Final data for apprenticeship starts in the 2009-10 year are not yet available. Provisional data published on Tuesday showed that there were 273,900 apprenticeship starts in that academic year.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The leader of the Scottish Labour party has assured every young person in Scotland that if he becomes First Minister in May, they will receive an apprenticeship if they so wish. Can the Minister also provide that reassurance to the rest of the young people in this country?
The hon. Lady is the youngest Member in the House. It was Swift who said:
"Invention is the talent of youth, as judgment is of age", and it is my judgment that much of the Opposition's position on apprenticeships is indeed invention. We will put £250 million more into apprenticeships to create more than ever before.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only the start-ups but completions that are important to apprenticeships? Does he further agree that in order to achieve completion, we need to increase the prestige of apprenticeships? Will he thus support the establishment of a Royal Society of Apprentices?
My hon. Friend has already established a reputation for championing vocational learning. We will commit to improving completions. I am prepared to say that the last Government made some progress there. I have already had discussions with a distinguished personage about exactly the idea that my hon. Friend proposes.
The Government are setting great store by providing more apprenticeships to replace the work that used to be done under the future jobs fund. What discussions is the Minister having with employers to make sure that sufficient apprenticeship places are available so that these youngsters can take up the offers that the Government say they want them to do?
As has already been said, we launched our skills strategy just this week, and I have a copy here for you, Mr Speaker. It has been welcomed by small businesses, the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the Trades Union Congress. The only people who have not welcomed it are Opposition Members, which says more about them than us.