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Volume 574: debated on Thursday 23 January 2014

Our apprenticeship reforms are responding to the needs of employers by putting them in the driving seat. Trailblazers, led by employers and professional bodies, is leading the way in developing new standards in a wide range of sectors.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the 300 in 100 campaign in Cornwall on its aim to get 300 new apprenticeships in 100 days? I participated in the campaign in St Mellion a few weeks ago along with many employers in my constituency.

I would love to congratulate my hon. Friend, who has teamed up with other MPs across Cornwall, including my hon. Friends the Members for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for St Ives (Andrew George) and many others. Many Members of this House have been part of the 100 in 100 campaigns to get 100 apprentices in 100 days, and Cornwall is taking it just that bit further.

The number of apprentices in the 16-to-18 age group is dropping at the moment, with serious implication for our long-term skills base. Will the Minister look again at the proposals of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to use public procurement contracts to ensure a certain level of recruitment for that age group in the way in which the previous Government did and local authorities are doing?

Of course, Crossrail, which is the biggest public construction project in Europe, has in it exactly what the hon. Gentleman describes. He will have seen last week that we announced 2,000 new apprentices as part of High Speed 2. I entirely agree about the need to drive up the number of apprentices. We introduced a rule that every apprenticeship had to be a minimum of a year, and the number of apprenticeships for those aged between 16 to 19 lasting a year or more has gone up sharply. We must be careful to consider the reason for the numbers. Apprenticeships of under a year, in many cases without a job attached, are not really apprenticeships at all.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of increasing the skills of apprenticeships is the creation of pre-apprenticeship schools, otherwise known as university technical colleges? Will he look at expanding the Government’s programme of 24 UTCs, one of which will be in Harlow, so that there is one in every town across the country?

I absolutely support my hon. Friend in his enthusiasm for UTCs, not only the one in Harlow, for which, I know, he is a great campaigner, but those across the country.

But why have Ministers failed to match their rhetoric with action? Something like what my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) suggests in his Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill would create thousands of new quality apprenticeship opportunities by requiring all major suppliers on large public projects to offer apprenticeships.

As I said, we do that on some of the largest procurements. If we are talking about action, the fact that a record number of people are in apprenticeships is action that we should support, and the fact that 1.5 million people across the country have started apprenticeships since 2010 is also action we should all be proud of.