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Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016

13. What steps the Government are taking to promote apprenticeships in the arboriculture, forestry, horticulture and landscape sector. (905545)

We are working with employer groups to develop new apprenticeship standards such as arborist and forest operative. If I am ever seeking a new career, I can hardly think of a better one. We are also working on a pilot between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and BIS to support a boost in the number of apprenticeships available in the national parks.

I am delighted that the Government are addressing the skills shortage in this important area with their horticulture and landscape trailblazer apprenticeships. However, what talks has the Minister had with the Department for Education to make sure that courses offered to students provide what businesses actually need so that apprenticeships really work? I am going to welcome him to my constituency to talk about this so that perhaps he can assure me a little more.

That is an excellent question. The advantage I have is that I am also a Minister in the Department for Education; I talk to myself worryingly often. My hon. Friend makes a very important point. When the skills plan is published, which will be soon, we will be guided very heavily by the review recently completed by Lord Sainsbury, who is looking at how we can ensure that the courses that people are offered in college are genuinely the courses that employers want because they provide the skills they need for modern jobs.

I am sure that the people of Taunton Deane are in a state of eager anticipation and high excitement at the prospect of a visit from the Minister.

Wales also offers opportunities for apprenticeships in forestry and horticulture, but employers and colleges in Wales are very concerned about how the apprenticeship levy will work. What recent discussions has the Minister had with Julie James, the Welsh Government Minister, and when does he expect the scheme details to be finalised?

The hon. Lady asks a reasonable question. I had discussions with the Welsh Minister before the elections, which suspended matters briefly. There have been intensive contacts at official level not only between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Welsh, Scottish and other Governments on how the levy arrangements will work from a tax-raising point of view, but with my officials on how the levy will operate. We will publish more details before the summer recess.