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Work Force Skills

Volume 468: debated on Thursday 29 November 2007

5. What recent assessment he has made of the economic impact of the quality and range of skills of the UK work force. (169067)

7. What recent assessment he has made of the economic impact of the quality and range of skills of the UK work force. (169069)

As Lord Leitch set out in his independent report on the UK’s long-term skills needs, the improving skills profile in the UK work force over time has contributed to economic growth. He also concluded that a skilled work force are increasingly critical if the UK is to continue to grow to meet global challenges. [Interruption.] Therefore, the Government will increase expenditure on higher education and adult skills by £2.2 billion over the next three years to support further improvements in the UK skills base at all levels.

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has had his question and now he must listen to others. It is something he will have to learn, and it is not too late for him to learn after all his years in this House.

Would my hon. Friend agree that for regions such as the north-east, a highly skilled work force are essential? Would she congratulate the North East Process Industry Cluster, based in Teesside, which is doing a lot, not only to identify skills shortages and to ensure that they are filled, but to encourage youngsters in schools and to target women with regard to the good career structure in the process industries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that the Government and employers work together to identify those areas where there are skills shortages and act with the money that we have been able to give to deal with them. The latest national employers’ skills survey has just demonstrated a fall in employers reporting skills gaps—down from 22 per cent. of employers in 2003 to only 15 per cent. this year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that employers must play a much bigger role in improving the skills levels of the UK work force? Does she also agree that more must be done to get employers to meet this challenge?

I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. That is why the train to gain budget, which involved employers closely in the design and supply of training in employment, has been doubled and will stand at £1 billion by 2010-11.

Given the constant complaints of industry about the poor technical skills base in this country, why is it, after 10 years, that we still lag so dramatically behind competitor countries such as France and Germany?

We started from a lower base after 18 wasted Conservative years, which saw apprenticeships all but destroyed, massive youth unemployment and an entire generation condemned to the scrap heap. We have made great progress in the last 10 years, and we intend to make even more in the next three.

Given the need for great skill when undertaking banking transactions, such as making large loans or keeping money markets liquid, what plans are there for Treasury Ministers to go on courses?

Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government’s commitment to skills has led to 1.8 million people finding jobs because of the new deal? Because of that and other skills initiatives, and the strong economy, unemployment in my constituency is now beneath the national average. Under the Tories it was 40 per cent. in some areas.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. We now have 2.8 million more people in work than we had 10 years ago, and 1 million fewer on out-of-work benefits, which cuts the bill of failure and allows us to give opportunities to many people that were never there in the 18 wasted Tory years. We intend to continue, deepen and broaden that good record.

The Minister will have seen in the newspapers this morning that the UK has fallen down the world rankings in the league for the reading skills of 10-year-olds. Does she consider that to be a good thing for UK skills in computing or a bad thing for UK skills overall?

One-to-one support is being funded in the comprehensive spending review. I might ask the hon. Lady what her views are on ageism in the work force, given her comments earlier.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) praised apprenticeship schemes on Teesside. I want to praise apprenticeship schemes on Deeside. The Airbus factory in Broughton in north Wales has run 1,200 apprenticeships over the past 10 years, and dozens of those young apprentices are from my constituency. Those top-quality jobs have primed our local economy, which is one of the fastest growing in the country. What plans does my hon. Friend have to come and visit the Broughton factory and see the best practice in the UK?

I am more than happy to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency to see the great work that is being done. The Government have funded a renaissance in apprenticeships. There are now 250,000, and there were only 87,000 when we came into power. We have further plans to create 500,000 by the end of the comprehensive spending review period. Those apprenticeships offer fantastic skills and opportunities, none of which was available during the era of mass unemployment when the Conservatives were last in power.