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Employment (North-West)

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2011

As always, Mr Bayley, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship; I have done so on a number of occasions. I give thanks—spiritual or otherwise—for having been given the opportunity to introduce this debate, which is particularly timely given that we have just had a series of apprenticeship results and some major Government announcements on employment.

As I hope any MP would do, I want to start by singing the praises of my region and saying what it can do about employment. The north-west and its young people benefit from having a diverse, dynamic region with strong areas of sectoral employment. It is strong in manufacturing and in the service and creative industries, many of which are based in my constituency in Blackpool.

These issues are not just of historic importance. We have a proud history of achievement and innovation in industrial apprenticeships, but we also have new developments coming on stream. I particularly want to pay tribute to all the work that is being done to bring the BBC to Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester, thus building on the legacy of Granada Television. Of course, all such developments offer opportunities for young people to get not only skills but jobs in the region. The retention of young people in the region will build and strengthen our potential in the years to come.

Excellent work is being done to attract young people into fulfilling careers by a number of businesses, both large and small. In particular, I want to bring to the attention of Members today the work that is being done at BAE Systems. In my constituency, hundreds of people are directly employed at BAE and a large number of people are employed indirectly by BAE. Of course, the BAE apprenticeship scheme is frequently hailed as one of the best in the sector, because it gives young people real career opportunities that are comparable to those enjoyed by graduates.

In 2009, in my capacity as chair of the all-party group on skills, we conducted a major inquiry into progression through apprenticeships. One of the most vivid pieces of evidence was given by a young apprentice—a young man—who had actually worked for BAE at Warton. He had just completed his course and acquired a very good degree. He spoke before all the current discussion about fees in higher education and made the point that, as a result of being employed by BAE, he had come out of the system with a good degree, which would enhance his career prospects within BAE and without incurring the debt that some of his school contemporaries had incurred.

Of course, in the Blackpool area, we also have the nuclear skills complex, or academy. Again, it would be fair to say that, after a number of years of quiescence, the ability of that academy to take on young people has expanded. That is important to people in Blackpool, because a number of our people have been employed at the Springfields nuclear site.

I pay tribute to the National Apprenticeship Service in the north-west for working tirelessly to encourage businesses to take on apprentices and to encourage young people in the north-west generally to consider the options offered by apprenticeships. In 2009-10, more than 20,000 young people in the north-west started apprenticeships, and more than 500 of them were in Blackpool.

As MPs, we see the importance of apprenticeships most vividly when we go to particularly successful companies in our constituencies. Last week, I had the privilege of visiting a company called Ameon, which is a major construction-based business on the edge of my constituency in Blackpool. I quote from The Blackpool Gazette:

“The firm, which boasts a turnover of more than £20m, has created six new electrical apprenticeships…awarded to teenagers from Blackpool and Manchester”.

While I was at Ameon and talking to its very dynamic managing director, Robin Lawson, I was introduced to two young men who had been employed by Ameon and who had just completed their part-time degrees at the university of Central Lancashire. Again, those young men had gone through that system without incurring debt.

Of course, the north-west also benefits from a vibrant collection of universities, further education colleges, schools and sixth forms, including many in my own area. I pay tribute to the North West Universities Association for its sterling work in establishing the link between schools and universities.

As many north-west MPs know, there are also many excellent schemes that can offer young people opportunities to train and learn on the ground. For example, there are opportunities with some of the local volunteering teams. I found myself working on such an initiative with the Blackpool Circus school—a school that is very appropriate for Blackpool. Those teams help many young people into volunteering and training opportunities. The Get Started unit in Blackpool, which was funded by the local enterprise grant initiative established by the previous Government, has helped many young people in Blackpool into jobs and careers. Many of them work for small businesses or have become sole traders.

Like many local newspapers, my own local newspaper—The Blackpool Gazette—launched a campaign earlier this year to find 100 apprenticeships in 100 days. I was very pleased to attend the launch of that campaign and the newspaper achieved its target.

Those are all good things, but it would not be reasonable if I did not say that there are big problems in the north-west, particularly for young people in the region who are looking for career opportunities. Many local authorities in the north-west were hit with a double whammy in the cuts programme: first, the cuts last year in area-based grants and, secondly, the general comprehensive spending review cuts, which hit the north-west particularly hard. Area-based grants were historically used—certainly in my own local authority—to support youth work schemes and the voluntary sector. As a result of the cuts to those grants, the position is now nigh-on catastrophic.

On top of the cuts to area-based grants, there has been an 80% cut in the teaching grant in higher education and a 25% cut in capital funding for further education over four years. Again, those cuts could put severe pressures on schemes and training opportunities for young people.

The most striking and difficult change has been that in the all-age careers service. The Minister will know that I have paid tribute to him on previous occasions for the work that he has done on that service, so I hope that he will not take amiss what I am about to say; I say it not to him but to the Department for Education as a whole. As a result of removing the potential—not the actuality, but the potential—for face-to-face advice and closing off the vocational route for many people, I believe that there will be severe difficulties.

In Blackpool, as in many other places, the Connexions team has already been halved as a result of the budget reduction caused by the cuts programmes that I have talked about. I will just give some statistics on the effects of those cuts: £2 million was taken out of the budget by the outgoing Conservative administration in Blackpool earlier this year, which was a 50% cut; there was a 46% cut in full-time youth workers; a 48% cut in part-time youth workers; a 59% cut in Connexions posts in schools and colleges; and a 61% cut in posts for people working with young people not in education, employment or training. Of course, none of those cuts is exactly good news for young people and their careers.

In its 2009 report, the all-party group on skills highlighted the importance of quality information, advice and guidance to help young people towards vocational routes. That importance was also recognised in the Department for Children, Schools and Families “Quality, Choice and Aspiration” report, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) was closely associated when he was in government. The Department for Education said in the past that it would, in principle, provide £200 million for careers provision via Connexions funding, but that funding seems to have vanished from the new service.

In June 2011, the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) responded to a written parliamentary question that I had submitted. He stated:

“The Department for Education is providing funding through the Early Intervention Grant to support access to impartial careers guidance for young people in the academic year 2011-12.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c.56-57.]

However, the Department’s website says that the early intervention grant is there to fund Sure Start centres, free child care for disadvantaged two-year-olds, short breaks for disabled children and targeted support for families with multiple problems. One is bound to ask just what will be left for careers provision after the money has been divided between all those worthy causes. I hasten to suggest that it is not the loaves and fishes fund, and I do not think that Ministers have yet demonstrated the ability to walk on water, so in both those respects the Department needs to look carefully and rapidly at the negative implications of the current situation.

