter and Carter Group plc to have had the contract signed, sealed and settled.

Mr Attwood:
I concur with that. I have a final question.

The Chairperson:
Sorry, Alex; the situation was raised in a press article, and I did not want to go over it again. I know that there has been an oral question on the subject, but for the purpose of the Committee’s inquiry, the response must be in writing, even if it is in the form of an outline.

Mrs Bell:
I apologise because I thought that we had sent a written response to the Committee. I will send it to you.

The Chairperson:
You inundate us with papers for some meetings and for others we get none.

Mr Attwood:
Did any training organisations, other than Carter and Carter Group plc, rely on oral contracts as part of their application for the award of the contract?

Mrs Bell:
I am not aware of any, but I vaguely remember a college, though I cannot recall which one, telling me that a training organisation, not Carter and Carter Group plc, had named it in its bid to the Department. However, the college did not make an issue of it, and I cannot remember the name of the training organisation.

Mr Attwood:
The priority areas that have been identified reflect the increasing opportunities in tourism and IT. Bearing in mind that some of the bids in the CSR were not met, could there be a problem in a year or 18 months that there will not be enough people with the necessary skills base to take up the job opportunities that may be on offer?

Mrs Bell:
As regards IT, the issue is wider than Training for Success. We have been working extremely hard to raise the profile of the IT industry. The difficulty is that it is not an attractive industry to young people, and not many people are applying to our universities and colleges for higher-level IT courses.

Invest NI, Momentum, e-skills UK and ANIC have developed — and we have supported — a conversion course known as ‘Software Professional’. In that course, people are retrained in software engineering, and it is open to those with a degree in any discipline. The IT industry is closely involved with the course, and all 29 people who took part in the pilot scheme have got sustained jobs in the industry. Around 67 people are taking part in the second pilot scheme, which is ongoing. ANIC is recruiting another cohort to start after Christmas and a third will start after Easter.

The difficulty has been that employers have been reluctant to employ anyone who does not have a degree. Therefore, the numbers of people on IT apprenticeship programmes are not as high as they might be. However, that is the responsibility of employers.

The Department recently had a presentation from an organisation that has had some success in working with young people who do not have high-level qualifications. It has been able to get young people well-paid, sustainable jobs in the IT industry, and we are working with that organisation. Therefore, the Department has paid specific attention to IT issues. We have a future skills action group, which focuses on IT, and we have recently appointed an officer in the Department whose sole responsibility will be to support that industry. In addition, MATRIX, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel will be reporting around March on research and development capabilities. We want to use those results to ascertain where we should be targeting our skills; not necessarily our low skills, but IT skills as well.

Part of the difficulty regarding tourism and hospitality is that it is not an attractive industry. The hours and salaries make it difficult to attract young people, in particular, into the industry. However, there are provisions through FE colleges and there is an apprenticeship programme. ANIC is meeting with Howard Hastings from the Hastings Hotels Group next week to ascertain what else can be done.

Mr Spratt:
As regards Carter and Carter Group plc and the Donnelly Group, it was suggested during meetings that the Chairperson and I had with unions and other people that some of the successful bidders had named senior people from particular colleges, including the Belfast Metropolitan College — which I think was raised with the Department — during the procurement process. Would it not make sense in future procurement processes for written references to be sought where an individual or group is named as part of a bid?

It transpired that some of the individuals concerned had not been aware that their names had been used in successful procurement processes. Could it built into the process that where a company is naming an individual, it must have some sort of written backup from that individual, the senior person in the college or, where a company such as the Donnelly Group is involved, that there is a clear indication in writing that an agreement has been copper-fastened before they are determined to be successful? It makes good sense and is, perhaps, something that the Department should consider. It should apply in all procurement processes, because such situations cannot continue.

Mrs Bell:
We will write to the central procurement directorate on that point. The issue is not specific to Training for Success; it relates to all procurement. I know that consultants put people’s names down, and that could also be tested.

Mr Spratt:
There should be definite proof that an individual or organisation knows that their name has been used, and that should be clearly laid down in any process.

Mr Butler:
I apologise for being late. I was attending another meeting.

My question relates to Reg Empey’s response to the Committee’s letter about Belfast Metropolitan College being unsuccessful in the tendering process for Training for Success. The college is listed on the list of approved Training for Success organisations.

Mrs Bell:
The college may have been unsuccessful at level 3, but successful at level 2. Organisations were successful on some contracts but not on others.

