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The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): We have rescued and expanded apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are now well on the way to taking their rightful place as a mainstream option for young people. On Tuesday, I published our spending plans for 2009-10, and I am pleased to say that total Government investment for apprenticeships will increase to more than £1 billion. We are introducing a new entitlement to an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people who wish to take up an apprenticeship, and we are working with employers to expand the number of places on offer.
Mr. Love: My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct: progress is being made. If we look at the local authority in my constituency, we see that in the past three years there has been a nearly 200 per cent. increase in the number of young people taking up apprenticeships. However, that hides a problem relating to employers willingness to undertake apprenticeships, particularly among small and medium-sized enterprises. What more can my right hon. Friend do to encourage employers, particularly in that sector, to take up apprenticeships as a way of improving the productivity of their businesses?
Mr. Denham: I should say that we are continuing to increase the number of apprenticeship starts, including starts among smaller employers, so many small employers do find apprenticeships valuable and are willing to support and advocate them. However, we are also keen to see support for group training associations, whereby employers come together to undertake the central administration and development of apprenticeship schemes. It can take some of the responsibility for administration off the individual smaller employer, and we wish to see more of it.
In London, we are also keen to expand public sector apprenticeships, and the taskforce that the Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), chairs has set a target for London boroughs to more than treble the number of apprentices whom they employ in the coming years.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): The Secretary of State will agree that the target of 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020 is very ambitious. As the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) suggested, at present only one in 10 companies has become involved in the apprenticeship schemeand that was when the country was in a boom. What is the Secretary of State doing specifically to encourage companies, which are going into a recession, to engage with apprenticeships? What will he do if he cannot maintain the offer of two apprenticeship places for every 16 to 18-year-old, which he believes will be possible by 2012 to 2015?
Mr. Denham: First, we are maintaining our investment in the apprenticeship system. That is absolutely essential; it is one of the ways in which we as a Government can show that we are on the side of hard-working families and businesses in these difficult times. The more that we do that, and the more that we take the necessary measures, the more quickly we will come through the current problems.
On the time scales that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I should say that I am confident that we will have the number of apprenticeships across our economy to meet our targets. We will work with private sector employers, but we must also expand significantly the number of public sector traineeships, and we will do so. At the moment, the public sector employs disproportionately few apprentices, given its size in the economy.
We will work across central Government; I have an apprentice in my own office, and there are others across Whitehall and in local government. We will continue until we expand the number [Interruption.] As somebody once said, this is clearly the time for a novice. The apprentice in my office is already proving himself a great deal better than a novice, and I am not talking about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Public sector apprenticeships will be crucial.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As my right hon. Friend knows, it will be small companies in particular that get us out of this recession. Last week, I was pleased to visit Preci-Spark Ltd, a large engineering company in my constituency which has always invested in apprenticeships. It will continue to do so. Building on what he has said, what can my right hon. Friend do further to encourage the sector to continue to invest? The company realises that it will probably lose its employees to other people, but a philanthropic attitude is involved and it knows that it will also gain from elsewhere.
Will my right hon. Friend go further and ensure that, unlike during the Tory recessionswhen I worked in the sector and apprenticeships were the first thing to gowe invest more in apprenticeships at this crucial time? In that way, when we come out of recession, we will have a skilled work force ready to build on the success that will come when the economy grows again.
Mr. Denham: It is essential that we maintain the investment in apprenticeships; indeed, we are increasing it to more than £1 billion. We must also continue to push the message that we have stripped out a great deal of the bureaucracy and other difficulties that have put people off in the past. Another key thing is to make sure that the message gets across clearly to employers in two ways. The first is contrary to what some employers feel: companies that invest in apprentices are more likely to keep their staff, because people repay the investment made in them by a good employer. Secondly, the evidence from the last recession was that companies that invested in training were two and a half times more likely to come through successfully. We are working with major national employers, smaller employers and organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses to get the message across that this is the time to maintain investment in skills.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am tempted to say that the Secretary of States apprentice is scrubbing up very nicely. Does the Secretary of State agree that the word apprentice covers a multitude of things? How many of the young people who will receive apprenticeships will have the rigorous training of true craft apprenticeships?
