I should like to answer Questions 5 and 21 together, Mr Speaker, as they are identical, but I seek your permission to do so.
The proportion of young people not in education, employment or training has been too high for too long. It is a structural problem, reflecting wider changes in the labour market, which we are determined to tackle. This month sees the start of our £126 million youth contract programme for 16 to 17-year-olds supporting some 55,000 young people who are not currently participating. That is on top of our record spending of £7.5 billion on education and training places for young people.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The latest increase in the number of NEETs seems largely to be a result of the drop in employment in the 16 to 18 age group. Local manufacturers in my area report that they have great difficulty in getting young people to go into manufacturing, but that those who do have successful apprenticeships have normally done work experience. Will he lobby his colleagues to reintroduce compulsory work experience in secondary schools to overcome this problem?
The hon. Gentleman is a champion of apprenticeships, as am I. He will be delighted that there are now a record 104,500 apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds, but he is right to say that the engagement of employers is needed, and employers do indeed say that early contact with the world of work is important. He is right to make that case and I share his argument. We will continue to pursue that course of action.
Order. The hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who has Question 21 on the Order Paper, is not in the Chamber and is under no obligation to be as he had not been notified of any intended grouping. So no blame attaches to him, but I will call another Member to ask a supplementary.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Erewash jobs fair that I have arranged for this Wednesday is an excellent opportunity to showcase to young people, and indeed to those of all ages, the employment opportunities and opportunities in training and skills that are currently available?
In Erewash, they speak of little else than the hon. Lady’s job fair and her continuing work in the interests of young people and local employers. She is right that through marketing manufacturing opportunities of the kind she mentions we will seed a thirst for such work, which is so vital if people are to fulfil their potential and the economy is to prosper.
May I remind the Minister that there is nothing amusing about the 1 million young people who are unemployed? Is it not a fact that the lack of leadership and imagination in our schools and in the leadership of this country means that those people are languishing with little hope? Can we not use unemployed graduates, working with NEETs, to make something happen and make it happen soon?
The hon. Gentleman is right that this is not a matter for levity, but he is also wise enough to acknowledge, I hope, that it is a structural problem. The number of young people not in education, employment or training began to rise, as he knows, long before the current economic challenges. It requires a structural solution and at the heart of that is building the skills people need to get and to keep jobs, which is precisely what this Government are doing.
The Minister has been good at understanding that we need good careers guidance for young people, but if we are to have fewer people out of work and doing nothing at all post-16, high-quality work experience for all young people must be delivered in every school and college. Will colleagues in the Department for Education work with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that such a programme is in place very soon?
I am the personification of the relationship between the two Departments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. It is essential that our strategy for growth and our approach to business work in tandem with what we do in schools. Although he cannot welcome it, as he has already asked his question, I am sure that he will want at least to contemplate the excellent advice to schools on this very subject that I issued just before the summer recess.