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Volume 618: debated on Monday 19 December 2016

8. What steps her Department is taking to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up apprenticeships. (907949)

Order. If the Minister knows that he is going to answer the next question, he is very welcome to remain standing at the Dispatch Box. No one would think that there was anything disorderly or unreasonable about that, and he should feel welcome to do so.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, but it is good for the calories in advance of Christmas.

We are committed to ensuring that apprenticeships are as accessible as possible to all people from all backgrounds, and we are making available more than £60 million to support apprenticeship take-up by individuals from disadvantaged areas. Our get in, go far campaign aims to encourage more young people to apply for an apprenticeship and more employers to offer opportunities. We are increasing the number of traineeships to further support young people into apprenticeships and other work.

What measures is the Minister putting in place to overcome the barriers to accessing apprenticeships and to ensure that schools’ promotion of apprenticeships is good?

I mentioned that we are putting £60 million into deprived areas to encourage trainers to take apprentices from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We are putting a lot of funding into helping 16 to 18-year-olds into apprenticeships by supporting businesses and providers. We are supporting health and social care apprenticeships if the local authority has a health and social care plan. We are also supporting apprentices with disabilities and giving £12 million to the Union Learning Fund. This Government are committed to ensuring that the most disadvantaged people can do apprenticeships and get on the ladder of opportunity for the jobs and skills of the future.

From next April, many schools will have to pay the apprenticeship levy—yet another cost. For one Hounslow school, it will mean an additional cost of £15,000. Will the Minister agree to meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and concerned headteachers in Hounslow to discuss the levy’s impact on schools and academies?

I am of course happy to meet the hon. Lady, but the whole idea of the apprenticeship levy is to change behaviours and ensure that we become an apprenticeship and skills nation. If the school that she describes has apprentices that meet the needs of the levy, not only will they not pay any levy but they will get 10% on top.

Small businesses often give apprentices the best experience, but they find it difficult to offer the time and resources to support them. What steps is the Minister taking to encourage small businesses in particular to take on more apprentices?

My hon. Friend is a champion of small business, both in his constituency and in the House. We are doing huge amounts to support small businesses to take on young apprentices, including a huge financial incentive for both providers and businesses. Very small businesses do not have to pay any training costs if they have 16 to 18-year-olds. We have also cut national insurance contributions for employers when apprentices are aged under 25.

The apprenticeship scheme must be and should be better publicised both in high schools and, I suggest, in primary schools to encourage those who do not feel comfortable in academia to understand that other options are available. Will the Minister specify how the Department plans to implement any such publication system in schools?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, as he so often does. Wherever I go around the country to meet apprentices, I often find that they have not been encouraged by their schools. We are looking hard at how to ensure that careers guidance encourages skills apprenticeships and technical education. As I said, we are investing £90 million in careers, including in the Careers & Enterprise Company, which has some 1,300 advisers in schools around the country getting kids to do work experience and acquire the skills they need.