The axing of the education maintenance allowance will also be a serious blow to young people right across the north-west. I met with young people from my constituency who came down to Westminster to protest against the abolition of the EMA, and they echoed the sentiment that I am sure many of my colleagues throughout the north-west have heard: the allowance was vital in that it gave them the opportunity to stay on in education. A survey that I conducted in local colleges showed that half the respondents felt that losing their EMA would affect their future plans, and I know from meetings with people at Blackpool and the Fylde college and with students in the sixth-form college that the potential the EMA offered was really valued. It remains to be seen whether the replacement that the Government have put in place will be adequate for purpose.

The Government decided not to continue the future jobs fund, despite having indicated before the general election that they might do so, and despite enthusiasm for the scheme. I saw in my constituency how well the scheme worked, with innovative placements such as a group of young people being given apprenticeship roles at Blackpool football club. I am not passing judgment too soon I hope, but it remains to be seen how such proposals will work out via the Work programme. The Government have not yet, it seems, got a handle on how to tackle the growing problems of youth unemployment, particularly in the north-west.

I want to turn to apprenticeships, because despite the positive progress being made—again, I pay tribute to the work being done by all concerned—there remains in the north-west a lack of apprenticeships for young people. The head of the National Apprenticeship Service himself admitted at a recent conference that there remained a chronic lack of apprenticeship places for school and college leavers. However, it is, of course, a question of pull as well as push. There can be apprenticeships—indeed, the Government have increased the number of places—but the question is: how will they be filled?

A City and Guilds survey at the beginning of this year showed that 31% of businesses in the north-west felt that in the current economic climate it was too risky to take on apprentices. That was the highest percentage among the English regions. At a time when the Government have ended the future jobs fund and the previous Government’s guarantees on opportunities for 16 to 24-year-olds, there is a real danger of young people being nudged away from training and from investment in their careers.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Education has been distracted—that is the kindest word to use—over the micro-management of schools and has allowed a crowded and confused marketplace to surface for young people, with academies, free schools, studio schools, university technical colleges and free colleges all jostling in the mix. Is that not a distraction from what should be our clear goal of providing good quality vocational education to those who wish to take it up? How does that haphazard environment fit in with Alison Wolf’s recommendations to the Secretary of State on improving vocational employment? The Government need to strengthen and make clearer their plan to promote apprenticeship take-up, with a much stronger emphasis on work-based learning.

On the use of the voluntary sector, I can cite examples from my own constituency. Volunteer groups are involved with Stanley park. Army cadets play a major part in the organisation of the armed forces and veterans weeks. Fantastic work with disadvantaged young people is being done by the Prince’s Trust and the Lancashire fire and rescue service—again linked with Blackpool football club. All those initiatives provide tasters that offer young people pointers and other outlets for their careers; but ultimately, we have to get right the structures for that process and for that progression to apprenticeships or to whatever career option. University technical colleges might well have a role to play in that, but it is important that we have clarity.

The Association of Colleges just yesterday produced a booklet entitled “Sticks & Carrots: Will Every 16 and 17-Year-Old Stay in Education or Training?” It rightly draws attention to the four things that are key to the policy being best implemented:

“Consistent and sufficient funding…to help Colleges and other education institutions support those who stay in full-time education… Good and appropriate careers advice—


“requires the support of Ofsted and teachers in order to create rigorous standards for Information, Advice and Guidance… The right learning opportunities - We should not assume that all young people wish to stay in ‘academic’ education”.

The final key thing mentioned is financial support and transport, which picks up the point I made a few moments ago.

It is also important to take note of what the report says about the take-up and supply of apprenticeships. It states that the majority of new places have been for adults between the ages of 18 and 24, and that fewer than 5% of 16 and 17-year-olds are apprentices.

We need stronger pathways for work-based learning for young people in the north-west. Much more can be done, and is being done, to promote such work-based training, and I want to refer briefly to the work of the Manufacturing Institute, which is an independent charity founded by north-west manufacturers and universities. The institute’s “Make It” campaign has been working with some 20,000 young people across the north-west, and its partners include Jaguar Land Rover, Siemens, Tetra Pak and James Walker. It aims to give young people in schools and colleges a taster experience, and in the past year, eight enterprise challenge days were sponsored by manufacturing partners and a further three days held in partnership with Education Business Solutions in Manchester high schools.

There are good things going on, but the message needs to go out from the Government to young people in the north-west that vocational education and qualifications are truly valued by them. I am afraid that the hoo-ha around the Secretary of State’s English baccalaureate and the critical comments by Government Members about vocational education have not entirely helped in that respect. The Government need to listen and to get the various agencies to engage with schools more, to give them practical assistance to promote face-to-face encounters and instruction and also some funding, otherwise this will end up like the freedom to dine at the Ritz. The Government need to look thoughtfully at what Wolf says about matching work-based learning to far more partnerships with the voluntary sector and schools.

We need to ensure that teachers understand more clearly what vocational educational routes are out there. Sadly, much of the research and many of the surveys that have been done show that there is still a long way to go in persuading many teachers that a vocational educational route is right for their students. That is especially true in places such as the north-west. We have three types of area challenge. City regions such as Manchester and Liverpool have strong and persistent NEETs levels and skills shortages alongside ambitious regeneration plans. In peripheral seaside and coastal towns such as Blackpool, transients—young people coming into and leaving the town—are key in terms of skills levels. We also have second-level towns and in-between areas, which will not necessarily benefit from the critical mass of jobs and opportunities in the travel-to-work areas. All those areas must have progression and links.

Tony Blair talked about “education, education, education”, but I believe that our watchwords—the Minister has already heard this, so he will have to forgive me—should be “progression, progression, progression”. Our young people in the north-west must be equipped for a working life in which they will change jobs or careers probably four or five times. The situation was not like that for my father, who signed up as an engineering apprentice just before the second world war at the age of 14 with the famous engineering company Crossley and was told by my grandfather that he would have a job for life. Young people will have to be adept at picking up bespoke skills on the job and acquiring the enabling and personal skills that will ease subsequent transfers and take them toward opportunities that include self-employment as well as working for traditional large employers.

To address all that, we need not just proper resources but a proper strategy for progression. So far, the Government have done too little to make those links and enable our young people and their talents to stay in or come back to the north-west. Joined-up pathways to career opportunities will be key to a combination that will enable the north-west’s young people and economy to enjoy the fulfilment, dynamism and achievement to which its history points it.

I am delighted that this debate has been secured, because youth unemployment and the lack of youth opportunities are one of the main reasons why I came into politics. Given that I grew up in Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s, it is understandable that I wanted to change that. It feels a bit like déjà vu at the moment; it reminds me of what happened in the ’70s and ’80s. Sometimes there are defining moments in a life. One such moment for me was 3 July 1981, when I was in Princes park at the top of Devonshire road as the Toxteth riots began. It was 30 years ago this week when the blue sky changed to orange and smoke billowed up into the air.

