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My hon. Friend also highlighted one of the great tragedies of the present Administration: the funding crisis in FE colleges. As he pointed out and as I was going to point out myself, only 13 colleges have been given the funding that they requested13 out of a huge number which in good faith made claims out of determination to improve their facilities so that young people, and not-so-young people, could be trained and retrained. The Governments response is shocking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) made a short but very effective and powerful contribution, and I am sure that we will all want to pass on our congratulations to her daughter on the success that she heard about today. My hon. Friend spoke with real concern about students who drop out of courses and about the depression that students on inappropriate or ill-advised courses or those worried about financea matter of real concern for young people todaymight experience. She also highlighted, as did the hon. Member for Bristol, West, that another result of the recession is fewer job opportunities for those coming out of college or university this year. That, too, is a matter of great concern.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings, despite the Ministers attempt to gloss over it, the number of adult and community learning places has been cut dramatically in the past four years by 1.4 millionat the very time the country was heading towards recession. The Government have cut those places with the result that young people are not getting opportunities to train or to learn new skills.
We heard, too, that FE enrolments have plummeted, despite increases in the budget of the Learning and Skills Council. The LSC has effectively delivered less for more money. It is no wonder that the Government want to get rid of it and replace it with three quangos.
The time left for debate is very short, but I would like to deal with the crisis in higher education, particularly for those who want to go to university. The Minister said that everyone will get a place and that there will be no problem [Interruption.] Yes, he did. He said that there would be no problems for anyone getting the qualifications. He glossed over the problem, as he does so well and so regularly. Well, I thought that it was lamentable Lammy [Hon. Members : Oh!]
The Government must start a new approach to ensure that young people have a better future. As our motion highlights, we have put forward proposals to try to alleviate the recession and its effect on young people. We look to the Government to take some of our suggestions on board. Today we have discussed, for instance, funds for adult and community learners, the Governments equivalent or lower qualifications cuts, and the reduced opportunities for those who return to work and
for older people. The aim of our fund is to encourage further education enrolment and help people to acquire new skills.
The young people of our nation face a bleak situation because of the recession. We need a Government with vision, ideas, and proposals to alleviate the current crisis and build for the future. Our motion is a positive start. The Government are decaying, out of touch and incompetent. It is time for them to go, and for us to have a new Government who can do something for our young people.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): This has been an important debate, to which there have been excellent contributions from Members on both sides of the House. I greatly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), who, as ever, was passionate in putting his side of the argument. In emphasising the importance of now, he did not explain how cutting £5 billion now from Government spending and not matching the September guarantee now would help our young people through the recession, but no doubt he believed what he said.
I commend the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) for his speech. He pointed outinterestingly, I thoughtthat there were fewer unemployed people in his constituency now, at the height of the recession, than there had been in 1997. Notwithstanding the seriousness of the economic downturn and the issues that we have debated this evening, that is testament to the Governments efforts to create jobs.
Kevin Brennan: Time is very short. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am usually delighted to spar with him. It is, I think, testament to the strength of job creation over the past 10 years that even now, when a recession is upon us, the employment rate is higher in his constituency than it was back in 1997.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) called on us to have some hope, and I think that she was right to speak of hope for young people. One of the things that has emerged from the Governments 50 per cent. target is that more than 50 per cent. of young people from all socio-economic backgrounds now say that they want to go to university. There has been a big change in recent years, and it contrasts with some of the archaic attitudes taken by some, although not all, Opposition Members. In January 2006, when the present Mayor of London was shadow Minister for higher education, he said:
I wouldnt dream of having a numerical target. Its crazy to chivvy people into university when they are not suited to it.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies)whom I like immensely; we are colleagues from Walesmade what I would describe as a proper Tory contribution to the debate. He told us what he thought university and education should be all about, but rather down-played the importance of the creative sector of the economy. That is not the only part of the economy, of course, but
the hon. Gentlemans speech showed that creativeness and entertainment are an important part of our national life, even if his comedy was sometimes inadvertent.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) made a serious point when he spoke of the need for local authorities to take more responsibility for 16 to 18-year-olds. That is exactly what the Government are doing through some of their further education policies. I agree that we should try to cut red tape for small businesses when it comes to apprenticeships, but I do not think that cutting Train to Gain is a very good idea if businesses are to be helped to improve the skills and aptitude of their work force. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford mentioned that. I hope that he will ask his Front-Bench colleagues to revisit that policy, because I do not think it would be wise to take £1 billion from Train to Gain at this time.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Learning and Skills Council. I have acknowledged in the House the mistakes made by the LSC in the capital programme, but I can tell him that there is a capital programme. There has been record investment in recent years, the LSC has announced a further half a billion pounds of investment, and the Government have a forward programme of capital investment in further education, which his party has not guaranteed to match. I urge him to talk to his Front-Bench colleagues about that.
Kevin Brennan: I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a representative from his constituency, although as I have inherited a large backlog of meetings from my predecessor, it may not be possible before the recess.
I, too, offer my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) and to her daughter on her success in obtaining her degree. The hon. Lady expressed the view that a number of people should not be taking up university places, because of the drop-out rate. Her partys motion calls for us to provide more university places this autumn although we have already achieved a record level, but I accept the sincerity and seriousness of her contribution. What she said about the American system of credits was important, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property is dealing with the issue.
A number of issues raised by both Front Benchers and Back Benchers deserve further discussion, not least that of apprenticeships. Despite the impression given by the Opposition Front-Bench team, the Government have rescued apprenticeships from oblivion. In 1997, the number of apprenticeships was dwindling to next to nothing and only 23 per cent. of that small number were completed, but we have trebled the figure. In January the Prime Minister announced a further £140 million package providing 35,000 additional places this year, which will allow us to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship
starts. As I said, in 1997 the equivalent number of apprenticeships was 75,000, with fewer than a quarter being completed. I do not think that we are about to take a lesson on that from the Opposition. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) mentioned level 3. In fact, the level 3 proportion of starts for 16 to 18-year-olds is rising, and the overall number has risen this year as a proportion of the number of apprenticeships being taken.
The subject of NEETs was also raised. We should bear in mind that people are not always in that position through no choice of their own. Some young people on gap years tend to be included in the count, as do young carers, people with disabilities, and people who volunteer. The fact is, however, that almost 80 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds were in education or training at the end of 2008, the highest ever rate. Six million are now working or in full-time educationthe figure was 5.2 million in 1997and the proportion of 16-year-olds not in education, employment or training is 5.2 per cent., the lowest rate for more than a decade. Obviously, because of the recession, the picture is serious. However, it is not entirely negative. As a result of the Governments commitment with the September offer and their commitment to apprenticeships, the number of 16 to17-year-old NEETs will fall, and more people will stay in education.
Time is short. Let me end by saying that there was a time when it was said that unemployment was a price worth paying, and that there was no such thing as society. That is no longer the case. This Government are committed to helping young people and helping people through the recession, and we will continue to do that.
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