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Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker Conservative, Worcester 5:23 pm, 12th March 2013

I agree with that as well. I think there is the opportunity to show businesses the benefits of investing in skills and that that can be achieved through apprenticeships. Some of the strongest recommendations in the Select Committee’s report relate to the need to strengthen the brand of apprenticeships and the focus on them in careers advice. It also points out the need to increase engagement between the National Apprenticeship Service and schools. Disappointingly, the motion makes no mention of those issues at all.

I would go further than the Committee’s report. We need businesses to engage more closely with schools, to put their managers on to the governing bodies of schools at both primary and secondary levels, and to champion the advantages and opportunities of apprenticeships and work-based learning, just as university-educated teachers will always champion the benefits of going to university.

In my constituency, I have been pleased to see Yamazaki Mazak take an active role in supporting the Bishop Perowne Church of England academy, placing its managers on the governing bodies of the school and its primary feeders and proactively engaging with school children in order to advocate the benefits of vocational education. I am glad to see Worcester Bosch playing an active role in inspiring pupils at the Tudor Grange academy and was delighted to hold an apprenticeships and enterprise fair, sponsored by both companies, to bring schools, employers and apprenticeship providers together with young people to talk about apprenticeships in Worcester.

The Select Committee’s report made powerful representations about the need to engage small and medium-sized enterprises in the apprenticeship agenda and pointed out that 80% of apprentices are employed in the SME sector. Again, the motion is silent on this point. In Worcester, a proactive, Conservative-led city council has engaged with this agenda to support SMEs with extra grants so that when they take on apprenticeships they get double the support that is available from the Government. I was delighted that at my most recent business event a number of small companies present had already taken on apprentices and they valued the support they were offered. I have also been very pleased with the consistent support for this agenda from the local media, particularly the Worcester News, which has run the 100 in 100 apprenticeships campaign.

It is of course right that the Government consider public procurement as a way of encouraging apprenticeships, and I was pleased to hear the Minister reiterate their commitment to using it in that way. It is right that the Select Committee drew Ministers’ attention to this important area, as it did on pages 52 and 53 of its 90-page report. However, it is also right that the Government should have regard to the cost that making procurement conditional on apprenticeships might have for the public purse and private enterprise. The report says,

“we concede that some flexibility is required”,

and, with regard to the suggestion of looking for at least one apprenticeship per £1 million awarded,

“we have been told by the TUC that this is current policy in some construction procurement arrangements.”

It is notable that the recommendation on procurement did not form even one of the sub-headings in the conclusions and recommendations of the report.

I passionately support apprenticeships. I welcome the fact that we are celebrating national apprenticeship week and welcome the very important work of the BIS Committee, of which I am proud to be a member.