The riots might have happened in July 1981, but the situation had been festering for some time, perhaps throughout the ’70s. There was much social unrest, as well as complex economic issues and problems with city leaders. People did not feel that they were being heard or given opportunities, although there was a lot of talent in the area. That was a formative experience in my youth, and I desperately wanted to address the issue.

At the time, the Scarman report recognised that the riots represented the result of social problems such as poverty and deprivation, and the Government responded by sending Michael Heseltine to Liverpool to be Minister for Merseyside. He set up the Merseyside taskforce and launched a set of initiatives to begin the regeneration of Liverpool. That is what I am thinking about. We are talking about education and opportunities, but city regeneration is also needed, so that the kids who have learned can take up opportunities. The statistics show that youth unemployment is one of the biggest issues that the coalition Government have been left to tackle. In September 2009, Wirral West had some of the worst unemployment rates in the north-west for 16 to 24-year-olds, ranking seventh—

The hon. Lady mentions regeneration in Merseyside; a lot of people were employed in the housing market renewal programme in Merseyside. Does she regret the loss of that programme?

It is slightly off the subject to talk about a specific housing renewal project, but I will say that infrastructure is key, and we have put £450 million into the Mersey gateway. We have set up enterprise zones in the area, and we are putting money into the Royal Liverpool hospital, which will develop the Merseybio campus to extend the knowledge economy. We are also considering ways to develop Wirral Waters and Liverpool Waters. There are various ways to create regeneration and improve an area.

I jest. I wanted to ask, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) did, about the future jobs fund. It reduced youth unemployment, which was falling as Labour left power. The hon. Lady discussed the scale of the problem, but does she recognise that the future jobs fund was a success, and does she regret the fact that one of this Government’s early decisions was to scrap it?

The future jobs fund had some successes, but 50% of people never ended up in a job. It focused on providing temporary and short-term jobs, which led to false expectations and a lot of upset when jobs did not come to pass. It was also one of the most expensive schemes ever. I do not think that it was a success. It might have been for a small set of people, but it was expensive. Given the timing of its introduction, some might consider it a pre-election stunt. We have to consider schemes that are sustainable. The Work programme, which we are working on now, can get more people into employment.

The statistics in our area show that unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds across the country stands at more than 1 million. The figure for the north-west is 160,000, making it the region with the highest unemployment. Unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds has decreased by 35,000 since the last election. It is a tiny dent, but necessary.

The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) asked about development in Merseyside. I mentioned some of the schemes and the things that we must develop. Merseyside, in its heyday as a maritime port, had a population of 1 million, which dropped to 400,000. We must develop our natural unique selling points. On Merseyside, one of those must be the port. That is why I am delighted that the Minister with responsibility for ports, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), has been negotiating with city council leader Joe Anderson. We need a stop-and-start cruise terminal there. We must also work with private enterprise—we are working with Peel Holdings, Cammell Laird and the Stobart Group—to open up the port, with a vision of Merseyside as the port of the north. If we want to achieve our goals on carbon emissions or other issues, surely developing the port is a way forward and an opportunity for the people there.

As well as increasing employment within the area, we need training schemes for the youth of the day. That is why I am delighted that we are investing in and supporting apprenticeships and increasing the number of places, although I agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) that the issue is not just about apprenticeships; it must be about attracting buy-in from businesses, which must understand that they will benefit. We are considering work experience schemes, voluntary work and the Work programme. All those things are key.

There are things that we can do ourselves. I am doing something this Friday in Wirral West. I visit schools every week; I have seen 5,000 schoolchildren since this time last year. One of them said to me, “Esther, it is a hugely changing landscape. Things are getting more complicated. What will happen at universities? Who will fund us? Who will sponsor us?” I am putting on a youth summit in Wirral this Friday. I will bring together a collection of universities and everybody who could sponsor the event, such as the Manufacturing Institute, which has been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, the Institute of Physics, the police and the Army. I will also bring businesses together to see how they can fund young people, and to discuss the paths they could take to become perhaps a legal executive, solicitor or accountant. I will also bring together apprenticeship schemes from the BBC, the Chemical Industries Association, INEOS, Merseytravel and Andrew Collinge. The National Youth Theatre will also be there, as will a head of recruitment, who will speak to young kids who are at school about what employers need.

Having spent the past 10 years looking into and researching the traits and characteristics of people who succeed in business, I know that what we are talking about is not just grades, but character traits and personality types. It is key that pupils at school understand that, so recruitment people will be present to talk about that. In an ever more complicated age in which CVs might all seem the same, those character traits are key.

We are members of different parties, but we all want more people, particularly the youth, in jobs. If people think that there are no opportunities for them and that they have no future, that will have deep, long-term effects on what they will achieve and what they will want to do. I was slightly different from my friends. In 1984, when we were wondering what we were going to do and most jobs were not available, I thought, “Well, if most jobs aren’t available, I can do whatever I want to do, so why not have a go, and go into TV?” Some of my friends did not have that outlook and were somewhat disappointed for many years to come.

As I have said, the issue is about education and the opportunities that we as a Government can provide in the field of learning, and through apprenticeships and the Work programme. Equally, however, it is about regenerating areas so that they have jobs. I have said all that I wanted to say. We need to do something. The scars that have been left on Merseyside for a long time need to be healed, and one key thing would be the development of the port to provide Merseyside with maritime jobs for a long time to come.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey). As she has reminded us, it is the 30th anniversary of the events in Toxteth. In many ways, Liverpool and the rest of Merseyside, in common with the rest of the north-west, have come a very long way in those three decades. However, communities in Liverpool, including in my constituency, are concerned and fearful that the large-scale cuts in public spending will result in a return to those days. I should also like to put on record my appreciation of the hon. Lady’s work in promoting career opportunities. She came to St John Bosco school in my constituency and spoke to the girls there about career opportunities, which was a positive experience for the young people concerned.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) on securing this important debate, which addresses vital issues for constituencies throughout the region and, indeed, other parts of the country. He set out some of the key economic strengths of the north-west region. He spoke about the BBC’s move to Salford and about the impact of the work of both the National Apprenticeship Service in the north-west and the North West Universities Association. He rightly reminded us of the disproportionate and unfair impact that the Government’s decisions on cuts last year have had on constituencies such as his and mine. The combination of the reduction in the area-based grant and the disproportionate impact of the wider cuts has been felt in the voluntary and communities sector and in education, including, as my hon. Friend rightly said, further education.

My hon. Friend spoke about the impact of the cuts to the education maintenance allowance. Like other Members, I have in recent months visited sixth forms and colleges, including Liverpool community college, in my constituency, and young people are concerned that, without EMA, they might not be able to stay in education. I still encourage them—I am sure that all Members do this—to consider education, because of the broader benefits that it brings, but there is concern. My hon. Friend is right to say that the Opposition will closely monitor how the Government’s new and much cheaper scheme to replace EMA operates in practice.

