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Volume 697: debated on Monday 21 June 2021

Apprenticeships are a great way for employers to develop the skills they need to build back better, especially as we recover from the pandemic. We have increased the incentive payment to £3,000 for employers hiring a new apprentice. As of 4 May, 52,719 incentive payments had been claimed. We are also making apprenticeships more flexible, encouraging front-loaded and accelerated training, and introducing new flexi-job apprenticeships. We are also making it easier for levy payers to transfer funds to support new apprenticeships within small and medium-sized enterprises and within their local areas.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Our world-class maritime businesses in Falmouth inform me that there is a shortage of qualified maritime and marine engineers. Will she work with me to see how we can best try to accelerate the hiring and training of such apprentices in this important sector so that marine industries such as the one here in Falmouth and across the UK can thrive and prosper?

I would be delighted to work with my hon. Friend on such an important industry for her area. I am also delighted to say that there are over 480 apprenticeship standards approved for delivery that can provide strong support to the marine industry. These include a level 2 apprenticeship in maritime, mechanical and electrical engineering, a level 4 apprenticeship as a maritime operations officer and a level 6 degree apprenticeship as a maritime surveyor, all of which have been supported by expert trailblazers, including the Royal Navy, P&O Ferries and others. It is my hope that we will be able to use these standards and work together to build on the more than 7,000 apprenticeship starts in Truro and Falmouth since May 2010.

I thank the Minister for visiting Stoke-on-Trent College last week with my neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent MPs. Only 22.5% of people in Stoke-on-Trent have an NVQ—national vocational qualification—at level 4 or above, so does she agree that increasing the uptake of apprenticeships in Stoke-on-Trent is a key aspect of improving skill levels, supporting local industries and ensuring that more people can access the better-paid employment opportunities that we want to see?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why I was really delighted to join him and our colleagues—our other Stoke MPs—to visit Stoke-on-Trent College. It was great that we were able to meet students who are on a wide variety of pathways and see the fantastic facilities that our investment has enabled at this brilliant college. There have been nearly 30,000 apprenticeship starts in the Stoke-on-Trent area since May 2010. I encourage learners and employers to take advantage of the support, including the incentive payment of £3,000, and I am sure that he will welcome the establishment of a new Home Office centre that will create more than 500 new roles over five years, with an apprenticeship-first policy for hiring at the entry grades. I agree that they are absolutely vital to the development and economic recovery in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond.

I am afraid the Minister just sounds like she is in denial. Between August and January, under-19 apprenticeship starts were 41% lower than they were in 2018-19. We keep telling the Government that their apprenticeship incentives are inadequate, and there has been widespread support for Labour’s apprenticeship wage subsidy proposal. The Conservative Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), has joined those calling for the Government to subsidise the wages of young apprentices and help to tackle this crisis of opportunity. Why will the Minister not work with us and Members right across the House to introduce Labour’s apprenticeship wage subsidy proposal?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not in denial. Perhaps he is forgetting the kickstart scheme, which also subsidises wages for six months for young people. That scheme is live and is going on for the rest of this year. In addition, it may have escaped his notice, perhaps, that many of the sectors have been in lockdown until relatively recently. If we look at apprenticeship starts, we notice that there is an acceleration in those using the incentive payments to get back to work. Of course, the £3,000 that has been provided can be used in any way that the employer wants to use it, including to subsidise wages. So there is a lot of support and I expect that the numbers will continue to increase.