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The House of Lords inquiry on apprenticeships concluded that one of the biggest barriers to young people's participating in apprenticeship training was the lack of basic skills, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley). Ofsted told the inquiry that a conservative estimate would be that 300,000 16 to 19-year-olds were unable to access apprenticeships because of a lack of basic skills. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) said, we need to build a pathway that helps more young people into apprenticeships and skilled employment. We need a programme of pre-apprenticeship training, with key skills such as numeracy and literacy embedded in learning a trade. That will demonstrate to young people the importance of such skills to their working life.
For the hard core of NEETs, who will at first need to take small steps back into learning and employment, we will establish extra FE college places every year. There will be 50,000 new places each year in colleges that are liberated-freed from the stifling bureaucracy that was identified by Andrew Foster in a report for the Government years ago, yet the Government have done so little about it. From new college courses through pre-apprenticeship training and real work-based apprenticeships to higher apprenticeships and foundation degrees, I want to build a ladder of opportunity that will be respected by learners and valued by employers.
The House would be disappointed if I did not say a brief word about the student loans crisis that was rightly identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant as a fundamental failure on the part of this Government. That is not merely the view of Members on the Opposition Benches or of critics of the Government on their own Benches. The report that the Government commissioned concluded that the Department itself was in part to blame, because of the confusion that it caused by moving the goalposts every time the Student Loans Company tried to organise its affairs.
I want to elicit from the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, when he sums up, some answers to specific questions. It is immensely regrettable, as I am sure that he realises, that, as the review revealed,
"new students...have experienced real and significant problems in applying for financial support".
I wrote to the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property just before Christmas. I did not want to spoil his turkey dinner, but I felt that these questions needed to be answered. I am disappointed to say that I have still not had a reply, and so I hope that the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs will answer these questions.
On 10 December last year, Ministers indicated to the House that the backlog in cases would be cleared by the weekend of 12 December. Will the Minister confirm whether that was the case. If it is not, why not?
Will institutions that have used access to learning funds to cover the gap between students applying for and receiving loans receive support from either the Higher Education Funding Council for England or the Department? Does the Minister accept the conclusion of an independent review that many students missed
the published deadlines for applications because they were not clearly stated or well publicised, and not well understood by applicants. Perhaps he could repeat what his ministerial colleagues have said: that the Government are offering a guarantee that there will be no January admissions crisis. It would be wrong were the House to learn later that the lessons had not been learned, and that students applying for admission to colleges and universities in January and February had faced the same difficulties as their predecessors.
Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that there will be no crisis this year? He has had long enough to give such an assurance, and the House wants to hear it. He knows what my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) reminded him: the Government have failed. They have failed to reduce the number of those not in education, employment or training, to expand real apprenticeships and to help more disadvantaged people into university.
I want to deal with two points that the Minister raised. He will be familiar with the Higher Education Statistics Agency's performance indicators that were referenced in the 2006 Dearing report. However, the indicators remain stubbornly similar to those in the report, which revealed that working-class participation in universities had increased by just 1 per cent. since 1995. Participation programmes such as Aimhigher, on which the Government spent more than £2 billion a year, have produced a 1 per cent. increase in participation by working-class students.
I am not saying that we do not need to advise and guide, which is why we want an all-age careers service, and I am not saying that we do not need to address that problem, which is why we want to look at modes of learning, access points to learning and all the other ways in which we can widen participation-widening participation is top of my agenda. Let us not live in cloud cuckoo land though, but consider and address the facts, and see what we can do to change them.
"the programme has not provided good value for money",
that the dead-weight cost was about 50 per cent., and that many employers said that they would have arranged the training anyway, although that would not necessarily have resulted in a qualification. Train to Gain is immensely cost ineffective-and Ministers know it.
We have had a decade of failure-millions of shattered dreams and broken lives. Labour Members know that but are embarrassed to admit to it. They are too timid to own up and too faint-hearted to challenge. Indeed, if Labour MPs had populated the Bounty, there would not have been a mutiny and Captain Bligh would have got away with his punitive regime. Well, we will not let the Government continue to punish Britain's youth and Britain's future any longer. It is time for those who have failed to step aside and let those with perseverance and passion step forward, to let Britain grow and to bring new hope, jobs and opportunity. The Government are out of ideas, they are out of good people, they are out of tune, out of step and out of line-and very soon they will be out of office, too.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): This has been a most enjoyable debate, not least during the last contribution. Members' contributions have been of a high standard, as is often the case in such debates.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) on his speech. He has had to attend a Select Committee, which is why he is not in his place now. However, he gave us an example of what is going on in Barnsley, which is an exemplar for the rest of the country in terms of skills.
