The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education are working together to establish a world-class technical education system, which is vital to our industrial strategy. This includes encouraging businesses, including SMEs, to offer apprenticeships. We are working with all employers to ensure that the apprenticeship levy works effectively and flexibly for industry and supports productivity across the country.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his role on the Front Bench. I have previously had conversations with my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) in her former role as Education Secretary about finding new ways to support SMEs in my constituency to get involved in education, particularly through apprenticeships, which are important for my constituency as so few people there go to university. I will continue that approach with the Department for Education, but would my hon. Friend commit to meeting me to discuss how we might further support small businesses to train young people in Mansfield?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are committed to supporting businesses in Mansfield through the D2N2 Growth Hub. Since its launch, it has engaged more than 5,100 businesses. He mentions young people in his constituency. The message from this Government is that we will support those who think university is the best route towards building the future they want and that we will also support those for whom apprenticeships or a non-university route is the best route. We do not want to put a limit on aspiration, whatever that aspiration may be.
I know that the Minister is new in his post, but he needs to wake up, for goodness’ sake. There is chaos and meltdown in the apprenticeship scheme, with a 62% drop in apprenticeship starts and further education colleges in bankruptcy. Small individual employers in the textile industry cannot get their apprenticeships through. Get a move on—do something about it, man!
I welcome the characteristic passion with which the hon. Gentleman delivers his question, and I share his objective in that we both want the best future for young people. As he knows, the apprenticeship system is going through a change. It will now be employer-led with a focus on quality. We are in the first year of the levy operating and we did expect a bit of a dip, but this situation will recover to deliver the future for our young people.
Further education colleges such as Newcastle-under-Lyme College and Stafford College are vital to the provision of apprenticeships, both under the levy and non-levy. But just having the levy on its own is not necessarily sustainable. Will the Minister ensure that all further education colleges have access to funding for non-levy apprenticeships?
Businesses still tell me that there is a skills shortage in my area. FE colleges have continually faced cuts by this Government. Given the introduction of the levy and the other policies that the Government have been talking about, at what point in time does the Minister believe the skills gap will be filled, to meet the needs of business and the wider community?