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Youth Unemployment

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

16. What steps her Department is taking to reduce the level of youth unemployment. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer to Question 3. (321791)

In north Oxfordshire, we are determined to ensure that no one gets left behind, including those not in education, employment or training—NEETs. May I make two suggestions to the Secretary of State? First, there is a need for greater connectivity between Connexions and Jobcentre Plus. Secondly, most of the businesses in my patch are small and medium-sized enterprises. Can we work out a way of helping them to offer apprenticeships, perhaps by introducing group apprenticeship schemes for SMEs?

The hon. Gentleman has raised some important points. He might know that we have been working with the Federation of Small Businesses not only on increasing the take-up of apprenticeships among small businesses but on helping them to take on interns, particularly graduate interns. There is a lot more that small businesses could do to help young people, and they are often keen to do so. If the hon. Gentleman is aware of any small businesses and employers in his constituency who might be interested in doing so, I hope that he will direct them to the Backing Young Britain website, which will provide them with the information that they need.

I fully support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The Federation of Small Businesses has advised Members of Parliament in a press release that some 69 per cent. of apprentices work in businesses with 50 or fewer employees. It has also said that many more apprenticeships could be created if the apprenticeship system were simplified and better promoted. Do the Government agree with that, and what action will they take to meet the views of that very sensible organisation, which represents the seedcorn of future businesses?

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, and I agree that we need to do everything we can to make this easier for small businesses. Indeed, I have discussed the matter with the Federation of Small Businesses and other employers with the aim of doing exactly that. We have been working on this for some time, and we already have measures in place that are making it easier for small businesses to take this up. We want to urge as many small businesses as possible to find out about this and, as I have said, to take on apprentices and interns, because those small businesses that find it impossible to offer a full apprenticeship might still be able to take someone on for a temporary internship.

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that evidence given to our Select Committee showed a clear link between employment without training and NEETs? Apprenticeships are the preferred option for many young people. Can we seize this last chance in the last weeks of this Parliament to get the full 5,000 apprenticeships with SMEs in place?

My hon. Friend will know that we have already increased the number of apprenticeships. If we look back 10 or 15 years, apprenticeships had pretty much died away in many areas, which was a tragedy for vocational training across the country. We have now put in the additional investment, which has substantially expanded the apprenticeship scheme, but I agree that we need to continue to work to increase the number of apprenticeships, not only in small businesses but with all kinds of employers across the country.