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Volume 587: debated on Monday 27 October 2014

1. What recent progress her Department has made on increasing the number and quality of apprenticeships. (905628)

We have already delivered over 1.9 million apprenticeships during this Parliament, and are on track to achieve our ambition of 2 million apprenticeship starts. We are working with groups of employers to develop new trailblazer standards, and last week we launched the latest set of trailblazers in sectors ranging from the nuclear industry to TV production and fashion.

Will the Minister join me in commending Stockport council and employers in Stockport on the record numbers of apprentices that have been recruited? Does he, however, recognise that there is an increasing need for pre-apprenticeship help for 16-year-olds so that they can enter apprenticeships, and will he agree to meet some of my colleges and providers about that subject?

I am certainly happy to congratulate any authority that itself takes on apprentices. We all need to set an example in all parts of Government and indeed in this House, as many Members are doing. Of course I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend. I hope that he will welcome the traineeships programme, which was introduced by this Government specifically to provide people in that age group with a stepping stone to an apprenticeship or to a job.

Despite the Minister’s opening statement, fewer than one in 10 employers in England offer apprenticeships, which must surely be improved upon. Labour will ensure that all public sector contracts worth more than £1 million require the contractor to take on apprentices. That was the subject of my private Member’s Bill, which, sadly, was blocked by Ministers. Why do Ministers not wake up, smell the coffee and realise that that is the best bang for the buck of public procurement contracts?

Well, of course I am sure that the hon. Gentleman meant to congratulate the Government on our fantastic achievement in creating far more apprenticeships. They are real apprenticeships—those that involve a job and last more than 12 months—unlike the ones that his Government produced. He is right that we need many more employers, public and private, to want to create apprenticeships. The way to do that is not to force them to do so, but to make it attractive to them to do so. That is why we are introducing new incentives through the apprenticeship grant, and why we are putting employers in charge of the standard of an apprenticeship so that they know it will be useful to them and not just some bureaucratic tick box.

In my constituency of Wimbledon, we have woken up and smelt the coffee. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Take One initiative under which Merton chamber of commerce, following on from the Government, is brokering relationships between apprenticeships and training providers and firms, with 150 extra people taking an apprenticeship this year as a result of that scheme?

I strongly welcome that scheme and any other scheme that tries to make it easier—particularly for small employers, who sometimes face some level of risk—to take on an apprentice. There are all sorts of schemes, and I congratulate the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency.