I was pleased to meet the Mayor of the west midlands last October, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I visited the Kings Norton headquarters of adi Group and saw at first hand the opportunities that apprenticeships can afford. That is why we are seeing annual investment in apprenticeships double to nearly £2.5 billion by 2020. It was also an excellent opportunity to see a successful west midlands company doing its bit to give young people a career. I am pleased to say that the latest statistics show employment in the west midlands has risen by 276,000 since 2010.
That is fantastic news, but I think the Prime Minister will agree with me that transport is also key to employment. I want to raise the question of the rail line that lies between Lichfield and Burton, which is currently used only for freight. It passes the National Memorial Arboretum, which gets about half a million visitors a year, but at the moment they all have to come by road, along the busy and congested A38. May I ask the Prime Minister that this rail line be upgraded to a passenger service, providing a valuable east-west connection from Birmingham? Would she also allow me to take her personally around the National Memorial Arboretum?
I of course recognise the important role that transport links play in relation to prosperity and economic growth. Our rail strategy, “Connecting people”, which we have published, actually does look at how we can restore lost capacity where that unlocks housing growth, eases crowded routes, meets demand and offers good value for money, of course. It is for local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to determine whether a new station or train service is the best way to meet local transport needs, but we work closely with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to take forward the schemes that they are interested in progressing.
In relation to the arboretum, I will of course consider a visit in the future, and I think my hon. Friend has probably given me an invitation it is very difficult to refuse.