Debates between Baroness Blackstone and Lord Baker of Dorking during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 6th Jul 2021
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Blackstone and Lord Baker of Dorking
Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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I will speak in support of Amendment 25 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Sheehan and Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. It contains a very interesting idea. It proposes that, when a local skills improvement plan has been devised for, say, Plymouth or Newcastle or Doncaster, the Secretary of State should examine it to see whether it accords with the national skills strategy and—this is of particular interest to the noble Baronesses—the UK’s climate change and biodiversity targets; it could include other things where there are clear targets as well, of course. The sadness of this is that the noble Lords talk about the national skills strategy when there ain’t no such thing, I am afraid. I wish that there were, but it simply has not developed. It ought to develop because there is no doubt that there is a substantial deficiency across the country in skills in a whole variety of different industries.

The Government used to publish skills gaps. The body that did it was called the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It was abolished by the Government in 2016 because a group of advisers said to them that they did not really think much about these skills gaps because they are often speculative guesses. I am afraid that this is a further example of a Government who are not listening because there is certainly a large number of skills gaps in our country.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I are both members of the Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which now takes evidence twice a week. We are getting a lot of evidence not only from businesses but from students themselves that there are skills gaps. For example, we had evidence from one think thank that had examined 1,000 companies in Britain, large and small, stretching from national audio technology to pubs. Of those 1,000 companies, 76% of the CEOs said that the thing that was holding them back most was the absence of data employees—data analysts in particular—and people who understood artificial intelligence. That was the biggest inhibition on their growth and development. If that is not a skills gap, I do not know what is, quite frankly.

There are skills gaps in a host of other industries. One recent example that I am sure Members of this House have seen is that we have suddenly discovered that there is a skills gap of 10,000 HGV drivers. I would have thought that this might have been anticipated at some stage and we would have realised that we were desperately short of these people. So many of them have gone back to eastern Europe and the Balkans, and they are not being encouraged to come back. The transport ministry should have had some idea of what was likely to happen in this area.

One body, the education think tank the Edge Foundation, of which for a time I was the chairman, tried to fill in the gap. It produced a series of reports. It established large committees for each industry involving industry and academics, estimating what the skills gaps were. The first one was on engineering. The skills gap there was 203,000. That figure was agreed and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. There was another one on digital skills. It was well over 100,000 two years ago; I suspect that it is much higher now. There was one on the creative industries, which showed a skills gap of 150,000. Yet, because these were not formal government statements, the Government took very little interest in and paid little regard to them. How can you fashion an education system if you have no idea what your national economy wants in the way of skilled workers? There is a dysfunction between the education system based on academic subjects and the needs of industry. There is absolutely no doubt about that. This is one of the causes of the high level of youth unemployment at the moment.

I suggest that the Government consider asking a department—not the Department for Education because it has very little connection with industry, but perhaps the DWP—to estimate and publish on a regular basis skill gaps for various industries. Without that, how can you shape education and training systems, and indeed an apprenticeship system, without knowing exactly what is needed by the local and national industries in our economy?

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, we listened with interest to some rather engaging and forceful Second Reading speeches on the first group this afternoon. I noted that my noble friend Lord Adonis took one view that this was a terrible Bill and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green took a different one that this was actually a good Bill. I find myself somewhere in between, but I want to be more pragmatic than they are. This is Committee. We have some opportunities in Committee to make a Bill better. I hope that that is what we will achieve at least in some respects.

At Second Reading I chose to talk largely about the missed opportunity in the Bill to try to link what we do in the educational system with the huge challenges that climate change and getting to our net-zero target by 2050 pose for us. I hope the Government will take the amendments in this group really seriously, because they at least begin to do just that.