We do, of course, hope that the apprenticeship levy will provide the same opportunities for young people south of the border as the 25,000 who started a modern apprenticeship in Scotland this year have. Is the Minister aware of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ concerns that the number of small and medium-sized enterprises affected by the levy is likely to be much greater than originally thought? Will he give an undertaking to provide clear and early guidance to those, well in advance of implementation?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is proud of the 25,000 modern apprenticeship starts in Scotland, just as we are proud of the half a million starts we have had in the past year in England. This would suggest to me that we can both take pride in our commitment to apprenticeships. I hope he will welcome the fact that the apprenticeship levy will be generating resources, some of which will pass to Scotland to enable it to fund what I hope will be a dramatic expansion in the number of its apprenticeships.
As the Minister will appreciate, the oil and gas industry faces distinct challenges at the moment. I know from my engagement with companies in the sector that there is significant concern that this levy may represent a second charge, with many oil and gas companies already paying levies to industry trading bodies. It also represents an additional cost to these companies at a time when controlling business costs is of paramount importance. Will he commit to meet me, along with my colleagues and a delegation from the industry, to hear their concerns and discuss how the apprenticeship levy scheme can be designed to take account of these circumstances?
Of course I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and that delegation, but I will be asking them what they thought of her party’s plans for Scotland’s economy, which rested on oil prices at $100 a barrel and would now see an independent Scotland entirely bankrupt and probably scuttling to the International Monetary Fund.