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Volume 590: debated on Thursday 8 January 2015

We are keen to look at ways that procurement of major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and new nuclear power plants can drive investment in construction and engineering skills. High Speed 2 will create up to 2,000 apprenticeship opportunities and Crossrail is on track to deliver its target of at least 400 apprenticeships during construction.

In their response to a Business, Innovation and Skills Committee report on this issue, the Government said that they were

“working on guidance to encourage best practice amongst local authorities”.

This National Apprenticeship Service guidance was subsequently published in July. It was eight pages long, and the first six pages were devoted to problems in securing this policy and case studies of failed projects. Does the Minister agree that if we are to realise the policy’s full potential, we need a far more robust and proactive approach by the Government?

I certainly agree that there is more to be done, which is why I have had several meetings with Lord Deighton, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, to work out exactly how we can make it an integral part of the procurement process for all major infrastructure projects that there is a clear commitment by all successful bidders to invest in skills training and in the creation of apprenticeships.

I recognise that the Minister is new to this place, and that point scoring has its place, especially at this stage in the political cycle, but a previous answer of his did not match the seriousness of the situation. He referred to real apprenticeships leading to real skills, but we still have a huge skills shortage across the economy—for example, in construction, engineering, health and haulage, to name but a few areas. Will he make it a contractual requirement that bidders for national and local contracts have proper ratios of training places, and will he enforce those provisions if bidders fall short?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to clarify that. I think that it should absolutely be part of the procurement process for all major infrastructure projects that bidders are expected to make appropriate investments either in some form of skills training or, ideally, from my point of view—I am the apprenticeships bore—in the creation of apprenticeships. I hope that he, having criticised our record, will welcome the enormous number of apprenticeships that have been created in his constituency —50% up on 2009-10.

Is this Government policy applicable to all Departments? Will the Minister specifically have a word with the Ministry of Defence, which perhaps does not know about it?

I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend and am always nervous about implying that his comments are in any way unfair, but the armed forces in fact create more apprenticeships every single year than any other organisation in the country. I want this to be an integral part of the procurement for major infrastructure projects and, to the extent that the MOD is involved in such projects, it will absolutely apply to it, but the MOD is leading the way in creating apprenticeships, and we should pay credit to it for that.