My hon. Friend also spoke about the English baccalaureate and its implications for vocational education. It is a big challenge. Concerns have already been aired about the E-bac—the subjects that are and are not included, the way in which it was introduced, and the retrospective application of a standard that schools did not know about at the time. Those, however, are matters for another day. In today’s debate, I am keen for the Government to give an indication that they will develop a vocational version of the E-bac. It would tell those young people who will not follow a primarily academic path that there is something of equally high status and rigour with a strong vocational component that will recognise their achievement.

My hon. Friend also spoke about apprenticeships. I want to put on record my appreciation of those in Liverpool who provide apprenticeships. When Labour regained control of Liverpool city council just over a year ago, a commitment was made, despite the difficult funding environment, to create new apprenticeships. I am delighted that Joe Anderson’s administration has created 133 apprenticeships. It is striking that, when Liverpool city council advertised those new apprenticeships, there were 1,183 applications. That demonstrates my hon. Friend’s point about the demand for the kind of support that apprenticeships provide.

I want to refer to three different examples—two from Liverpool and one from London. If we are to enhance career opportunities for young people, that will not simply be delivered by the state, be that the Department for Education nationally or local authorities. The social and private sectors will also have an important role to play. In Croxteth in my constituency, the neighbourhood services company, Alt Valley Community Trust, is a model of a social enterprise that works with both the private and public sectors to deliver for local people. Its work has been widely praised and recognised. It runs a hugely successful future jobs fund initiative. I certainly do not concur with the hon. Lady, who described that fund as a pre-election stunt. I invite her to come to Croxteth to see the brilliant work that the communiversity is doing with funding from the future jobs fund. Some 800 beneficiaries have been provided with six-month contracts over almost the past two years. There have been more than 500 work placements as a result of that one social enterprise, which is a communiversity or neighbourhood services company based in Croxteth, one of the most deprived parts of my constituency.

From September, when the future jobs fund will come to an end, the neighbourhood services company in Croxteth will work with others, including local housing associations and the city council, to provide a further 60 apprenticeships. Yes, future careers for young people are about what happens in our schools and the policies of central Government and local authorities, but they are also, importantly, about engaging with social enterprises such as the communiversity in Croxteth.

Liverpool city council, in partnership with Liverpool community college and Liverpool John Moores university, is working on a proposed university technical college in Liverpool. It is an exciting opportunity for Liverpool to create a new college for 14 to 19-year-olds. Some 600 students will probably attend the university technical college, if it gets the go-ahead, which I very much hope it does. Its curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds will be based on traditional GCSEs and A-levels, but with a much more significant technical element for about 40% of the curriculum. It will look at either the traditional or the new strengths in the Merseyside economy. I echo what the hon. Lady has said about the importance of the port. The university technical college will focus on the port and economic activity around it, as well as on environmental technology. That is a model of the way in which the education system can meet some of the new challenges we face, particularly in vocational education, which my hon. Friend has set out so eloquently.

Finally, there is the broader question of careers advice. Frankly, we have never got it right in this country, and we can all tell stories about the advice we got when we were at school or college as teenagers. When the Labour party was in government, we tried to deal with the issue, and I was briefly the Minister with responsibility for the Connexions service when it was first set up. We know from all the evidence that, for all the different initiatives we have had, we have never quite got things right. We have to look at new and innovative solutions.

Cardinal Heenan school in my constituency runs industry days. It invites local people who work in a variety of fields to come and meet its young people face to face to talk about the work they do. The school does that with the year 9s before they choose their GCSE options, and it does it again with the year 11s, who are at a crucial stage in their education. That is the sort of programme that we need to encourage and have more of.

My hon. Friend is giving some good examples of the importance of a good careers service and good practice. Does he agree that the change to providing careers advice remotely is worrying? The loss of face-to-face careers guidance, particularly where personal relationships already exist, is very worrying, and there is concern about the ability to maintain the benefits of such face-to-face guidance.

. I share my hon. Friend’s concern. I echo what he has said and what my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South said in his opening remarks: a face-to-face element and direct interaction are crucial. In a sense, my argument is that we need more rather than less of that. Some of that advice will come through traditional careers advice in school, but some needs to be different and innovative, and I will give an example shortly.

We all agree about the importance of good-quality careers advice. Is my hon. Friend as concerned as me about the resources for that advice in schools? As more schools set up independently as academies, the resources available to local authorities to support the schools that remain in their ambit will be reduced, so careers advice may suffer.

Absolutely. It is vital that carers advice is seen as a priority by schools—whatever their status, they have to own this issue—and by central and local government.

I want to give an example of a social enterprise. Future First, which was set up by an inspirational young man called Jake Hayman, looks to change the way in which careers advice is provided. Its key aim is to bring former students back to their old schools to inspire, advise and guide the current pupils. It aims to build an alumni network in each school in the state sector and to work with schools to celebrate the diverse range of talents that have come from them. Future First uses these networks to engage with the current pupils over four years—this is not a one-off event. It leverages that network with a community of businesses. It is currently working in London with businesses such as Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide work experience, internships and industry days.

I know one of the schools Future First works with in north London. William Ellis school in Camden has built a network of 40 former students, including football coaches, doctors, sound technicians, entrepreneurs and architects, providing a careers curriculum for more than 900 students. Through its alumni network, it has created a range of work experience placements, which includes more than 20 work-shadowing opportunities with leading barristers. That is absolutely the right way to go, because it is about promoting social mobility, narrowing gaps in opportunity between the poorest and the richest and giving young people in state schools opportunities that a lot of young people in private schools take for granted.

Future First has commissioned research into the issues it works on. Some 27% of children in state schools said the careers advice they had received was bad or very bad, whereas the figure in private schools was just 6%. Some 39% of young people attending state schools agreed with the statement:

“I don’t know anyone with a career that I'd like to do”,

and the figure rose to 45% among those receiving free school meals. The polling showed that the Future First style of advice was very popular among young people. Future First receives no Government funding and has been set up voluntarily. The schools pay for its services, but at a heavily subsidised rate. Corporate partners provide the bulk of the funding.

I have mentioned that example from London in this debate about the north-west because I am keen to see a similar programme in the north-west, perhaps starting in Liverpool—just to conjure a name off the top of my head. I have spoken today with Future First, which is keen to go to other parts of the country. That is not an alternative to the proper careers advice service my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South spoke about, but on its own the traditional service is not good enough. In particular, it is not addressing the skills gaps and lack of social mobility that Members have identified in the debate. I would be grateful if the Minister responded specifically on how the Government see the Future First programme.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) on securing the debate.

