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Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2020

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on supporting young people into apprenticeships. (907763)

Apprenticeships are a job with training, and they benefit people of all ages and backgrounds, especially young people starting their career. The plan for jobs will help to kickstart the nation’s economic recovery. As part of the plan, we have introduced a payment of £2,000 for employers in England who hire new apprentices aged under 25 and £1,500 for employers who hire new apprentices aged over 25 before 31 January 2021.

Newcastle College in my constituency is a fantastic further education provider, which has invested significantly in its facilities and staff for its trainees and the 850 different local employers it supports. It has been judged outstanding by Ofsted in all areas, including apprenticeship provision. However, it is concerned about the dramatic reduction in training vacancies, and its actual apprenticeship starts are down by two thirds year on year, so will the Minister join me in praising the work it has done so far and set out what incentives employers have not only to take on but also to keep on apprentices to the end of their training?

I congratulate Newcastle College and all it is doing to support learners to develop the skills they need to thrive. We know that apprenticeships are proven: 91% of apprentices in 2016-17 remained in employment or went on to further training afterwards. In recognition of the importance of apprenticeships and the disruption caused by covid-19, the Government have introduced payments to incentivise hiring new apprentices and flexibilities to support existing ones through their programmes.

Let us look at the record. Capital investment in further education is running at less than half the level put in by Labour 10 years ago. Apprenticeship starts are down 43,000 this year, with the biggest drop among under-19s, and yesterday we learned about the short-sighted, vindictive move to scrap the union learning fund. Why is it that, when the need is for help now with new skills and retraining, this Government have done so much to kick the ladder of opportunity away from working people?

I think that it is probably a good time to remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the Budget we actually increased significantly the amount of money spent on further education. On the union learning grants, I refer him to the Department for Education Ministers who made this decision; I am sure they can write to him again on this. But the Government remain committed to investing in adult skills and retraining: in addition to the plan for jobs, at the comprehensive spending review we will be allocating our new £2.5 billion national skills fund to help more young people learn new skills and prepare for jobs for the future.