I beg to move,
That this House
notes that improving education is imperative for the future economic growth of this country, that gains in productivity play an instrumental role in achieving high growth and better living standards, and that in order to prevent a recurrence of the deficiencies in the previous Government’s strategy for 14-19 education, the Government should initiate a cross-party review of 14-19 education, as recommended by the Confederation of British Industry, to cover exams, educational institutions and the curriculum in order to take full advantage of the increase in the participation age to 18.
As Opposition Members know only too well, we are holding this Opposition day debate in the aftermath of a general election which, if we are honest with ourselves as politicians, did little as a campaign to rehabilitate the standing of politics in this country. Too many important issues such as climate change, foreign policy and reform of the European Union were too absent from the campaign debate. The motion seeks to put the bleak functionalism, the harrowing terrain of Crosby Textor behind us. Instead, it contains a big idea for the big issues facing the English education system.
I want to make it very clear from the beginning that I am sincere in seeking Government support for the motion and in beginning to explore proposals for a cross-party review of 14-to-19 education. Let us make no mistake, there will be plenty of time for the convention of opposition over the coming weeks as we scrutinise the various education Bills going through different parts of Parliament. Even at this stage, five days before Second Reading, I will be delighted to give way if the Education Secretary wants to step up to the Dispatch Box and explain her definition of “coasting schools”—the first words of the first clause on the first page of the first of those Government Bills. I fear that she and her Ministers still do not know what a coasting school is, even as we are asked to vote on the Bill.
Before I outline why I think we need a radical overhaul of upper secondary education, let me first explain why it is so vital. Of all the issues given too scant attention during the election, perhaps our deep-seated malaise on productivity is the most serious. The statistics are dire. Output per worker is still lower than before the financial crash—a stagnation that the Office for National Statistics has called
“unprecedented in the post-war period”.
Our productivity is well over 20% lower than that of the United States, and we trail every G7 nation except Japan.
I know that nobody in this House seriously believes that that represents a true reflection of the efforts of British workers or the enterprise of British business. Neither do I mean to imply that the roots of our productivity challenge can be explained entirely by the economic policies of the current Government. Poor productivity, however, affects our economy and our society. It affects our competitiveness, our prosperity and our standing in the world. That is why the Labour party was so keen right at the beginning of this Parliament to have a day’s debate on productivity and how we deal with the productivity challenge. Given the direct link between productivity and economic growth, the scale of the measures needed to restore the public finances to good health is not an inconsiderable concern for this Parliament to address.
What is more, if we look into the causes of the productivity puzzle, we find many of the issues that Labour Members raised during the general election campaign. Despite today’s welcome news on wages, there is still a low-wage cost of living crisis in the UK. Of the 15 initial members of the EU, only Greece and Portugal now have lower hourly wages.
Too many of the recent jobs created have been of too poor a quality and low-skilled, particularly in the low growth regions of the north and the midlands. The structure of our finance industry is not delivering the right conditions for long-term business investment or the necessary access to start-up and growth capital. In so many parts of the country, working people have not seen living standards rise for over a decade. We are still simply too unequal, over-reliant on financial services and property for creating wealth and still not encouraging enough business investment. According to a shocking OECD report published last month, we have the biggest skills gap of all countries surveyed.
In 2013-14, apprenticeship starts in Enfield North fell from 710 to 590. While I agree that the focus on apprenticeships is welcome and necessary, I do not think it should be at the expense of adult skills training. The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London in my constituency faces an unprecedented 21.2% cut in funding, losing some 40 posts. Is this a coherent strategy, given that a large proportion of students—
Order. Interventions must be brief. Although this debate is not hugely subscribed, 14 Members want to speak and I would like to try to accommodate all colleagues. Consideration from Back Benchers and indeed from Front Benchers is of the essence. These debates are mainly about Back Benchers and not about shadow Ministers or Ministers.
Order. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, who was far too long-winded the other day, rather than arguing the toss, “Make it pithy and you would be doing yourself a favour, mate.”
Adult skills budgets have faced a 24% cut under this Government, and that will not do anything to meet the productivity challenge in Enfield and right across the UK. I am wholly in agreement with my right hon. Friend on that.
We have the most unequal skills and education system in the developed world and it is our productivity performance that best provides the index for that continued structural failure. The purpose of the debate is to explore the role that education must play in tackling our poor productivity. That is not to deny that the purpose of education is far broader. What is more, the productivity challenge cannot be solved by higher skills alone. Arguably, Governments of all stripes have overly focused in the past on pushing the supply side of the equation, yet at a very basic level our education system must seek to equip all our young people with the skills they need to thrive in this most competitive of centuries.
More and more, our economic strength will come to be defined by the quality of our human capital. The Royal Academy of Engineering forecasts that the UK needs an extra 50,000 science, technology, engineering and maths technicians and 90,000 STEM professionals every year just to replace people retiring from the workforce.
As usual, my hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. He has raised the very important question of STEM. I started out as a computer programmer. Does he agree that we must take advantage of new technologies, have a much better national strategy for the next generation and reskill people for digital jobs, including in programming? As more than 90% of our programmers are men, there is also a gender dimension to the problem.
My hon. Friend is totally right. One of the cross-party achievements of the previous six or seven years is the state of English education in computing science and the move away from the drawbacks of the information communications technology world and the qualifications surrounding it. We are world leading in some of the qualifications we are now developing in computing science.
In my constituency, we have the Vauxhall car plant, which, time and again, has risen to the challenge of global competitiveness. That has been done by the employer’s working in partnership with the trade union. Does my hon. Friend agree that partnership with trade unions is a vital part of rising to the challenge of productivity?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. One of the issues with the productivity challenge is the need for management to ensure continual training on the job and not just in the initial state of the skills. Trade unions play an important role in that. We will get through the productivity puzzle by ensuring that at every stage—from education to skills to employment—we work out how we can get more from our human capital. The link between higher skills and rising productivity is well established.