Mr Butler:
Following on from that; the Department’s relationship with colleges seems to be that colleges can do whatever they want, and that does not just apply to Belfast Metropolitan College. That college — particularly now that it has merged with Castlereagh College — is one of the biggest providers of courses for skilling people for the economy in Belfast and the greater Belfast area. Nevertheless, it loses out on a contract, and the Minister just says that that is a matter for Belfast Metropolitan College. He has qualified what he said a bit by saying that the Department works with Belfast Metropolitan College. However, the college needs a more proactive approach from the Department — particularly in the greater Belfast area.

PFI has been mentioned, and that may be one of the reasons why Belfast Metropolitan College lost the contract. There is planning for another college in the Titanic Quarter. Belfast Metropolitan College, and the Department, must ensure that it takes the lead in delivering courses in the greater Belfast area. I am disappointed in Reg Empey’s response, and disappointed in the Department’s relationships with colleges, and that matter should be looked at.

The Chairperson:
The Committee has raised that concern several times, and I mentioned the link between the Department and colleges in the plenary debates on Monday and Tuesday.

Mrs Bell:
Colleges were incorporated in 1998 to give them the freedom to be able to respond more proactively; and statistics from 1998 to date show that they have done that. That happened as a result of the previous Committee’s inquiry into education and training for industry. We responded by carrying out a full review of FE, which led to the FE Means Business strategy.

We have significant controls over the colleges. The first are in accountability and finance, which are very tight. Each time we get an audit report we let the colleges know of the changes that need to happen. We have literally just strengthened other methods of control through the college development planning process.

It used to be the case that funding was based on a college’s being two years in arrears. Funding was also based on growth, meaning that the more students who attended a college, the more money it got. Therefore, although a college may have been growing, it may not have received any extra money because another was growing more quickly.

The bigger problem was that the funding was two years out of date. As of this year, we pay colleges on the basis of the college development plan being in place. That plan is negotiated between the Department, the college’s chief executive and the chairperson of the governing body. Therefore, that document controls what the colleges are doing, and sits alongside the priorities that the Department has set. The Department monitors the plan three times a year. If a college is not meeting its targets, it does not get paid. However, if it exceeds its targets, it does not get any extra money. That is because funding is being based not on growth, but on supporting the local economy.

Therefore, we have strong controls on colleges, through the accountability regime on the financial side and through the college development planning process, which controls and encourages the colleges. As well as the inspectorate monitoring quality in the colleges, the Department also employs staff to monitor them.

The Chairperson:
That is all well and good, but I will give you an example: the Committee has been contacted by people who say the crèche in a particular college is about to be closed. The Committee contacted the Department, which told us that the colleges control such matters. You have talked about departmental policies that have been introduced to encourage people to return to study or get involved in study. However, some of those people may be lone parents, and there may be no crèche facilities available for them. It strikes me that there is no balance between the two policies at ground level.

Ms Bell:
The provision of such services is a matter for individual colleges.

The Chairperson:
That is my point.

Ms Bell:
I agree. However, colleges were set up as incorporated institutions. Therefore, the controls that the Department has on them are through funding and negotiation of the development planning process.

The Chairperson:
I understand, but when you talk about the social policies that the Department has introduced, I am sure that you appreciate that it strikes the Committee that those are having little impact on the ground.

Mrs McGill:
Do you have any information about young people who choose not to stay with Training for Success because they cannot afford to do so?

Ms Bell:
Not that I am aware of: information on that has not been fed back to us. A young person who is not employed will get training allowance plus travel costs, if he or she is entitled to them. The means-tested education maintenance allowance (EMA) that applies to students in the school and FE sector allows parents to retain their benefits. The Department is currently considering whether it should introduce the EMA for people who are on training schemes. Their parents’ benefits would not be affected, but the young person would get a £20 or £30 allowance, according to the means test. At the same time, means testing will also mean that some may get nothing, because the EMA is mean-tested. We are working through all those models at the minute.

Mrs McGill:
Thank you. I have specific examples involving two of my constituents. One is a young person who left a training scheme, and the other is considering leaving. However, the difficulty for both is the expense involved in taking up such schemes.

Mrs Bell:
The training allowance is set at £40 a week, and once trainees spend over £3 a week on travel costs, they will receive travel expenses. If they are employed as apprentices, they are paid through the company. I actually cannot comment any further on that point.

Mrs McGill:
Could I speak to you about a specific case afterwards?

Mrs Bell:
Yes.

The Chairperson:
Catherine and Des, like other members, I believe that if Training for Success is implemented properly, it is the way ahead. However, I am sure that you appreciate that we have concerns and that we must learn from the lessons of Jobskills.

You said that you will be having a meeting on 6 December, so I suggest that the Committee returns to this issue in the middle of January, when you will have the figures and the feedback from your review. Are Members content?

Members indicated assent.

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