It is a pleasure to take part in a debate with the phrase “north-west” in the title, because there is a bit of a structural issue in this place about the treatment of the English regions vis-à-vis other parts of the country. We hear a great deal about Scotland, and we have Scottish questions. We also have Welsh questions and Northern Irish questions. However, we hear little about the English regions, which is why I am pleased to take part in the debate. In that regard, at least, people on both sides of the Chamber have more in common with the each other than not.

I want to talk first about how London-orientated our economy is. The gross value added of the north-west is approximately 60% of London’s, and no other major economy in western Europe or the US has a similar discrepancy. That is extremely serious for our constituents, because there is an assumption that anything world-class that happens in this country goes back down to London, and we need to do what we can as MPs to fight that. I will talk a little about some of the world-class enterprises that we have in the north-west, which we need to encourage.

I also want to talk about the public spending that Scotland gets vis-à-vis the English regions. Today’s debate is not the place to discuss the Barnett formula, but it is a fact that if my constituency was north of the border, and it had the same demographics and a similar needs profile, it would get about £1,600 a head more in public spending.

A small thing that happened a fortnight ago should give us all food for thought in the north-west. We have talked about the Mersey Gateway project, but another major bridge programme will take place just north of Edinburgh, when the Forth road bridge is replaced. That bridge will not be tolled, but ours will be, and it is increasingly difficult to understand why such discrepancies and differences can continue in the same country and still be defended.

I want to go back to the point about London. I will not make a party political speech, but the fact is that London has got away from the rest of the UK, including the north-west. That has got worse over the past decade. That was principally because of the financial services boom in London, which caused the rather frothy increase in GDP per head there, and we saw the reckoning that occurred. One of the reasons why the situation got worse—again, this is not a party political point, but one for both Front Benchers—is because two years ago, Government capital spending per head in London was three times what it was in the north-west. That level of discrepancy generated private sector jobs, affluence and all that went with it for London. I very much hope that the coalition will do what it can not to let that happen in the future.

Infrastructure is part of how the north-south divide—

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the subject for debate is a narrow one. We are talking about career opportunities for young people in the north-west, not about the regional or national economy more generally.

My point is that the degree of affluence and gross domestic product that we can generate in the north-west translates to career opportunities. The reason why many of our young people come down to London to make their way is because there are not enough world-class organisations in the north-west. However, I will take your point, Mr Bayley, and move on to the changes in education and career opportunities that have occurred over the past 30 years.

The jobs that our young people need to do, whether or not they are in the north-west, are increasingly technology-based and technology-focused. Companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are all technology companies. Each has generated perhaps as many as 250,000 jobs in their immediate infrastructure. None of them are in the UK, let alone in the north-west. It is important that this country can compete on technology. One of the most striking things that has occurred over the past 30 years is that while we have increased the number of graduates by a factor of five—that applies to the north-west as well—we have fewer people studying engineering than we did 30 years ago. That is not a point for just the previous Government or the Government before that, because it is what has happened in our country. The consequence is that many of our young people cannot compete for high-technology jobs or in the expanding market in high-technology. That is a shocking failure—it is possibly one of the most dramatic failures in education policy in the past. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that.

Finally, our economy will continue to be fairly focused on manufacturing. A unit of GDP generated from manufacturing uses more energy than a unit of GDP generated from services. It is important for the north-west economy, and therefore for the prospects of the young people in the north-west, that energy prices are kept competitive. I am interested to hear how the Minister addresses my concern, which is that this country is sleepwalking its way into having higher energy prices than any similar economy in Europe. That will bear down particularly hard on parts of the country where manufacturing, especially process manufacturing, is a significant feature.

I will be brief and not take long at all. Thank you, Mr Bayley, for allowing me to contribute to the debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) on securing this important debate. I know from his previous work what a great champion he is for our region, the north-west, and for young people. Before the debate, I read his article on, and it struck me that the points he raises ring true with the experiences in my constituency. We, too, have excellent leading-edge companies, fantastic higher and further education institutions and a population of young people who are as ambitious and aspirational as any of their peers elsewhere in the country.

In West Lancashire, we have leading companies such as Trelleborg CRP, which is at the forefront of marine technology, and the company that was given the job of providing Wembley stadium with a surface that we can all be proud of. We also have social enterprises, for example West Lancashire Community Recycling, which used money from the future jobs fund to support getting people who would otherwise have remained unemployed into work. We have the Construction academy in Skelmersdale, and we need a strong construction sector for people to move into.

This September, a new £42 million further education college will open its doors to students from across West Lancashire and beyond. That college has had £4 million taken away after the Government’s decision to scrap the Northwest Development Agency, which was a vital tool in securing investment in the region. I brought that matter to the attention of the Prime Minister last September. When the £4 million was removed, the college had already been half-built up out of the ground. The furniture had been built and there was absolutely no scope for a redesign. The college was in a desperate position. The Minister made a successful visit to see the building and the condition of the old Skelm college building. Sadly, an offer of £19,000 over three years, which will hardly make an imprint on the £4 million that had been stolen by the Government, was made. I asked the Prime Minister for help—not a hand-out, but a hand-up—for young people, and what have they got? The college, whose building is now built, will see further cuts in education—a 4% cut in overall funding. It has lost two thirds of its entitlement funding and is consulting on 17 job losses. It has also cut courses to try to meet the gap. It can do nothing else about it. At a time when youth unemployment is a severe concern, we should be investing in the education and training of young people and equipping them for work.

I fear for future opportunities for young people. As cuts and redundancies bite, my concern is that young people will be lost in the mayhem. Many north-west MPs lived through the 1980s and early 1990s, witnessing at first hand the scale and depth of economic devastation that was wrought by Conservative Governments. Towns such as Skelmersdale were decimated, with real unemployment levels at about 50%. Families were left without work, and many are still feeling the effects of those policies today. We are in danger of going back to the future if we are not careful. For all the success of the schemes that I have mentioned and many others in West Lancashire, the ability to bring on board the next generation of workers is increasingly limited. The future jobs fund has been scrapped, which will hinder many social enterprises and voluntary organisations. Apprenticeship opportunities are limited, and the young apprenticeship scheme is disappearing.

In education, the support given to families through the education maintenance allowance is vital. When I talk to young people in my constituency, they tell me that £30 a week is the difference between their going to college or not. We have also seen a reduction in entitlement funding, which is vital for further education colleges, providing support to young learners that help them to be job-prepared or prepared for university. Previously, that group received 114 hours of support. In Skelm college, that has been slashed to 30 hours. It is clear from the few examples that I have highlighted that the opportunity for young people to develop the skills, knowledge and experience to make them job-ready and able to access career opportunities is being choked off, especially for those from deprived backgrounds.

