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Volume 526: debated on Thursday 31 March 2011

With over 85,000 employers offering apprenticeships, it is clear that many businesses already recognise the associated benefits of improved business and personnel performance. The evidence of strong demand is supported by research. The findings of the skills economy research from July 2010 are that 83% of employers rely on their apprenticeship programme to provide the skilled work force that they need.

The Minister has been quite generous in the past about the work done by Ministers in the previous Government, including me, on apprenticeship numbers, and he has made a commitment to build on that. Does he have any concerns about the targets on apprenticeships over the coming period, given the pretty dire figures on GDP for the economy?

The hon. Gentleman, like me, is fond of Yeats, who said:

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

That is what we have done. The hon. Gentleman is right. I have followed him, and he is a hard act to follow, because he was a very competent Minister. I can tell the House—and I know that you, Mr Speaker, will be pleased to hear it—that the Statistical First Release published today illustrates that we are likely, or certainly on target, to reach the ambitions I have set out, which is good news for the hon. Gentleman, good news for me and good news for Britain.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds taking apprenticeships in Essex has increased by 44% over the past year, and that Essex council and Harlow college are investing £100,000 in 50 apprenticeships for people from poorer backgrounds? Will he look at rolling out that scheme across the country?

I know of the good work done by my hon. Friend and by Harlow college. He will wish to know that there was a 20% increase in apprenticeship starts in 2010-11 compared with the same period in the previous year. That is because of the work of organisations such as Harlow college and the advocacy of hon. Members such as my hon. Friend.

Over the past few years, the oil and gas industry in north-east Scotland has created many new apprenticeships and skilled many new workers for the future. Does the Minister accept that that has been put at risk by the massive tax increase announced without any consultation in the Budget?

The figures will speak louder than any words—the hon. Gentleman’s words or even my own.