I am very pleased to answer this as my first question because it highlights a vital problem that Britain must address in order to compete in the world. The number of apprenticeships has increased by two thirds, and by 97% in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I join the tribute paid to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who brought passion and drive to this programme. He would say that we must do more and we will do more, and that is exactly what I hope to do.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his new role. Even though he has been in it for only a few days, what discussions is he planning to hold with businesses to understand where the current recruitment skills gaps are? Will incentives be given to students to study the subjects that we believe are critical to the future growth industries in the UK?
My hon. Friend is exactly right; I have already been in contact with the Institute of Directors and various employers. Britain must have a skilled work force that meets the needs of employers if we are to compete against the hungry and driven rising nations of the east, and I will do all I can to deliver that.
I welcome the new Minister and the new ministerial team. May I say that some of us will miss not only the old Skills Minister, but the old manufacturing Minister? May I also push the new Minister on work-readiness, which is vital to young people seeking jobs? At a time when 1 million young people are unemployed, we have to look at best practice. There is good practice out there in further education and in higher education. We need to identify it and spread it, and to do so quickly.
One of the things that my predecessor brought to this job was a cross-party focus. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of FE colleges and the excellent work that they do in ensuring that people are ready for work when they join the work force and in continuing to improve people’s skills once they are in the work force, so that we can compete with the best in the world.