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Volume 588: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014

We have a record number—about 840,000—of people doing apprenticeships, and we are on track to hit and exceed our target for this Parliament of 2 million apprenticeships. We are doing that by putting employers in control of the design of the standards and of the funding.

Apprenticeship starts in my constituency increased from 420 in 2009-10 to 1,020 in 2012-13, helped by community groups such as Whitwick Community Enterprises, which takes on an apprentice every month and runs two courses a months for NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—to get them work ready. Will the Minister congratulate community groups on the efforts they are making to halve youth unemployment in my constituency? What more can we do to empower such groups?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to the attention of the House the fact that it is not just businesses that create apprenticeships, and that community groups like Whitwick community group can play a vital role. They are directly contributing to a very good piece of news we have had this morning, which is that the number of young people not in education, employment or training has fallen again, by 136,000 since last year.

A sure-fire way to increase apprenticeships in the UK would be to treat the apprentices fairly in terms of wages. They have had an increase in the last five years of 23p per hour. They get £2.73 per hour in wages. It is an absolute outrage. Is it not time that we matched the fine words and rhetoric with decent pay for our young people?

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right, which is why we introduced the apprenticeship minimum wage, which did not exist until we did so, but he is also right that we need to make sure that the level is fair. Nevertheless, the chief value of an apprenticeship for the young person is the training and the preparation it gives them to create a career, so we need to strike the right balance: we need to make sure we set this at a fair level, but also encourage more employers to create apprenticeships, so that more young people are in education and in training and not on benefits.