Mr. Denham: At the heart of the apprenticeship model is the fact that a key part of the persons training takes place while they are employed and at work. That is the central, defining aspect of an apprenticeship. We have made it clear that we are taking out of the system anything that does not fit that crucial employment relationship during the apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are capable of being the best way of learning in a wide variety of situations. For many years, large supermarkets have offered craft apprenticeships in the bakery section, and apprentices learn the full range of skills to level 3 and beyond. However, the apprenticeship model can work just as well for somebody studying to level 2 in retail management. My commitment is to offer support to employers to ensure that they have the right apprenticeships for their company, trade and training needs. That will produce a mixture of those that are at an advanced and a craft level and those that are at a lower level but none the less provide a crucial stepping stone for the young person involved and a valuable skill for the employer.
The Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): The Government value our creators and the strength of our creative industries. Our work in this area responds to the challenges of the digital age and the needs of creators, rights holders and users of the copyright system. We consider the impact of the proposals on all stakeholders, including creators, as part of the process of evaluation.
Dr. Gibson: I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure that he agrees that we are blessed by this countrys writing community, who produce such creative work and help economically in the creative industries, as he points out. He knows, however, that they face a serious challenge involving the digital environment in which they operate, where they are calling for fair pay for fair use of their work. As he spins things out in terms of peoples right to use downloading, new digital forces and so on, will he ensure that the measures that his Department comes up with comply with the European copyright rule, which allows the people who develop and drive the creative industries to get fair compensation for their work?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and assure him that we are looking at these issues closely. I discussed them for an hour and a half yesterday morning with a group of publishers whom I met for breakfast. They included book publishers and some of
our newspaper publishers, who are particularly concerned about their online content. He is right to say that we must value the creator as we balance the interests of consumers in using those rights. In the end, all that writing is the product of hard endeavour and many years of study, and it is a testimony to the quality of our publishing industry and of our books and newspapers.
Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking closely at that issue. Artists make representations expressing their desire to ensure that not only themselves but often, after they have died, their families are recognised for the creative endeavour that they have put in. However, there are also important representations from the art market about the effect that any change would have on the British art market, which is among the strongest in the world and has until very recently held up particularly well in the global downturn.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): Further education colleges play a valuable role in delivering work-based training through the Train to Gain scheme and apprenticeship programmes, responding to the needs of employers to ensure that their employees have the skills to stay competitive. Small businesses will be the focus of £350 million of Government funds recently announced to help them to train their staff in the tougher economic climate. We are working with the Learning and Skills Development Agency to see how it can provide further support. Only last week, the qualifications and credit framework introduced credit-based units of learning in the key skills that employers want.
However, I reinforce the valid point that my hon. Friend made: in times of recession, it is even more important that colleges liaise closely with employers, and vice versa, to provide people with the technical skills required for manufacturing industry, which is the sector that will help to lift us out of the present difficulties. May I commend the Macclesfield college, which is attended by many Congleton students, for its close working relationship with the aerospace industry?
Mr. Simon: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. When she commended the Macclesfield college, I thought for a moment that she was going to commend her Macclesfield colleague. I hope that, by the evening, they will be reconciled. We hold the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) in great affection in this House; I hope that she can be lenient with him.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As a west midlands MP, I am in no doubt, and never have been, about the centrality of manufacturing to the history, present and future of our economy and this country. She is right, too, that the direction in which we need to take further education, and the way in which we need to develop it, is to make it more responsive to the demands and requirements of employers and business. As her hon. Friend said earlier, that means delivering training and education not just in college or in work time, but in the workplace in the morning, the evening or whenever it fits. We have to deliver it whenever people want it.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): I know that my hon. Friend shares my concern that apprentices may lose their jobs in the global economic downturn. I warmly welcome the rapid assistance he provided by creating a brokerage service to assist construction apprentices into alternative positions. Will he assure me that he will continue to do all that he can to assist apprentices who might find themselves out of work, to ensure that they can continue their learning at college so that their talents do not go to waste?
