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Vocational Training

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 26 June 2014

We are creating a system of vocational training to enable everyone to achieve their potential. We are on track to deliver 2 million apprenticeship starts. We have introduced traineeships for young people, we are supporting national colleges for key sectors and technologies and of course more than half of university students are doing a course that leads directly to a profession.

I welcome the huge progress that has been made. What progress has been made in implementing the Richards review recommendation to give employers greater purchasing power over apprentices’ training to drive up standards?

I met Doug Richards in a very upbeat mood only half an hour ago, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we agree with Doug Richards that employers should purchase apprenticeship training. We want providers to respond to businesses, not to Government. We have consulted widely on how to make that happen. We will publish details of our preferred payment mechanism and next steps in the autumn.

The hon. Gentleman and the Minister appear to have a symbiotic relationship, and we are grateful for that, I am sure.

Despite all the praiseworthy emphasis that the Government have placed on increasing the number of apprentices, the number of apprenticeship starts in the under-19 age group is dropping. The BIS Committee recommended that the Government should use public procurement to increase those numbers, as a lot of local authorities do. Why have the Government not done it?

The Government believe in promoting apprenticeships across the public sector. Figures published today show an increase in the number of apprenticeships in that crucial age group.

Apprenticeships are essential to help deliver a growing economy, but nearly 400 employers in the north-west have replied to the future of apprenticeships in England funding reform technical consultation, and they have said that they will no longer recruit apprentices under the reforms that the Government propose. Will the Minister please say what he intends to do specifically for SMEs, which are concerned about the proposals?

We have had a range of reactions to our consultation, and the national bodies that represent businesses strongly support the proposals that we and in particular my excellent colleague the Minister for Skills and Enterprise are putting forward.

As a dyspraxic, I remember how much extra effort I needed to put in to succeed at university. Students with disabilities and learning difficulties will be concerned about the Government’s reforms to the disabled students allowance, under which many of them will lose out. The evidence shows that students with learning difficulties are already less likely to complete their course and less likely to achieve the highest grades. Why does the Minister want to widen that gap even further?

Let me be clear: we are committed to helping disabled students. We will expect universities to do more to discharge their direct responsibilities to disabled students. Often, improved provision by universities is a better way of helping disabled students than funding to individual students. We will maintain strong support for disabled students.