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Apprenticeships: People Over 16

Volume 731: debated on Monday 17 April 2023

9. What steps her Department is taking to encourage people over the age of 16 to take up apprenticeships. (904504)

My right hon. Friend and I are passionate about apprenticeships. We are promoting this excellent route into a career through our apprenticeship support and knowledge programme in schools and our career starter apprenticeships campaign. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education mentioned, we are working with UCAS so that people can search and apply for apprenticeships alongside degrees, creating a one-stop shop for young people.

The Secretary of State is a fantastic advocate for apprenticeships. Importantly, she recognises the need to open up training and apprenticeship opportunities for school leavers. We can never forget them. Will she join me in thanking the many local businesses in Witham that supported my recent careers fair held in a local school? On top of that, will she look at how to make the apprenticeship levy much more agile and flexible so that more school leavers participate in the scheme, and look at devolving more skills funding to Essex?

I share my right hon. Friend’s appreciation of the wonderful employers in Essex that are building the next generation—such as Stansted airport, Rose Builders and Simarco—as someone who left school at 16 and started on that route. I know through my right hon. Friend’s work, more than 8,000 apprentices have started in Witham since 2010, many in engineering, automotive and aerospace.

More than 99% of the apprenticeships budget was spent last year, which is a fantastic demonstration of the value that apprentices bring to businesses. We will continue to ringfence the levy to support that demand. Essex Chambers of Commerce are working with employers to develop a local skills improvement plan. We look forward to working more with them and local employers on their needs.

I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I totally agree with the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who rightly urges the Minister to support Labour’s policy on greater flexibility for apprenticeships. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development described the Government’s approach to apprenticeships as having “failed by every measure”. Alongside starts having fallen by a third, the Government’s own data shows that 47% of apprentices do not complete their apprenticeships. Will the Secretary of State join me, the Labour party and the right hon. Member for Witham in supporting the wide range of businesses and employers that support Labour’s plans for reform of the apprenticeship levy?

I understand that many employers have asked for that, but it is as ill-thought-through and ill-designed as Labour policies such as the tax on private schools and non-dom status. We are already spending 99.6% of the levy, so Labour’s policy would mean that we would have to take some apprentices away from SMEs to be able to create that levy.