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Apprenticeship Courses

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 11 June 2009

9. How much has been allocated to fund apprenticeship courses in (a) South-West Bedfordshire and (b) England in 2009-10. (279010)

Funding allocations to apprenticeship training providers in England, including Bedfordshire, for the 2009-10 academic year have not yet been confirmed. The national apprenticeship service will notify providers later this month. We expect to spend about £1 billion on apprenticeships in 2008-09 and more than £1 billion in 2009-10.

Of course, we are not cutting any student places. In relation to apprenticeships in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, my understanding is that Bedford Training, for example, has exceeded its maximum contract value and reported a waiting list of 20 learners, but will have enough funding in 2009-10 to recruit all 20. However, if I am incorrect about the issue that he raises, I will meet him and ensure that we look into it.

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I hope that he accepts that there is a funding problem. It has been primarily caused by many employers trying to cope with the recession and having in their terms to cut back, and apprenticeships are one area in which they are doing so. A number of young apprentices in my constituency have finished only 50 per cent. of their courses. I ask my hon. Friend to look at that problem to see how he can help those young people to complete their apprenticeships.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, although I should point out to her that adult starts on apprenticeships have risen from 300 in 2006-07 to 27,000 in 2007-08, so the context is increased investment rather than any reduction. We have to make that clear. However, she is absolutely right to point out that redundancy can have an impact on apprentices, as it can on anyone else during an economic downturn. The national apprenticeship service provides a one-stop shop for employers, providers and learners to access information support should that occur, and the intention is to place apprentices on suitable schemes. Also, the length of time for which they may undertake training if they cannot immediately be placed has been extended. However, it is important to set the context of the increased investment and number of apprentice places.

I welcome the Minister and the rest of the team to their posts. Members of all parties are really pleased to see the rise in the number of adult apprenticeships, and the funding for 2010 looks reasonably secure. The problem that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) raised was about employers taking part.

On 9 June, in a comment to The Guardian, the Chancellor made it clear that education would be one of the priorities after 2010, together with housing, transport and health. Will the Minister give the House a categorical guarantee that in that period the funding for adult skills—particularly adult FE and higher education, which will be crucial to the future of our economy—will be maintained and not cut?

The commitment of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to apprenticeships is well known and long-standing, and I confirm that it will remain an absolute priority of this Government to grow the number of apprentices and invest in them. I have been appointed Minister with responsibility for apprentices and will work in the Department for Children, Schools and Families as well as the new Business Department, which shows our commitment to connecting the under-19 and adult apprenticeship schemes. I also commit to engaging an apprentice in my own private office.

I, too, congratulate Ministers on their new posts, although we believe that our colleges and universities are not simply the instruments of a Business Department, and they certainly do not look forward to reporting to Alan Sugar.

I congratulate the Department on its efforts to improve social mobility with an imaginative new route into the House of Lords—four Ministers so far, and at least another one on the way. Does the Minister recognise that in order really to improve social mobility we have to spread apprenticeships and provide new routes from them to university? Does he accept that at the moment, the biggest single victims of the recession are young people? They see apprenticeships disappearing even after they have been started, and they face the prospect of finding it hard to get to university when they apply, and of being unemployed when they leave university. Will the Minister, new to these responsibilities, make a simple commitment that no young person who has started an apprenticeship will find themselves losing it before they have been able to complete it?

As I said earlier, some redundancies in firms are inevitable during an economic downturn and a recession, and that could include apprenticeships. I have committed to ensuring that the national apprenticeship service will do all it can to place those apprentices in similar apprenticeships elsewhere, and that extended training is available if that is not possible in the immediate future.

The hon. Gentleman is right about social mobility and the need to focus on younger people and apprenticeships and increase the numbers. As someone from a working-class background, with a steelworker for a father and a dinner lady for a mother, I know something about social mobility and the importance of training, education and apprenticeships. I knew as a young man growing up in south Wales that many of my friends benefited from the apprenticeships that were decimated when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power. That is why we are making such investment. We will publish a framework in the summer for apprentices getting through to university.