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I will make a bit more progress and then let the hon. Gentleman come in if he wishes.
As MPs, we rightly celebrate the individual successes we observe. I have seen it myself in the development of the 19-year-old women whom I took on in my office as an apprentice. She has come from the excellent Blackpool and Fylde college and is doing an NVQ3. I know that sense of engagement is shared by other parliamentary colleagues who have taken on apprentices, or who are in the process of doing so.
In my work inside and outside Westminster in the past year, I have seen the strength of diversity and quality in apprenticeships in the skillset schemes at the BBC’s MediaCity site and the food and hospitality apprentice achievements that People 1st celebrated here. Last week, I visited Hackney community college to hear about the new apprenticeship opportunities it is creating as a result of the Tech City developments, and in Lancashire, as I said, I talked to apprentices at BAE Systems’s engineering school, and at the defence company MBDA just outside Bolton. This Thursday, I will be handing out apprenticeships awards at—what better place? —Blackpool tower. Those experiences have reinforced—for me and, I think, for all of us—the need for a broad range of apprenticeship pathways that cover not just traditional manufacturing sectors, but professional and service sectors. The common denominator has to be quality.
Despite that good work—and that of other initiatives; we welcome the extra apprenticeships that Barclays has just announced—it cannot be the substitute for systematic broader government action. The take-up of apprenticeships remains challenging and, in some categories, dire. We have already seen the number of 16-to18-year-old apprenticeship starts fall by 9,200 in the first three months between August and October 2012, in comparison with the same period in 2011.