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House of Commons Hansard
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28 June 2016
Volume 612
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8. What steps he is taking to address skills shortages in the workforce. [905540]

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As has been often discussed, we are introducing an apprenticeship levy, which will have two main outcomes. First, we will dramatically increase spending on apprenticeships. It will also require large employers either to invest in apprenticeships or to see their money used by someone else.

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I think that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to group this with Question 12.

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indicated assent.

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Very good. Grouping agreed.

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12. What steps he is taking to address skills shortages in the workforce. [905544]

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. He will be very aware, as I am, that certain employers have said that they are not happy with the apprenticeship levy and have asked the Government to rethink, but does he agree that the levy is the best way to ensure that businesses invest in their employees’ skills and for the Government to put apprenticeship funding on a sustainable footing?

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Forgive me, Mr Speaker; we are all somewhat discombobulated at the moment. I should have mentioned that I am seeking to group this question with a later one.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we are trying to design with the apprenticeship levy is actually something of an innovation in government: it is a new tax, but the companies that pay the tax will be able to spend it on training that directly benefits them, so it creates a huge incentive for those employers who pay the levy to get maximum benefit from it by creating more apprenticeships, and I believe that it will have a powerful impact in her constituency.

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The importance of home-grown skills is clearly now even more important, given the result of the referendum last week. Considering the importance of EU funding to British universities, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that universities and other major providers of skills in the UK are equipped and supported, following last Thursday’s vote?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the results of the decision to leave the European Union is that we as a nation will have to do what we have done for hundreds of years, which is live by our wits and our talents, and we need to develop those talents by investing in education, in science, in research and in skills training. He is absolutely right about the crucial role that universities play—obviously, my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science is leading on that—but we are working closely together to get more universities involved in providing degree apprenticeships, so that people can get degrees and rise to high positions through apprenticeships.

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One of the messages that has clearly come across to me from my experience campaigning in the referendum is that the free movement of people between this country and the rest of the European Union is no longer acceptable to the people I represent. What contingency plans has the Department got for what it will mean for the British economy to end the free movement of people?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that no changes are going to take place any time soon in any of the arrangements with the European Union. We have made a decision that we are going to leave the European Union, but there will be a lengthy process of negotiation to establish exactly what new arrangements will be put in place. However, he is right that one of the chief sources of concern in our communities is the free movement of people, and I am sure he is also right that in his constituency, as in my own, that will have been a motive for many people to vote. That does not alter the fact that whether we are inside the single market or not, whether we have free movement of people or not, investment in the skills of our own people so that British people can get the best British jobs is what we need.

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The most recent employment skills survey conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that 2 million staff had skills not currently being utilised in the workplace. Can the Minister detail the steps that he is taking to work with businesses to utilise those skills more productively?

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I feel as though I hardly use any of the skills that I have acquired during my long life—certainly not in this job. The hon. Lady is right that that applies to many people. It is one of the key reasons why we have resisted pressure to make apprenticeships something only for young people and only for new recruits, because for someone of 45, for example, who is returning to work after a career break or who has suddenly discovered in themselves an interest and a potential that they did not know about, it is right that there is Government support through apprenticeship training to enable them to develop those new skills and go on to a rewarding career.

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19. Local businesses in Worcester tell me that they worry about skills shortages and they want to invest in young people. In order for them to do so, it is crucial that young people coming out of school have information about apprenticeships. Does the Minister agree that we need to keep on making sure that inspiring apprentices and their employers get into our schools to talk about the opportunities that apprenticeships can offer? [905551]

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My hon. Friend is right. I know that he will be playing a vital role in shepherding through Parliament the Bill that will require all schools to allow other providers of opportunity post-16, whether FE colleges or apprenticeship employers, to come into the school to talk to young people during school hours, so that they are aware of the full range of opportunities out there, including apprenticeships.

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One of the ways in which skills gaps in the economy have been filled is with EU nationals. That opportunity could now be lost to Scotland, especially in particular sectors and in rural areas. Can the Minister give an assurance to EU nationals currently filling skills gaps in the Scottish economy that their skills are valued and that they will be able to stay?

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I am very happy to do that and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to do so, not just in relation to Scotland but elsewhere in our country. In my Lincolnshire constituency there are certain industries, such as food growing and processing, and the NHS, which would find it very hard to operate without the skills brought in by highly valued migrant workers, not just from the European Union, though importantly also from the European Union. The Prime Minister was very clear yesterday that those people’s position in our country is secure, their working rights are secure, and we remain a member of the European Union. Not only are they secure, but they are valued. We welcome them and we want them to stay here and help us make our society great.