Bridget Phillipson Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South
I’m pleased to back National Apprenticeship Week, recognising the enormous contribution made by apprentices to our economy.
Apprenticeships offer people a way to ‘earn while they learn’ and support employers to develop the skills of their workforce alongside filling skills gaps.
This week I’ll be seeing firsthand what apprenticeships can do for young people and businesses. I’ll be visiting apprentices in the automotive industry and to hear how partnerships between colleges, universities and employers are creating local training and employment opportunities enabling them to reach their career goals. However, under the Conservatives, these training opportunities have been dwindling, especially for young people.
Across Sunderland, and right across England, the Conservatives have overseen a decline in apprenticeships. Locally the number of people starting an apprenticeship has fallen 57% with over 2,500 opportunities lost during the last decade.
The government’s approach to apprenticeships has let young people and small businesses down.
In 2017, the Tories introduced the ‘apprenticeship levy’ for large employers and scrapped public funding for apprenticeships.
That means large employers have the advantage of access to a pot of money to pay for apprenticeship training whilst smaller firms have to make it work on their own. The costs and risks of taking on new untrained staff and bureaucracy has resulted in far fewer small businesses taking on apprenticeships and, since 2017, apprenticeship starts have declined by over one third.
To help our communities flourish, we need to support small businesses by making it easier for them to take on apprentices. The money to support more apprenticeships is there – but this Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to skills. In the last three years, over £2 billion of unspent apprenticeship levy funds have been sent back to the Treasury. It’s a national disgrace during a skills shortage.
To change direction and secure the skills our country needs for the future, Labour has called on the government to introduce a wage subsidy, funded through this unspent levy, which could have supported businesses to create 8,647 new apprenticeships in the North East this year.
Our young people are the future – but they’re an afterthought for the Tories. Ministers should listen to Labour, make the most of the underspent funding and secure the opportunities young people need to gain the skills they need to prosper.