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Vocational Education

Volume 578: debated on Monday 24 March 2014

Driving up the rigour and responsiveness of vocational education is a critical part of this Government’s mission to give everyone the education they need to fulfil their potential.

How does the Minister respond to the Government’s own consultation, which proposes that an employer’s contribution for a hairdressing apprentice should be about £1,700, whereas for science, technology, engineering and maths trades such as engineering it should be more than £5,000, and construction specialisms would cost £7,000? Will he rethink these mad proposals?

I do not recognise any of those figures, but I do recognise the need to make sure that apprenticeships are driven by the skills that employers need, so that they remain high quality and increasingly fill the skills gaps that have been left by an education system that was far too divorced from the world of work.

What would the Minister say to Richard Wright, who speaks on behalf of Sheffield business as chief executive of the local chamber of commerce and who wrote to the Secretary of State saying that the funding cut for 18-year-olds in further education would remove money from where it can have the most effect in equipping young people with maths and English, and with the technical and vocational skills that are modern and relevant, to ensure that they are work-ready?

The first thing I would say is that we have ameliorated the change so that no institution will lose more than 2% in the coming financial year. The second thing I would say is that we had to make this change because of the mess left in the public finances by the Labour party. [Interruption.] Labour Members do not like it, but it is the truth, and until they get used to admitting their fault, nobody will trust them with the economy again.

Which does the Minister think causes most damage to vocational education in Blackpool—his 17.5% cut in college funding, which is capped for only one year at 2%, or his abject failure to promote or offer any properly financially supported traineeships for young people?

Of course, there would not be traineeships were it not for this Government. I would say that the most damaging thing to young people’s futures is a Labour Government.

In Northumberland we have doubled the number of apprenticeships and have outstanding vocational education at Northumberland college and at the Egger academy, which I opened last year. When I visited Release Potential in my constituency, people there stressed the success of traineeships and how they need to be promoted, not denigrated, as the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) has just done. Does the Minister agree that traineeships are part of the future that we need?

Absolutely. Traineeships are provided by good and outstanding institutions, because we want them to be a high-quality product to make sure that everybody gets the skills they need and the capability and character they need to hold down a job. They are filling a gap that was left before.