I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). He knows that, personally, I like him immensely. He is a proper Tory, and we heard the authentic voice of the Conservative party in his contribution this afternoon. However, given his traducing of the training for the games industry, I should point out that it is now larger than the music industry in this country. The hon. Gentleman rather reminded me of John Lennon's Aunt Mimi, who advised him not to go into the music business because it was a complete waste of time.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), who made a thoughtful and interesting contribution. He rightly recognised the value of the capital programme at the further education college in his area, from which his constituency has benefited, and the importance of jobs in the manufacturing industry.
That leads me to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who as ever made a highly thoughtful and intelligent contribution. He sits on the board of the university in my constituency, and a welcome board member he is, with the experience and wisdom that he brings. He spoke about the importance of the modern work force and modern manufacturing-I think that the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) intervened at that point. He mentioned the Formula 1 industry in his constituency and the fact that this is still a great manufacturing country-the sixth most important in the world-with a high level of skills.
That triggered off in my mind a story told by my predecessor, who until quite recently was the First Minister of Wales, about the plane involved in the miracle on the River Hudson. Captain Sullenberger, in a display of great heroism and skill, landed the plane on the Hudson. When the passengers got out and stood on the wings, which saved their lives, they were standing on wings that had been manufactured here in the UK, in north Wales. That is an example of the great British modern manufacturing that is out there around the world. We forget that. Frankly, hon. Members in all parts of the House do not blow our trumpet loudly enough when it comes to the great manufacturing industry that we still have in this country. It is right that this Government have a policy of industrial activism to develop that manufacturing industry further, through our "New Industry, New Jobs" policies.
The speech made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) was immensely enjoyable, as his speeches almost always are. They are not always entirely illuminating, but they are always hugely enjoyable and humorous. As ever, he included a poetry quotation. On this occasion it was from Yeats; if I remember correctly, on the previous occasion when we
debated in the House he quoted Eliot. Perhaps I could quote for him another great lyricist-Madonna-and say that we have "heard it all before".
Beyond that rhetoric-the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings accused my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education of windy rhetoric and partisan bombast; there were elements of kettle, pot and black in that remark. The Opposition motion asks three fairly important questions. First, should we be expanding apprenticeships, as we are doing? Secondly, should we be reducing bureaucracy for FE colleges, as we are also doing? Thirdly, should we be offering record numbers of university places? Again, that is exactly what we are doing right now, with 43 per cent. of young people going on to university. Let us look at those questions in a little more detail in the time available.
Despite what the hon. Gentleman said-he did not allow me to intervene to make this point-the expansion of apprenticeships is a remarkable story. It is a success story for the Government and for the country. It is not unfair to say that apprenticeships were withering on the vine before this Government came into power. There were 240,000 apprenticeship starts in 2008-09, which, despite what he said, is the largest number ever. He also complained and asked whether I could confirm that the number of higher-level apprenticeship starts in 2008-09 was below 80,000. No, I cannot confirm that, because the figure in 2008-09 was 81,400-it was more than 80,000, not less, as he implied.
Kevin Brennan: I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman asked me that, because the success rate for apprenticeships last year rose by 6 per cent. to 70 per cent. That is more than double what it has been previously. That is a remarkable success story and a remarkable rate of growth. As I have said, the motion is inaccurate in stating that there has been an overall fall in the number of apprenticeship starts. The rate is remarkable for a time of recession, given that apprenticeships are essentially work-based training. We all have to acknowledge the challenges that economic downturn and recession bring for the younger age group, particularly 16 to 18-year-olds, who are especially badly hit during a recession. That is exactly why the Government have taken all the measures that we have in relation to young people.
I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), who deals with the under-19s, is present. We have done a lot to try to assist that age group, including through the September guarantee, which the Opposition have consistently refused to match. Neither the Conservative Front Benchers who are present today nor those in the Department for Children, Schools and Families shadow team have
committed to the September guarantee. We brought in the January guarantee to make sure that people can enter employment training if they are unable to find work or other forms of training, and that is exactly why we are also introducing a £2,500 incentive for employers to support 5,000 new apprenticeship places for 16 and 17-year-olds now. As I have been able to say, thanks to the intervention of the hon. Member for Northampton, South, we are now hitting record completion rates for apprenticeships that are well over double what they used to be. Despite what the Opposition say in their attempts to downplay apprenticeships and to make out that they are something like those under the youth training scheme, which was the Conservatives response to youth unemployment, they are quality apprenticeships with a high level of success, and the young people who undertake them make great achievements.
