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Volume 462: debated on Thursday 28 June 2007

7. How many apprenticeship places have been created for 16 and 17-year-olds in Hull since 1997; and what plans he has for provision in the future. (146025)

Some 4,400 young people have started an apprenticeship in the city of Hull since 2001. Figures are not available at local authority level for the years before that. Nationally, the apprenticeship programme goes from strength to strength. We have trebled the numbers in learning since 1997, and 100,000 people a year complete an apprenticeship. The completion rate now stands at almost 60 per cent. We want to expand the programme further so that by 2013 any suitably qualified young person will be entitled to an apprenticeship place.

I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply, and I ask him to join me in congratulating Shaun Anderson from Hull, who was the runner-up in the personal achiever section of the apprenticeship awards. Will he confirm that the investment in our young people and the commitment made to them through apprenticeships is in marked contrast to the sniping and negative comments of the Opposition?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I attended the apprenticeship awards gala evening last Wednesday at which Shaun’s achievements and those of many other young people were recognised and celebrated. It was not only apprentices who attended but the people who trained them, employers from Hull and across the country, and sponsoring companies such as British Gas, BAE Systems, City and Guilds, BT and many others. It is good that we can celebrate success not only in the number of young people taking up apprenticeships but in the commitment and hard work that they and their supporters demonstrate. It would be helpful if the Opposition, instead of running down that successful system, could for once start to show support and celebrate the apprenticeship system.

The complete destruction of the apprenticeship system during the dark ages of the Tory years was an act of wanton vandalism, and it is a great tribute to the Government that there has been a huge increase in numbers. Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that there is still more work to be done to improve completion rates and that part of the solution is to increase the portability of apprenticeships? What plans does he have to do precisely that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have trebled the numbers. Five or six years ago, the completion rate was as low as 24 per cent., but I am delighted that a focus on the problem means that 60 per cent. of young people are now completing their apprenticeships. That is an amazing step forward, and it aligns us with our competitors in France, Germany and other parts of the European Union. We have to do even better, however, so we will continue to drive the programme forward, using innovations such as those that he has described to run the apprenticeships system, to ensure that more young people complete apprenticeships. Indeed, we have a target of 400,000 young people a year undertaking apprenticeships by 2020. That is the Leitch ambition, and it is one that we share.