Two weeks ago in the House of Lords there were a number of debates on the theme of amendments for the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. One of the debates under the heading of Amendment 76a took place on 19th July at 4pm and it involved a Sussex based member of the House of Lords called Lord Lucas or Ralph Palmer. His statement was very interesting and I hope that those of us who are involved in the Sussex Chamber of Commerce and that work with local educational settings could get involved in what Ralph is referring to. I am part of a small business in Sussex that would benefit very significantly if there were an effective apprenticeship system that could be adapted for small “non standard” industries. The challenge is that Colleges are obliged to train people for standard subjects and yet many businesses are not standard in the work they do and so there is an ongoing challenge of how to adapt the training for variants. I have worked closely with the East Sussex College over many years and they would be very happy to work with small companies that are not part of their standard themes. Their challenge is they do not have resources that enable them to do so. We have also been connected with the Sussex Chamber of Commerce for several years as we seek to grow our business and we benefit from the Chamber for the networking activities they offer. I hope that Ralph Palmer will be willing to have discussions on this subject and then perhaps he could persuade the Government to become more flexible in its focus on Further Education. The statement is available here and these are the main comments that Ralph provided.
On technical education, the Minister told me last time we were here that the Sussex Chamber of Commerce would be a trailblazer. That is an area that is not obviously different from the South East local enterprise partnership. The main differences for the constituent parts of Sussex are that this is a new entity unused to this sort of responsibility; that it has none of the old associations, familiarities and relationships that go with, in this case, either of the local enterprise partnerships that cover the area; and that it is not congruent in any way with the providers of ordinary education, which are, at that level, East Sussex and West Sussex. It is not clear how they will have a co-ordinated voice in dealing with academic provision, because a lot of the academic provision in our part of the world is provided by further education institutions.
If we look at what is happening in Eastbourne, where I live, we are a town of 130,000 people with no substantial academic sixth form provision. There is one fine free school, but it is small. There is an excellent FE college, whose A-level provision consists of business studies, English, history and sociology. In this new arrangement that we are looking at, who will be responsible for making sure that the young people of Eastbourne have the educational opportunities they deserve? It is not clear to me that there is anyone effective to do that without making a change, such as I have suggested in this amendment, to ensure that the FE colleges sweep up where the schools have failed to provide.
Let us hope that in due course Ralph will have some discussions with businesses in his area along with the Chamber of Commerce via Ana Christie who is the CEO and East Sussex College perhaps with Dan Shelley who is part of the Chamber of Commerce who I know very well and who fully understands the issues. Perhaps we could persuade Gillian Keegan to get involved as she is a Sussex MP in Chichester as well as the Minister for Apprenticeships.