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Motor Industry

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

2. If he will bring forward proposals to improve training opportunities for those employed in the motor industry. (252515)

Earlier this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform announced a £2 billion package to support the automotive industry for the future, and skills support is an integral part of that. Train to Gain has already been developed to meet the specific needs of the automotive sector. We announced on Tuesday our willingness to boost Government investment in skills for the sector through Train to Gain from £65 million to £100 million. My officials are now working with range of companies on training packages that will help work forces be ready for the upturn.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and I very much welcome the statement made earlier in the week. Will he just say how wide his definition of the motor industry is, because we are not just talking about the car industry, and we must ensure that there are opportunities for component suppliers and the heavy goods side of the industry? Does he understand the problem for people on short-time working, which is that although they welcome the opportunity to train and upskill themselves, they have to buy their time for training? They should not be losing out twofold: by being on short-time working and having to pay the time for their own training. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should examine that problem and provide help?

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. He will be aware that none of what I have been talking about would be possible if the Conservative policy to abolish Train to Gain had been implemented. [Interruption.] I think that a cut of £1 billion was the suggestion.

We have already taken up arrangements with Nissan and JCB—that gives a sense of the breadth of the approach—to provide training on down days when there is short-time working. Ensuring that we can do that is a key, flexible use of our training money, but it would be cut by the Conservative party.

Can the Secretary of State clarify what new money will be available for the motor industry in a broader context and for training, given that when the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson), announced the package to the House earlier this week, he said that it was entirely consistent with the pre-Budget report that was announced in November?

That is absolutely right, but what we have been doing is changing the way in which the Train to Gain system operates to meet the needs of businesses in the downturn. So in addition to the money that we are making available to the automotive industry that is perhaps intended for some of the larger companies, we have also said that up to £350 million of Train to Gain money would be available in small packages for small and medium enterprises. We are keen that that should also be used by component suppliers and others in the automotive industry. The critical point is that while we are building investment in Train to Gain to £1 billion a year, following the pre-Budget report, the hon. Lady’s party has said that it would do away with that funding. That is the wrong thing to do.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that to abolish Train to Gain at this point would be absolute madness, and the principal of Stourbridge college—I was speaking to him this morning—agrees. My right hon. Friend has been to Stourbridge and seen the fantastically successful Train to Gain programme there. People are pleased that the programme has been relaxed to include redundant workers. However, especially in light of recent redundancies in the midlands, we need to remove the limit on redundant workers entirely, so that the programme can be responsive to particular local needs and help people train to gain and get back into work.

I very much enjoyed my visit with my hon. Friend to her local college in Stourbridge earlier this year and I was very impressed by the work it has done in leading the Train to Gain consortium that would be abolished by the policies of the Conservative party. The truth is that we are making the system more flexible. We are saying to colleges that they will have the option, especially with pre-level 2 skills, of being rewarded for success in getting people into work through training and not just for helping them to achieve an accredited qualification. We are always making the system look more flexible.

We also announced additional money at the beginning of the month of up to £83 million to create an extra pool of money for further education colleges to respond to the needs of those who have lost their job and been out of work for some time. That will be a flexible package of funding that colleges can tailor to the needs of the individual.

Does not the Secretary of State appreciate that the deadweight cost of Train to Gain and its failure to engage with SMEs is undermining attempts to provide meaningful training? Will he keep the Train to Gain money, but redirect it to apprenticeships and further education colleges that are better placed to respond to local needs?

May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Opposition Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment? We look forward to continuing the debate with him.

At the beginning of the month, the deputy director of the CBI addressed a large audience of employers on the subject of the downturn, and he said that Train to Gain is just what business needs. If that is the view of Britain’s largest employer organisation, the Conservatives’ policies and approach, with their proposals for cuts at exactly the wrong time—£610 million of cuts in my Department to start on 1 April, although they have not explained where those cuts would be made—are wrong, and they need to change.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to take a flexible approach to bids that come before him—pursuant to the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew)—to ensure that both the supply chain and manufacturers obtain benefits from this scheme? Will he also, in the context of my constituency, ensure that there are no delays in developing the West Cheshire college, which will be an integral part of delivering the needs of the vehicle industry in my area?

It is not just a matter of being flexible, because we have indicated our willingness to do that. The compact that we have with the sector skills council for the manufacturing sector makes the use of the money much more flexible. Our ideal, actually, is to create a situation where within an area such as my hon. Friend’s we can comprehensively address the whole sector—that is, the major lead manufacturer as well as the supply chain. Maintaining the supply chain is every bit as important at the moment as maintaining the main plant. That is what we are aiming to achieve.

As for west Cheshire—I know that my hon. Friend is ambitious for his college—we have been looking to ensure that the training capacity is already in place to enable us to gear up training for the car industry in the way that he describes.