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Volume 682: debated on Monday 12 October 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his support for apprenticeships. Apprenticeships will be more important than ever to support our economic recovery and help businesses to recruit the right people and develop the skills they need to recover and grow. To support employers to offer new apprenticeships, they can now claim £2,000 for every new apprentice they hire under the age of 25 and £1,500 for those aged over 25.

As a country, we rightly champion our wonderful universities. However, we are often too slow—particularly in schools—to promote apprenticeships. Will my hon. Friend assure me that she is doing everything in her power to ensure that apprenticeships are seen as a valid part of our education system?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that, as a former apprentice, this is very much at the forefront of my focus. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have made it clear that further education is now more important than ever. That is part of the reason we are introducing once-in-a-generation reforms of the FE system through our skills White Paper, underpinning the progress we are already making with T-levels, which is backed by £500 million of funding per year, investing £1.5 billion in the transformation of the FE college estate, investing £2.5 billion through the national skills fund and introducing a new entitlement for adults without qualifications at level 3.

The Minister is right to say that apprenticeships are more important than ever, but for all the rhetoric, the way that the Government introduced the apprenticeship levy saw level 2 and level 3 apprenticeship numbers falling to their lowest level for a decade before coronavirus. Since then, we have seen generous incentives in the new kickstart scheme and much less generous incentives for apprenticeships. For all that the Minister says, why do this Government consistently introduce policies that have the effect of reducing the numbers doing level 2 and 3 apprenticeships?

The hon. Gentleman refers, I think, to the switch from frameworks to standards, which did have an impact on some of the numbers, but it was most important that we focused on the quality of apprenticeships. There were a number of apprenticeships early on, when we introduced the reform of the system, that were not of the desired quality. Young people put their trust in us, in the apprenticeship provider and in the employer, and it is most important that they get very high-quality apprenticeships; that is our focus.