Skip to main content


Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

We have removed employers’ national insurance from apprentices under the age of 25, and are introducing an apprenticeship levy for larger employers, which will increase the budget for apprenticeship training in England to £2.5 billion in 2019-20.

To mark national apprenticeship week, I visited Silentnight in Barnoldswick, whose award-winning apprenticeship scheme has already created over 40 full-time jobs. Does the Minister agree that companies such as Silentnight, which is seeing real year-on-year sales growth at the moment because of its apprentices, are great examples to employers across Pendle and the rest of the UK?

I particularly welcome the example of Silentnight in my hon. Friend’s constituency, because it is really important to understand that apprentices add value to their employers—they are not just receiving training; they are also adding value. We consistently hear employers saying that apprentices bring energy, ideas, enthusiasm and new contacts to their businesses.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the systems and processes needed to implement the apprenticeship levy are far from ready. Many see it as a tax on jobs. The Scottish National party has tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to seek a full review, and the CBI has called for a radical rethink. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me and representatives of the oil and gas sector recently. He well knows the continuing issues with double charging. Will he heed these calls and delay implementation of the apprenticeship levy until the systems and processes are ready and business has been fully engaged?

No, we will not be delaying, because for decades no Government adequately gripped the problem we have in this country, which is that businesses invest too little in skills development. That is what holds our productivity back. As it happens, since the CBI’s survey, and since other surveys of the same kind, we have published a detailed technical guide for employers on how the apprenticeship levy will work. I encourage the hon. Lady and her constituents to look at it. If they have any further questions I am happy to answer them, but the levy will be coming in in April 2017, and we will be fixing Britain’s skills problems.

On Friday I attended an event to mark the first anniversary of the extremely successful Care Academy, which is a unique collaboration in my constituency between Petroc College and the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust. In effect, it provides apprenticeships for young people wanting to get into the health profession. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the excellent students who have been through the Care Academy in the first year, and does he agree that it is an extremely worthwhile programme for the future?

It is well known that we have huge skills needs in the care sector and the NHS, and that kind of academy is exactly what we need to see more of, so I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s constituency, Petroc College and others are setting an example.

The Minister will know that the number of BIS staff working on the apprenticeship programme is due to fall massively by 2020. What assessment has he made of his Department’s capacity to deliver the apprenticeship target?

The number of BIS staff who will be working on the apprenticeship programme will fall, but only because we are setting up a new, independent institute for apprenticeships that will take over many of the jobs that are currently undertaken by BIS staff. That institute will be in the control of the employers who are paying the levy. I think that is the right way to do it and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome it.

Businesses such as Rotork, BMT and Designability in Bath have taken on hundreds of new apprentices since the scheme first started, enabling young people to gain the best qualifications for a really great career. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that although the Government are doing a great deal to encourage older people into apprenticeship schemes, a cultural shift is required to encourage even more into the scheme in the future?

I think my hon. Friend is right about that, because there is a common misconception that apprenticeships are somehow only really appropriate for school leavers, whereas the reality is that they offer opportunities to people at all stages in their lives, and indeed at all stages in their careers. It is not just for new recruits to an employer; it can be for somebody who has been working for an employer for several years but has discovered that they have the potential to develop.