The draft Apprenticeships Bill was published on 16 July 2008 and this is our pre-legislative scrutiny Report. The draft Bill is part of the Government's "ambitious" strategy to enable a "renaissance" in apprenticeships. For the first time it places duties on the Learning and Skills Council to secure sufficient and appropriate apprenticeships to fulfil the entitlement for each suitably qualified young person under 19 years of age who wants one, though we are not clear what this "right" amounts to in practice. The Bill also provides some functions of a new National Apprenticeship Service, which the Government says "will provide new, focused leadership for the Apprenticeship Programme".
To ensure that there are sufficient apprenticeships to meet the expected increase in demand, the draft Bill places employers "at the heart of the Apprenticeship programme". While putting much of the current arrangements for apprenticeships onto a statutory basis, the draft Bill provides greater flexibility to allow employers to design and bring forward for approval their own apprenticeship frameworks. The extent of this flexibility was not clear to us as a key document, the specification of apprenticeship standards, which will determine the core components of frameworks was not published with the draft Bill. Nor did the Government set out in detail how the National Apprenticeship Service would be resourced or organised, or how the legislation would apply in Wales. We see these as key omissions which have impeded our scrutiny process.
Setting aside the question of detailed information, we conclude that the legislation is, on balance, justified because it has the potential to strengthen the structure for apprenticeships in England. But we have one major concern. As one witness put it: "Simply to go for volume at the expense of quality will just consign this programme to the dustbin". The Government must ensure that the draft Bill is re-written to promote, monitor and report on the quality of apprenticeships. Without provisions underpinning quality, the legislation risks the devaluation of apprenticeships, and employers, parents and young people as well as adults will cease to see apprenticeships as a progressive route through to a future career.