Apprenticeships are just one of the four national learning pathways that we have introduced for 16 to 18-year-olds. The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 will ensure that apprenticeship places are available for all suitably qualified young people by 2013. We anticipate that one in five young people will undertake apprenticeships in the next decade. They will be a key route to bringing us out of the economic downturn, and it is vital that we continue to invest in young people in that way. As I have said, the take-up of apprenticeships continues to rise, and the number of completions has smashed all previous records. We have hit our public service agreement target on apprenticeships two years ahead of target, so I shall not take any lessons on this issue. In our recent "Skills for Growth" White Paper, as part of the national skills strategy, we have committed to having 35,000 new places for 19 to 30-year-olds in higher-level apprenticeships in the next two years. We have introduced group training models so that smaller businesses can work together to provide apprenticeships, and that approach has the potential to develop another 15,000 places in the next few years. We have also committed £5 million for the development of new frameworks at levels 3 and 4, so the Opposition's charge about higher-level apprenticeships is completely unfounded.
The hon. Member for Havant talked about progression, which is an important issue. He talked about the report of the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) and the importance of trying to inspire apprentices to build their skills up to the higher education level. We have committed-again in the skills strategy-to introduce an apprenticeship scholarship fund from the autumn, and we are currently working through the details of that undertaking.
Kevin Brennan: By asking me to give way, the hon. Gentleman must be implying that my rhetoric is not as good as his rhetoric, because he gave the quality of his rhetoric as a reason not to give way to me. [ Interruption. ] I am, indeed, nicer, but I am going to carry on for a moment.
The second charge in the Opposition's motion was about bureaucracy. We are doing a great deal to reduce bureaucracy in FE colleges. In our investment strategy
and in our "Skills for Growth" paper, we have clearly indicated the types of measures that we are taking to reduce bureaucracy. Good and outstanding colleges no longer have to be inspected every two or three years, but every six years. Good and outstanding colleges may now choose to switch their money-to "vire", to use the technical term-right across their budgets and they are subject to much-reduced audit. Indeed, all colleges, not just good or outstanding ones, can now switch their expenditure within their budget headings on learner-responsive and employer-responsive budgets, and we have reduced the number of agencies that they have to talk to. It is not true that the Government are not making progress on reducing bureaucracy, on which we should be constantly vigilant. We are determined to carry on with that simplification agenda and to carry on reducing bureaucracy.
The number of students is the third element of the Opposition motion. The Opposition called on us to clarify matters about the Student Loans Company, and I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the backlog has been cleared and that we have accepted the terms of the review, which I was asked about earlier. I cannot guarantee the hon. Member for Havant that there will not be a crisis this year, however, as according to some bookmakers, there could be a Conservative Government this year. If that happened, I could not guarantee that there would not be a further crisis. Nevertheless, the measures that we have taken and our acceptance of the Hopkin report's recommendations will go a long way towards improving the situation.
I cannot leave the subject of extra student numbers without once again referring to the proposal in the Opposition motion to create 10,000 extra places for students next year. The hon. Member for Havant said that he could raise £300 million from getting 1 per cent. of the money returned to the Government as part of his programme. He said that he would get that money by offering a discount to those who repaid early. Well, earlier in 2008-09, £300 million was already paid back early. If his proposal were adopted, he would have to pay, with his 10 per cent. discount, £30 million to people who were going to pay the Government back anyway. That £30 million dead-weight cost would be needed in order to work the little three-card trick that he has developed to avoid facing the fact that funding extra places means providing the money.
I advise the hon. Member for Havant to go and see his hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). When he goes into his hon. Friend's room, he should tell him to sit down and take the weight off his feet for a moment, and explain that what he really needs to do if he wants to create extra student places is decide to spend the money necessary to provide them. If he wants to do that, he is going to have to borrow the money. Alternatively, the hon. Gentleman could tell the shadow Chancellor that he wants to spend £30 million for nothing-on students who are already paying the money back.
Rob Marris: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend's flow of rhetoric, which is considerable, but does he agree that the Conservative motion is not entirely clear about the 10,000 places, because the implication is that those 10,000 places would be there for ever more, whereas it is in fact a one-off for only one cohort?
Kevin Brennan: As my hon. Friend rightly points out-he got the Opposition to elucidate earlier-this is a one-off three-card trick. I do not think the policy could possibly be sustained over a period of time, because it is a false way of trying to fund the extra places. If the hon. Member for Havant wants to fund these places-it is a legitimate aspiration to fund more places in higher education; we have done it year after year so that we now have record numbers of places-he has to be up front with the British people, he has to be straight with the House and he has to say that he is prepared to spend the money, by borrowing if necessary, to do so. Otherwise, he will simply not be believed, and he will waste £30 million on a dead-weight cost, which is an absolute waste of public money.
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