My message today is that we cannot afford to have another generation of young people thrown on to the scrap heap. We must address two challenges—ensuring that there are career opportunities for the young people of the north-west in the north-west, and ensuring that the pathways of support that will prepare them to take advantage of those opportunities are available. One without the other is of no use at all. I want to see an economy for the communities such as West Lancashire and the north-west that continues to build on the strengths and expertise that we have within the region and that encourage people to remain there. I once again make a plea to the Minister to do what he can to help Skelm college and young people. We cannot and must not forget or write off our young people.

The generosity of the Opposition spokesman means that there is a little more time for Back Benchers. I call Bill Esterson to speak for a maximum of five minutes.

I add my congratulations to those given to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) on securing a very important debate. Given the good and positive discussions that we had in the Select Committee on Education some weeks ago on similar topics, I am looking forward to the Minister’s response.

I shall pick up the excellent points made by my neighbour in the Chamber today and in the north-west, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), about rebalancing the economy geographically. It is absolutely crucial that we establish good employment prospects for young people, so that they stay in the region. We should do that through investment in the local economy. The abolition of the regional development agency has created a big problem in achieving that, but there are opportunities.

The port of Liverpool has been mentioned. Although the cruise terminal would be a welcome development, we need to go much further than that and provide opportunities for export through the sorts of hi-tech industry that hon. Members have mentioned. It is absolutely essential that we achieve that for the wider economy and for the future of young people.

The RDA has been mentioned in the previous two contributions. I do not deny that that organisation did a great deal of good in the north-west. However, if an organisation is given £3 billion a year to spend, that is what will happen. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that each job created by the RDA in the north-west, which was one of the better RDAs, cost £60,000? That is an awful lot of money, and we need to consider alternatives.

I am grateful for that intervention, because it ties in with two other issues that I was going to raise: the abolition of the future jobs fund and the phasing out of the young apprenticeship scheme. Both programmes are being phased out because of the high cost of success. The hon. Gentleman is making the same point about the RDA.

It is about not only cost but sustainability. We should not have short six-month schemes, because such programmes must lead to sustainability. It is about cost and sustainability.

Those are closely linked issues. Whether we are talking about the RDA, the young apprenticeship scheme or the future jobs fund, the issue is about finding better ways of running such schemes, rather than just abolishing them and leaving a void that could go on for many years.

In the north-west, there was the particular problem because the recession peaked in 1981, but youth unemployment only peaked four years later in 1985. Unless we deal with these issues now, there will be a repeat of that pattern. There was success. I consider a 50% conversion in relation to the future jobs fund to be a success not a failure. We need to learn the lessons of the past if we are to get it right in the future.

I want briefly to say something about the EMA before I finish. The EMA was crucial to apprenticeships and to colleges. It was a core part of family income. Evidence from Hugh Baird college in Sefton and elsewhere in the north-west shows not only that it was a core part of family income, but that it increased achievement and attainment. It is hard for college principals to identify who absolutely needs it and who will continue to attend without it. Those issues were not considered in the haste to make changes. The sorts of changes that have been made to the EMA, the future jobs fund and the young apprenticeship scheme are, as with so many other areas, too far, too fast. That is my major concern.

I hope that such an approach will not lead to young people of the current generation paying a very steep price, as people of my generation did in the ’80s. Even now, some of those people have never found well-paid jobs or established careers. Their families have paid the price over many years. I hope that the Minister will address those points in his summing up. We are 14 months into this Government. If we do not get it right very quickly, the time will have passed and it will be too late for this generation as well.

I am particularly pleased that we are serving under your chairmanship today, Mr Bayley. For my sins, I was campaign manager for the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election earlier this year. I have fond and vivid memories of driving through the snow on the M62 to deliver the keynote speech for the celebration of achievements at a spectacular and ambitious college called York college. I understand that you are a massive champion of that fantastic further education institution, Mr Bayley, so it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) on securing the debate. I pay tribute to him not only for being a first-class Member of Parliament on behalf of his constituents, but for his excellent work on the Front Bench in respect of further education colleges and adult skills. He knows how important it is for young people to have opportunities provided to allow them to have fulfilling and rewarding careers and lives and for professionals to have the support and resources to navigate the young people through the options that they face.

We have had a good debate. Hon. Members from all parties have articulated the enormous potential of the north-west. As I was listening to the debate, it struck me that the north-west is very similar in terms of its history and potential to my region of the north-east. We were once the workshop and powerhouse of the world, and we also suffered too much from changes to industry in the latter half of the 20th century. However, our economies have diversified and both areas now have great potential to take advantage of the opportunities in the 21st-century global economy.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South said, the north-west has a strong network of further and higher education institutions. It is also very similar to my area of the north-east in having a positive culture of welcoming apprenticeships. My hon. Friend mentioned world-class apprenticeship schemes in the north-west such as those run by BAE Systems. I should like to mention companies such as MBDA in Bolton. I greatly enjoyed going to that factory when I was a Minister. A few months ago, I welcomed apprentices from the firm to the House with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). The quality of MBDA’s apprenticeship scheme is absolutely first class. I particularly like the way that apprentices visit schools to teach younger pupils about science and engineering. They spark pupils’ interest in the issues, ignite their ambition and encourage mentoring and work experience opportunities. The MBDA apprentices are the very model of professionalism. They are marvellous ambassadors not only for their firm and Bolton, but for young people across the country.

The debate has provided a good opportunity to ask the Government what they have against the young people of this country. In the space of a few short months since coming to office, they have stripped young people of opportunities through the abolition of the future jobs fund, the cancellation of education maintenance allowance, the trebling of tuition fees, the ending of Aimhigher, the cancellation of the youth opportunities fund, the ending of young apprenticeships and the loss of the careers service without any replacement put in place.

Any Government should be judged on their ambition for the future by the way in which they help, support and nurture young people. I am afraid that this Government have been found wanting at best and downright neglectful and damaging to the next generation at worst. It is little wonder that the Education Committee concluded in its recent report on services to young people:

“we comment that the Government’s lack of urgency in articulating a youth policy or strategic vision is regrettable. The Government needs to acknowledge the reality of what is happening to many youth services on the ground and act now.”

We have heard in the debate how the economic certainties that the post-war generation had have gone for ever. People in the north-west in the 1950s and ’60s might have had a very clear form of career road map, as was also the case in my patch. People might have gone into the Ferranti works in Hollinwood, Oldham, or been employed by Crossley in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South. Alternatively, they might have worked at the docks in Liverpool or on the railways in Crewe. Those places were the absolute bedrock of the local economy and provided a certainty of long-term employment that is no longer there. My hon. Friend recalled vividly how his father left school at the age of 14 and expected to work in the same place for 30, if not 40, years.

Young people are starting their careers in a much more complex and more challenging world, which has been made even more difficult by the global financial crisis. In an economic downturn, young people will find it especially difficult to secure and maintain employment, because by definition they do not have experience of work. They face that Catch-22 situation—they cannot find work because they have not got experience, but they cannot secure experience because they have not got work. We in the House have to help young people to break that cycle.

