Increasing schools’ autonomy is central to our mission. Of course the Government take business very seriously and understand the importance of the relationship between business and education. It is therefore absolutely right that local businesses cement links with schools. It is not for me to dictate what those links should be; that will depend on local circumstances. Organisations such as the chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, in which my hon. Friend plays a distinguished part, are best placed to make those judgments.
I thank the Minister for his response. Over the past seven years, we have seen a trend of rising youth unemployment, and we are now also starting to see a real skills gap in engineering and manufacturing. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are truly to rebalance our economy and reduce youth unemployment, we must, in partnership with our world-class manufacturing companies, put in place a strategy to energise and promote the future of engineering and manufacturing within our schools?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a point that is both salient and persuasive. The Government need no persuading, however, that STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—matters. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke earlier of our work with university technical colleges, which were originally devised by Rab Butler, a great Education Secretary, and driven by the noble Lord Baker, who was another. We have delivering that policy a third great Education Secretary in the making, who is sitting next to me.
Was any assessment undertaken of the approach taken by business education partnerships? In my area, the Humber, we had an excellent business education partnership, and most of the business leaders who sat on it are distraught that its funding was withdrawn without any notice at all.
As I said, such things are best dealt with locally, but make no mistake: this Government regard skills as at the top of the political agenda. If we are to equip businesses with what they need and allow people to fulfil their potential, we must, once and for all, give those with practical, technical tastes and talents their place in the sun, their chance of glittering prizes.
I confirm for my hon. Friend that university technical colleges are providing a fantastic platform for bringing employers and schools together. Reading’s new UTC is supported by Microsoft, BT and many other leading companies. Considering that so many important companies are stepping up to these important responsibilities, is he not disappointed by the reaction of the teaching unions and some Labour Members?