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Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2021

What steps his Department is taking to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to take on more apprentices. (901605)

We are encouraging employers of all sizes to take on new apprentices through our hiring incentive. Employers who hire a new apprentice of any age until the end of September will receive £3,000 per apprentice. We are also continuing to improve the apprenticeship system for employers by introducing more flexible trading options, making the transfer of unspent levy funds to small businesses easier, and supporting apprenticeships in industries with flexible working patterns through the launch of portable apprenticeships.

The Government’s £3,000 initiative incentive for businesses to employ apprentices is welcome, with several companies in my constituency looking to apply, including Shackletons in Dewsbury, and John Cotton and Alexander’s Bar in Mirfield. There is no doubt that this initiative has been a great success in enabling young people to get on to the employment ladder. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend consider an extension in funding for the scheme beyond the 30 September deadline?

I pay tribute to, I think it was Shackletons and John Cotton in my hon. Friend’s constituency for the example that they are setting, which I hope is emulated by employers across our country. The scheme, as he says, has been a success. More than 50,000 incentive payments were claimed by employers, 80% of which were for young apprentices between 18 and 24. We will of course keep this very successful scheme under review.

Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for people to learn, earn and realise their potential, so much so that I have just advertised this week for one to join my team via Hopwood Hall College in my Heywood and Middleton constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that businesses big and small can play their part in turbocharging our post-covid recovery by offering these fantastic opportunities?

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is working with Hopwood Hall College in his constituency to hire an apprentice. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to meet them in the future. He is right about the ability of this scheme to support all types of employers. Small businesses in particular should know that the £3,000 equates to about a 35% wage subsidy for young apprentices and the Government pay 95% of all training costs, so there has never been a better time for employers to do as he says to help turbocharge our recovery and to hire an apprentice.

As with every economic crisis, it is Telford’s young people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Telford College is playing a vital role in working with employers across the region and securing 1,000 quality apprenticeships this year, helping young people to build their future. Will the Chancellor congratulate Telford College on its inspirational work, and will he commit to putting skills and opportunities for young people front and centre in his economic recovery plan?

I am delighted to hear that news from my hon. Friend. I am happy to congratulate Telford College on a fantastic performance in creating new apprenticeships and working with its local employers to provide those opportunities. She is absolutely right: young people have borne the brunt economically of this crisis. They comprise the majority of the job losses, so it is right that they are front and centre of our minds as we think about the recovery. That is why, whether it is the kickstart scheme, tripling the number of traineeships or the new lifetime skills guarantee, we are focused on providing them with the opportunities and support that they need.

It is clear that the pandemic has hit the youngest the hardest. Alongside apprenticeships, many businesses in my Eddisbury constituency, including Safety Shield in Winsford, have used the kickstart scheme in order to bring more good jobs to young people as part of our economic recovery. To that end, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what impact the roll-out of the kickstart scheme is having, and how more businesses that want to, and could, join that scheme and invest in young talents in their area are able to do so?

I congratulate Safety Shield in Winsford on embarking on taking on new kickstarters. This is central to our plan for the recovery in providing opportunity to young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others. I am pleased to say that over 31,000 kickstarters have started their jobs, with 10,000 more to come in the coming weeks and months. I would say to employers who are looking to take on a kickstarter: go online, talk to your local business organisations, whether it is the Federation of Small Businesses or the chamber of commerce, or apply directly to the Department for Work and Pensions to be accredited so that you can give a young person a fantastic opportunity as we go through the stages of our recovery.

Unemployment is now falling fast in west Berkshire, and that is in no small part thanks to the Treasury-backed apprenticeship scheme. However, Newbury College, our principal training provider, says that it is still the large employers that take the bulk of young apprentices, when it is small and medium-sized enterprises that form the backbone of our local economy. Does my right hon. Friend think there is an opportunity to reallocate some of the surplus from the apprenticeship levy to encourage take-up among SMEs?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am proud that she is working with Newbury College in her constituency. She is right that SMEs are the backbone of west Berkshire and other local communities across our economy. On her particular point, I am pleased to tell her that, from August of this year, employers who pay the levy but have unspent levy funds will be able to use a new bulk transfer service to send that money to SMEs, combined with a new SME match function so that they can find the SMEs that are most appropriate to their business, supply chain or local area. I hope that is helpful to her and Newbury College. The plan is for the Department for Education to have that up and running in August.