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Education and Training

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 18 October 2007

2. What recent assessment he made of the impact on the economy of providing education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds. (158860)

By 2020 the economy will need 5 million more people with higher-level skills. Since 1997, 150,000 more 16 to 18-year-olds are in education or training, and the number of young people in apprenticeships has more than trebled to 250,000. Over the same period, the UK’s gross domestic product per capita has risen from being last in the G7 in 1996 to second only to the US in 2006. To close the gap further, we have committed to expanding the scope of educational and development opportunities for all. We will therefore deliver 3.7 million adult qualifications over the forthcoming comprehensive spending review period.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s reply because with the excellent stewardship of Russell Strutt, the principal of Central Sussex college, which has a campus in Crawley, 34 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds attending that college receive education maintenance allowances. The allowances have played a significant role in keeping our 16 to 18-year-olds in education, which improves not only their life chances, but the economy of the Gatwick diamond area. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is wise spending for any Government?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The positive effect of education maintenance allowances is there for all to see—I see it in my constituency. They enable those who might not have been motivated in the past to stay on and get the qualifications and training needed in a modern economy to do just that. That benefits not only those individuals and their potential earning power later in life, but our economy.

I know that the Minister makes great play of the success of the new deal, but does she not recognise the importance of skills that people in their 20s and 30s can take forward? Does she not agree that one of the biggest social concerns here in the capital city is that while literally hundreds of thousands of people come from eastern Europe to take on relatively unskilled jobs, we have the highest level of unemployment— 8.5 per cent.—of any region in the UK?

To drive down rates of unemployment, it is important that we give our young people and young adults the education, training and access to opportunities that they need in a modern economy. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not welcome the fact that we have created 2.6 million extra jobs, and that levels of employment are the highest seen in the economy for many years. I would have expected him to at least acknowledge the Government’s success in terms of employment.

Given the importance of engineering to the economy, what efforts is the Minister making to promote engineering among 16 to 18-year-olds, so that we can ensure that our youngsters have those skills in future, and take them up in the economy?

As we move forwards, it is important to ensure that education and skills training fits high-value jobs and employment opportunities. We and colleagues in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills are working closely with employers involved in the train to gain initiative to develop the new diploma, and to ensure that our 250,000 apprenticeships are properly based and focused on high-value jobs. Those are the jobs that we wish our youngsters to be trained for in future. I assure my hon. Friend that manufacturing, technology and engineering feature strongly in our efforts.

The number of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training rose by 40 per cent. between 1997 and 2006. Given the increase in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in that invidious position, and in light of those unacceptable facts, how can the Minister justify the spending on the new deal for young people?

First, I would question the hon. Gentleman’s facts. There has in fact been a fall in the number of people who are not in education, employment or training as a percentage of the population concerned in the past 10 years. He also has to recognise that 625,000 more youngsters are in education and training than were 10 years ago, and 189,000 more are in work. He needs to remember that the category of those not in education, employment or training includes parents who are caring for their children, people who are in part-time training, people who have disabilities, and people who are off on gap years.