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Volume 597: debated on Monday 15 June 2015

9. What plans her Department has to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships for 14 to 19-year-olds. (900303)

We are determined to create 3 million apprenticeships in the next five years, building on the 2.2 million created in the past five years. We will be requiring all public sector bodies to employ apprentices, and will legislate to protect the term “apprenticeship” against misuse.

Figures from the House of Commons Library show that there were 440,000 apprenticeship starts in England in the last academic year, but almost 40% of those starts were made by over-25s, and starts made by under-19s have declined as a share of total starts since 2010. Why is the Minister not doing more to help young adults into apprenticeship schemes?

The Government do not share with the Opposition the obsession with the idea that, somehow, anybody over the age of 25 doing an apprenticeship is wasting their time or the Government’s money. We absolutely agree that we want as many young people as possible to have the opportunity, but that includes people aged between 19 and 24, and over-25s. We want the entire programme to expand, which is why we are investing in it. We will deliver 3 million apprenticeships to people of all ages over the next five years.

Five years ago, Staunton community sports college in the Leigh Park area of my constituency had one of Britain’s worst GCSE records. Following its conversion into Havant Academy, it is now one of Britain’s most improved schools. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the Government’s free schools and academies programme is transforming the lives of young people?

Order. The question is in relation to apprenticeships for 14 to 19-year-olds, upon which I know the Minister is focused.

I am delighted to hear that Havant Academy is making progress. That will ensure that many of the young people at the academy will themselves be able to go on to do apprenticeships, which is why I am so delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend.

Let me—grudgingly, but sincerely—welcome the Minister back to his place.

For all that the Government have said about apprenticeships, the barriers that prevent far too many companies, especially smaller ones, from taking on apprentices remain too high. What more will the Government do for those small businesses? In particular, how will the Government deal with the fear felt by many that they will put all their resources into training a young person, only for that young person to be poached by one of the big boys further up the supply chain once he or she is qualified?

I hope that it will not destroy the hon. Gentleman’s chances in his new position if I say that I cannot imagine anyone with whom I would rather be debating over the next few years, because I rate him highly both personally and professionally. Not surprisingly, he has raised a very important point. It is extremely important for us to make the apprenticeship programme attractive and easily accessible to small as well as large companies. There are specific grants for small employers, but we need to make the system much easier for them to navigate. It is possible for businesses to place some restrictions on people who complete apprenticeships for which those businesses have paid, although not many people know about or take advantage of them. If someone leaves very soon after qualifying, a business can receive back from that person some of the costs of his or her training.

We shall have to wait and see, Mr Speaker.

Further education colleges have an important role in the training of apprentices. In view of the recent announcement of reductions in the education budget, will there be any reductions in the budget for the education and training of those aged 16 to 19?

On that point, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Further education colleges do indeed have a vital role in delivering the training for apprenticeships, and I wish more of them would do more of it. I can confirm that the allocations for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds in the 2015-16 academic year that were announced in March remain in place, and we are not planning to change them.