In these challenging times, it is more vital than ever that young people have the support, help and tools they need to navigate the various options that they face when trying to secure further education, training or employment. Now, more than ever, we need an effective careers service for young people. That is why the Government’s inept and shambolic attempts to reform the careers service are particularly damaging. The move from Connexions to a national careers service, with schools having a greater responsibility for the provision of such information, advice and guidance, has been botched. I like the Minister very much—I should like to consider him as a friend—but I have to tell him that on this occasion and on this issue he is guilty of being asleep on the job.

I have a series of questions that the Minister needs to address, and he needs to address them urgently. Will he update the House as to where we are on the transition plan? In March, during the consideration in Committee of the Education Bill, I stressed to him the urgency of producing rapidly a comprehensive transition plan for the careers service. We are now at the stage, more than three months after discussing this in Committee, where we still have no real additional information. That is not good enough. School leavers have a matter of days—literally, days—left in education, but no real clarity on what will happen come September. How shambolic is that? Will the Minister get his finger out and do something quickly to prevent those young people, in the north-west and elsewhere, from drifting because of ambiguity, uncertainty and dithering by the Government into a lifetime of low pay, low skills and low expectations?

I understand that the careers summit between the Minister and professionals will take place soon—I think it is on 15 July. I fear that this is far too little far too late, but will the Minister provide further information on the agenda and invitees to the event? Parliamentary questions from me were answered by the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb)—it is unusual to get Education Ministers to answer parliamentary questions, but I will leave it at that—but the answers were spectacularly uninformative. Does the Minister now accept that the summit is happening too late? What does the Minister hope to achieve from the summit and how will practical recommendations and suggestions arising from it be communicated and disseminated to schools and other stakeholders, particularly given the time of the year? The summer holidays will start a matter of hours after the summit.

Face-to-face guidance was mentioned in the debate, and that is a good part of good-quality information, advice and guidance. It worries me that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills states on its website that it will provide:

“free face to face guidance to priority groups”.

Will the Minister confirm or deny that not all pupils will receive face-to-face information, advice and guidance? Will he articulate what the phrase “priority groups” actually means, and what will the criteria be for such groups? Will he reassure me that priority groups will include all children—all children in schools—to let them have the opportunity to have face-to-face guidance on careers to allow them to make meaningful choices and decisions about their future career?

The Minister’s Department’s website states:

“the network of organisations funded by BIS will be able to offer services on the open market to those individuals/organisations which are willing to pay”.

Will the Minister explain that in more detail? In particular, will he rule out the prospect of high-quality information, advice and guidance, including that important point about face-to-face careers advice and guidance being provided to pupils only where parents are willing to pay an additional fee for such a service? Can he rule that out immediately?

Many careers professionals lost their jobs when local authorities dispensed with Connexions at the end of March. The Government talk a good game when they say they wish to trust professionals in education policy but not, evidently, when it comes to careers professionals. How will the Minister ensure that that experience, skills and professionalism will not be lost permanently for young people, when thousands of staff lost their jobs in March?

The Minister is aware, because my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South rightly pointed it out, that funding for careers has been cut severely. My hon. Friend mentioned the pooling of 22 separate funding streams, including that for Connexions, into a single early intervention grant. He made the point, in a great and articulate way, about the additional services that this early intervention grant has to produce. In addition to Connexions and youth services, it is intended to fund Sure Start children’s centres, build capacity for local authorities to extend free early education to disadvantaged two-year-olds, provide short breaks for disabled children, support vulnerable young people to engage in education and training, prevent young people from taking part in risky behaviour such as crime, substance misuse or teenage pregnancy, support young people at risk of mental health problems and help young people who have a learning difficulty or disability. There is simply not the funding in place to have an effective careers service. Can the Minister do something about that, especially when we are thinking that the early intervention grant will be cut by a further 11 per cent next year?

The Government have failed to articulate their vision about how they will help young people develop and prosper in the most difficult economic circumstances for a generation. More damning is that the Government have simply failed young people. We have seen the Secretary of State for Education lose control over his Department, fail to address the real needs that young people and industry require and fail to be on the right side of the argument on the careers service, school capital, school sport and the education maintenance allowance. He has emphasised elitism in education at the expense of excellence for all. As we have heard several times during the debate this afternoon, we now face the appalling prospect of a lost generation failing to achieve its potential and having a poorer quality of life than the previous generation. That is not how it should be. The Minister needs to raise his game and do something to help the young people of the north-west and, indeed, the young people of the entire country.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. It is also a pleasure to respond to this debate, which I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) on securing.

I am going to discuss three things, and I will try to deal with as many of the points that have been raised as possible. First, I want to speak about apprenticeships. Secondly, I want to talk about the careers service, information, advice and guidance, as that is what the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and other hon. Members focused on in particular. But before I deal with those, the third thing that I want to speak about, which I will deal with first just to create a degree of excitement in my short peroration, is macro-economics.

Macro-economic strategy is critically important to the future that we want for our young people—indeed, for all our people. The Government’s emphasis on dealing with debt is an important pillar in that strategy. In that effort, the recalibration of our perspective on what government does and does not do needs to be taken into account. The silver lining, if I may put it that way, of the very tough comprehensive spending review that we have endured is that we have had to think more critically about the value for money that we get from all the taxpayer funds that we invest.

The second pillar of the macro-economic strategy, which is less often spoken of but is no less central to our ambitions, is to rethink the character of our labour force. We do so against a background, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool said, of greater uncertainty and more rapid change. In order for our economy to succeed, it must be more sustainable. That sustainability will make it better able to endure some of the challenges that we have faced in the past two years when they doubtless happen again, because as you know, Mr Bayley, economies move in cycles. That redrawing of what Britain can be and should be requires us to think about what modern economies look like. Modern economies are more advanced, more high tech and more highly skilled, and they change more rapidly. That dynamism, and indeed that high-tech work force, will be essential if we are going to develop the productivity and competitiveness that we seek, which underpins prosperity.

As Minister, my task is to implement measures that allow us to develop that high-tech, highly skilled work force fit for a high-tech, highly skilled economy. That is why I focused so heavily on apprenticeships when I became a Minister. The hon. Member for Hartlepool—I have two hon. Members shadowing me, because the Opposition know that one would not be enough—is right that the previous Government understood that, too. Indeed, he was a Minister in the previous Government. I do not, for a moment, claim that we have a unique insight into the value of apprenticeships. However, the difference between his Government and ours—where his Government got this wrong and we have got it right—was to make apprenticeships the pivot around which the rest of the skills offer moves. To do that, we transferred money from the Train to Gain budget to the apprenticeship budget, as the previous Government could and should have done. The support that the previous Government gave apprenticeships provided an important foundation, and there was trend growth in apprenticeship numbers—I want to acknowledge that clearly—but we have gone further and faster than they did or perhaps would have done. I say that with as much generosity as I can summon, which is not easy for a party politician, although it is made all the more easy by the two people who shadow me, who are diligent, studious, committed and decent.

