15 November 2021
Peter Aldous welcomes the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

Peter Aldous calls on the Government to ensure that colleges are properly resourced so they can deliver on the aims of the Bill and urges the Government to consider amendments that would put the lifetime skills guarantee on a statutory footing, and reform universal credit conditions so that people in receipt of universal credit can more easily access education and training.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

I welcome this Bill. Some may say it is not before time, but it provides the means both for addressing the problems that have hung over the UK for too long and for meeting future challenges. It is, in many respects, a landmark Bill, and thus it is important that we get it right so that it can herald the start of a new era that provides people of all ages, whatever their background and from wherever they come, with the opportunity to realise their full potential.

As we have heard, amendments have been made in the other place, often on a cross-party basis. I urge the Government not to seek to strike them out too hastily, as many of them improve the Bill. Such is the strategic timing of the Bill that, from my perspective, the amendment in the names of the noble Lords Clarke and Layard, to place the lifetime skills guarantee on a statutory footing, is well merited.

With the welcome reduction in the taper rate of universal credit announced in the Budget, the Government have placed much emphasis both on the importance of making work pay and on the current high level of job vacancies. Unfortunately, many people are currently some distance from the workplace and are not able to take advantage of these opportunities. However, many of them would be able to do so if universal credit conditions were reformed so that they could more readily access education and training. With that in mind, I urge the Government to consider carefully the amendment tabled by the Lord Bishop of Durham.

The opportunities that the Bill provides are immense, but they will not be realised without proper investment in our often unsung but nevertheless impressive national network of colleges. The funding announced in the comprehensive spending review is welcome, but it should be viewed as only a start.

In recent years, one of the great success stories in north Suffolk and east Norfolk has been the significant progress made by East Coast College with its campuses in both Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. The college is a pivotal player in the strategy to remove pockets of coastal deprivation and to realise the full potential that the zero-carbon economy presents in sectors such as offshore wind and nuclear at Sizewell C. To play this role fully and properly, East Coast College and colleges across the country must be properly resourced. A resilient college network is vital if we are to achieve the aims of this Bill.