Mr. Simon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. He is a great champion of apprenticeships and further education in his constituency, and he is right to say that the Government have introduced measures, such as the construction matching service, which helps to find new places quickly for construction industry apprentices who lose their jobs. When the national apprenticeship service comes in, we will look at developing such services more broadly across the whole economy. However, I counsel him not to despair about the situation too quickly. All the early evidence shows that large numbers of apprenticeships have not gone by the board so far because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, high-quality businesses that are running high-quality apprenticeship schemes understand how important they are to their future. They understand that they should not economise on skills and training in a recession. They are not cutting apprenticeships in large numbers, so farthank goodness.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): In politics, we are always learning, are we not? We are all apprentices. The difference is that I am at level 3, and the hon. Gentleman is at level 2, so here is an easy one.
Colleges must be free to respond to local business demands, but the Governments Foster review criticised the galaxy of 17 bodies that constrains further education. Bizarrely, however, the Government are adding to their number by dividing the Learning and Skills Council into three new quangosno wonder FE enrolments fell by nearly 20 per cent. last year. On the Ministers predecessors watch, bureaucracy grew and participation collapsed, so does he expect that on his watch the number of bodies controlling FE will go up or down, and will next months figures, of which I know he has a prediction, show that FE enrolments have gone up by 5, 10, 15 or 20 per cent., or will they continue to fall?
To ask the hard question is simple.
What is the issue? Is it the case, as the hon. Gentleman claimed at the beginning of his long multi-question, that the system is too complicated? Yes, it is. What should we do? We should get a range of business bodies together and ask what they want to do to make the system simpler. When they present a set of proposals, we should implement them straight away. What did we do? We set up the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which speedily issued a simplification process. It was widely welcomed by business and we implemented it immediately.
The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): In July 2007, I set out my aim that two thirds of students should get a full or partial grant. I can tell the House today that I expect the revised system to provide full or partial grants to two thirds of students. In July 2007, I also predicted that a third of students would get the maximum grant. I can tell the House today that I expect that commitment to be exceeded: under the new package, 40 per cent. of students will be eligible for a full grant. I have made available an additional £100 million to meet that commitment.
All eligible new students from households with incomes from £18,000 to £50,000 will get more grant than they would have been entitled to in 2007-08, and those from households with incomes of up to £57,000 will get more total support, including subsidised loans.
Mr. Crabb: I am grateful for that reply, but will the Secretary of State confirm that, given that the cohort of 18-year-olds in the population is predicted to rise in the next two years, one of the consequences of his decision to cut student places next year is that the target of a higher education participation rate of 50 per cent. will not be reached and could go backwards?
Mr. Denham: There is no cut in the number of student places next year. Indeed, I have asked the Higher Education Funding Council to distribute an extra 10,000 student numbers compared with this year. The expansion in higher education means that I am now confident that even more students than I predicted in January will be in higher education next year. That is the truth of the Governments commitment to expanding higher education.
Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): The Secretary of State told the Select Committee last month that 40,000 students would lose their full grant as a result of the changes that he announced. How many additional students will lose some grant in 2009 compared with 2008, as a result of his announcement last month? We want to know, as do students and their families, the total number of students who will lose some or all of their grant as a result of his decision.
Mr. Denham: The detail of the new structure will be published when the regulations are laid before the House, and they will be debated in the normal way. The hon. Gentleman has been completely wrong about the matter. In May this year, he attacked our grant proposals because they would give too much money to middle-income families. He said:
Ministers have given up on spreading opportunity to those from the poorest backgrounds.
More students will get the maximum grant and we are putting another £100 million into the system to ensure that that happens. The hon. Gentleman needs to admit that he has been completely wrong throughout.
Mr. Willetts: I am trying to ask a simple question of fact, and students who go to university next year and their families are entitled to an answer. How many student will receive less grant or no grant in 2009 compared with 2008 as a result of the Secretary of States announcement last month? That is the simple question that he has failed to answer in the past month. My calculations suggest that 80,000 families could lose in that way. Will he confirm that the total number of losers is fewer than 80,000? Will he at least give that assurance?
Mr. Denham: No student will lose money. Those who are at university on the current grant system will have their grant honoured. Those who apply for grants next year will have clear details from the Student Loans Company, when the regulations are published, of what they are entitled to. Two thirds of students will get a full or partial grant. More students will get a full grant than I anticipated a year and a half ago. All students from households with incomes from £18,000 to £50,000 will get more money than they would have done in 2007-08.
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