Let us look at how the constituencies of Members currently in the Chamber are affected. Since we came to office, there has been a modest but not insignificant increase of 4% in the number of apprenticeships in the constituency of the hon. Member for Blackpool South, and a 13% increase in your constituency, Mr Bayley—all the figures are based on the latest data, which I announced to the House on my birthday only a few days ago. In my Parliamentary Private Secretary’s constituency of Bromsgrove, the increase was 16%, in Wirral West 23%, in West Lancashire 22%, in Warrington South 11%, in Liverpool, West Derby 22%, in Sefton South 27% and—

In South Holland and The Deepings the increase in apprenticeships was 43%—but I did not know that until I came to the Chamber.

The Minister did not mention my constituency because it is called Sefton Central, not Sefton South, but I am grateful for the figure.

I mentioned young apprentices in my speech. The worrying finding in Professor Wolf’s inquiry was that most of the increased number of apprenticeships have gone to 19 to 24-year-olds. The danger is of a gap among the 16 to 18-year-olds who are not able to take up apprenticeships. How does the Minister intend to rectify that?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There are particular pressures on 16 to 18-year-olds, and some of those pressures are to do with the perceived and real risks for businesses taking on a young person. That is particularly true for small and medium-sized enterprises—small businesses perceive an associated risk because they have a small base—while the capacity of large organisations to absorb such risk is rather different. Nevertheless, the figures that I announced a week ago of about 114,000 more apprenticeships in total throughout the country, amount to the biggest single boost in apprenticeship numbers ever in our history, and I have no doubt that at the end of the CSR period we will have 500,000 apprentices, which is a previously undreamed-of figure. Also, when I looked closely at the figures, there has been growth for 16 to 18-year-olds, for 19 to 24-year-olds and for 25-plus, which suggests significant latent demand on the part of learners and of employers. We can talk about that at greater length when we have more time, but I suspect that we have further untapped demand, as well as some trend changes in how businesses are interfacing with the skills system and how learners are making choices about the route best suited to them.

The Minister has mentioned macro-economics. Economic growth has been forecast downwards repeatedly and quite dramatically. Will that impact on his target of 500,000 apprenticeships, which is obviously based on demand in the wider economy?

I never have targets; I only have ambitions—it would be vulgar to describe them as targets. The hon. Gentleman is right that, at the next stage of implementation, we need to tie our skills strategy more closely to growth, so next I want to identify those parts of the economy with the biggest growth potential and where skills gaps might inhibit that potential growth. Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to look specifically at the inhibitors to growth in those areas where we can create maximum opportunities for employment, including employment for young people. He is right that, in developing the strategy that I laid out last November, we certainly need to be mindful of growth and, in particular, of sectors and subsectors where there are real skills gaps that are impacting on productivity and competitiveness. For example, I was at Ravensbourne academy today, talking about the creative industries, which have real capacity for growth but also unmet demand, and we need to address that issue of skills. Advanced manufacturing is another such example. We need to look at such challenges, and he is right to raise the issue.

I have spoken about macro-economics and apprenticeships, although I am at risk of becoming an apprenticeship bore. Suffice to say that, for the whole time that I am the Minister, which my hon. Friends throughout the Chamber hope will be for a long time, although that is down to the Prime Minister and not to me, apprenticeships will be the pivot. Shaping the skills system around apprenticeships creates a different dynamic and a different set of expectations, as well as a vocational pathway that is as navigable, progressive, seductive and rigorous as the academic route on which so many of us travelled. We need a longer vocational ladder, which is rigorous and provides opportunity for young people, and which means that those with practical and vocational tastes and talents do not see vocational learning as a cul-de-sac. For too long, people have not seen the route to higher learning in that vocational pathway, which they need to do if they are to make the right choices at the right time that are most likely to allow them to fulfil their potential.

I have said that I will discuss careers advice and guidance; it would be wrong for me not to do so. I will be making a major speech on the subject tomorrow, so the hon. Member for Hartlepool can look forward to that with bated breath. I could say more now but, in fact, I will do more than that, although my officials will shudder: I will deal with all the questions that he asked today in that speech tomorrow—it will require some redrafting, because we did not know what questions he would pose until a few moments ago—but I will ensure that I do, as I owe the hon. Gentleman that.

In summary, however, the hon. Gentleman grossly overstated my few weaknesses and understated my many strengths. I do not mind his doing that, because I like him as he likes me. I believe passionately in advice and guidance, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) has mentioned. She is doing such incredible work: for example, by pulling together the Wirral youth summit, in just a few days’ time, and by doing immense work promoting careers advice and guidance. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) understand the difference for social mobility of ambition and rebalancing advantage in society—as a Tory, I believe in rebalancing and redistributing advantage in society—and the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) feels the same. Therefore, we need to ensure that we give those young people who do not have access to familial networks or similar social networks the best advice, so that they get their chance of glittering prizes as well. That is why we need good advice and guidance.

So we will do three things. First, over the past year, we have done a great deal with the careers profession, which in the coming months—certainly by the autumn—will be in a position to announce an unprecedented degree of co-operation among careers professionals, leading to a new set of professional standards with linked training and accreditation. The national careers service will be founded on the expertise and professionalism of the careers sector, reprofessionalised and emerging from the dark days under the previous regime to a new era of purposeful drive, in which it is valued and its role is central to the work that we will do to foster social mobility. That will be laid out in the autumn—I always said that the national careers service would be up and running next year, not this year. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to look at those proposals, and I think that he will be proud of the work that the Careers Profession Alliance has done following the work of the task force led by Dame Ruth Silver.

Secondly, we will change the statutory duty on schools to ensure that they secure independent professional advice—the Bill is going through the House now—which I expect them to do. For too long provision has been patchy. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby talked about the difference between the independent sector and the state sector, and he is right. Connexions did not do the job—let us be frank. Connexions did some good work, of course, and many people were dedicated to that work, but the structure itself was faulty, because it had to be a jack of all trades rather than a master of careers. We are therefore changing the statutory duty incumbent on schools, and we will deliver a tough statutory arrangement to ensure that schools live up to it.

Finally, we will provide national access to the national careers service through co-location with colleges throughout the country and Jobcentre Plus. We will lay all those proposals before the House, so the hon. Member for Hartlepool can be confident that, in every part of Britain, young people and others will be able to obtain the careers advice and guidance that they need to make the best of themselves—to be their best and to do their best. I will say more tomorrow, but I know that you, Mr Bayley, and others will leave this Chamber with a spring in your step, because you know that the Government are committed to the young people of the north-west and to all the young people of Britain.