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Volume 516: debated on Thursday 14 October 2010

Order. It is always a terrible pain to have to interrupt the mellifluous tones of the Minister, but I think he meant to make it clear that questions five and six are grouped together.

I am always grateful for your benevolence and advice on these matters, Mr Speaker.

Days after taking office we announced an additional 50,000 apprenticeships over the financial year, taking the total to be delivered this year to well over 300,000 places—a record for the apprenticeship programme. The National Apprenticeship Service has assured me that we are on track to deliver on this commitment.

I am particularly pleased to hear of the efforts being made to fund more apprenticeships and I thank the Minister for his involvement in securing this scheme. However, I am concerned that many businesses in my constituency who want to take on more apprentices are struggling with access, support and advice. Has the Minister, or the agency responsible for the scheme, made any advertising plans to broaden participation in this excellent scheme?

Yes; we appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point. I have asked my officials to look closely at these matters. We appreciate that some of the supply-side barriers to small businesses, in particular, getting involved in apprenticeships need to be lifted. We know that to rebuild the apprenticeship programme after the sorry state it was left in by the previous regime—I do not want to be unnecessarily unkind, but I emphasise the word “unnecessarily”—we will have to do a lot of work to involve more businesses to satisfy our demands and learner wishes.

I thank the Minister for the answer that he has just given my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle). How will the Minister ensure that apprenticeship schemes are made available to all people, not just young people?

My hon. Friend is right that we need to consider closely not just the apprenticeships that are available to people as they leave school or college, but those for people who want to reskill or upskill. Lord Leitch, in a report that the previous Administration commissioned, made it clear that that is vital because of the demographics, the challenges that we face and the competitive pressures from those countries that have invested in apprenticeships. We will certainly take his remarks on board.

What preliminary discussions has the Department had with private sector employers who are about to provide those many hundreds, if not thousands, of apprenticeships? Does the Department have a target or time scale for delivering them?

I do not want to be repetitive, Mr Speaker, and you would not let be so, but I make it absolutely clear that almost as soon as we entered government we transferred an additional £150 million into the apprenticeship budget to create extra apprenticeships. Yes, of course, I am working with businesses, small and large, to make that dream—that vision—a reality. Indeed, we held a consultation on that over the summer, which I know the hon. Gentleman will have studied closely.