At a time when the Labour party is saying that it needs to be more business friendly, what message does the hon. Gentleman think it sends out when he criticises the jobs created by the private sector? Will he concede that it is far easier to move jobs if a person already has a job and has work experience?
I do not think that I criticised any jobs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is making sure that those working in the potato industry in his places of employment are getting the necessary training, support and growth.
We are failing miserably to provide young people with an education that spreads enough opportunity and excellence for all. The long tale of underperformance—the bane of practically every Government for at least the past 30 years—remains a stubborn reality. You will not be surprised to learn, Mr Speaker, that I believe that the Labour party education manifesto contains some excellent measures that could have boosted our education, skills and training system. For a start, we would have protected further education, sixth-form colleges and sixth forms from the round of cuts already heading their way. We would have thought it rather curious that private schools continue to get tax breaks whereas sixth-form colleges have to pay VAT. That is not what we would call fair. The Government chose to spend £45 million on the Westminster academy free school, while we would have supported education and training in the communities that need it most. That is simply the great moral and ethical difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party.
I strongly encourage the Government to match our manifesto investment in dedicated independent careers advice for young people. By reallocating some £50 million from the universities’ widening participation fund, which, as far as I can see, has not done nearly enough to widen participation, we could have funded effective careers guidance. Our labour market is particularly weak in matching skills supply with demand and there is some evidence that misallocation is a component of our productivity challenge. We need to be more ambitious.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that well-meaning Governments have increased year on year the target for the number of people going to university without giving any real thought to whether there will be suitable jobs for them when they leave?
One of the interesting components of both the rise in the popularity of apprenticeships, which I know the hon. Gentleman is doing a great deal to support, and some of the costs associated with university is that we have a much greater insight into the relative success of an apprenticeship compared with a degree. I think there is more realism about what young people can get from each institution. The hon. Gentleman has a point and I would take it right back to the mass conversion of polytechnics to university status. I am not sure that that was necessarily the best initiative introduced by the Conservative party, but we can also think about that 50% target being the best use of some of the human capital.
We need to be more ambitious when it comes to developing an institutional pathway for advanced technical skills, whether they are called national colleges or institutes of technical education. We need far more stringent and demanding apprenticeships, which I know the hon. Gentleman supports. Indeed, I would suggest that what we need on apprenticeships is not dissimilar to the dramatic reduction in the number of semi-vocational, grade-inflating, GCSE-equivalent qualifications following the Wolf report—arguably the Government’s most important achievement in education over the past five years. Far too many children in communities such as Stoke-on-Trent were put on courses with little or even no labour market value, and yet there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a similar, gallery-pleasing numbers game is developing with the re-badging of short-term, low-quality workplace training as apprenticeships.
We have to be very careful about the argument that there are too many young people going to university. In areas such as mine, where long-term youth unemployment is three times the national average, not enough young people are going to university, doing apprenticeships or advanced apprenticeships, or continuing to study at all.
My hon. Friend is totally right. He has made the case in Dudley—and the same is true of Stoke-on-Trent—that we need many more young people to be doing level 3, 4 and 5 qualifications. I would like to see a much more amphibious relationship between our universities and apprenticeships, so that young people can move in and out of them and at each stage go up the value chain with the qualifications they need.
Does my hon. Friend agree that each young person needs to be offered the right opportunity, whether it be vocational or academic, and that it should be about whatever is right for the individual? Does he share my concern that, under the last Government, there was a big increase in apprenticeships for older people, but not for 16 to 19-year-olds, and does he agree that we must target that latter group if we are to address the skills issue highlighted by his proposal?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I urge the Government to move on from playing the fatuous numbers game of highlighting 2 million or 3 million apprenticeships. They should think about the quality of the apprenticeships, rather than just re-badging Train to Gain. They should think about what these people are actually learning and focus on quality as much as quantity. At the moment we are not seeing that kind of focus from this Government. Indeed, the Government’s plan to solve the problem—Alice in Wonderland-like—is not to work to improve the quality of apprenticeships. The Skills Minister has said instead that they will establish in law that apprenticeships are equal to degrees, as if such statist hubris and a Whitehall edict will solve the problem.
I do not want to get bogged down in party political bickering. As an early sign of our bipartisan approach, I am willing here and now to support the Education Secretary’s new ministerial edict on stopping children swinging on their chairs, which follows on from her predecessor’s edict on having children run around playing fields as punishment—which I think she reversed. What is more, I am happy to endorse the Education Secretary’s appointment of Mr Tom Bennett as the anti-low-level classroom disruption tsar. Who knows? One day the Conservative party might think that teachers need to be trained and qualified to teach in a classroom, but we are not quite there yet.
We have far too unequal a distribution of skills, and our young people have poorer levels of literacy and numeracy compared with their older contemporaries. We need a serious shake-up of secondary education, to broaden the skills base and boost productivity, and so that it values what people can do alongside what they know and prepares young people for the rigours of the modern workplace by nurturing their character, resilience and wellbeing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the need to improve secondary education. My constituency has some of the very best levels of primary education, but those children who leave the secondary system at year 11 do not do so with anything like the grades they should be getting when compared with those with which they entered secondary school. Is that not the challenge for us—to make sure that they are pushed to do their very best throughout the whole system?
My hon. Friend is furiously ambitious for his constituency and the children in it. He is exactly right. The key to that is great teaching and strong leadership, making sure that young people are focusing on their academic subjects in order to get the basics right and then pursuing other academic or vocational routes.
One of the reasons we are disappointed with the Education Secretary’s approach in her new Bill is that it seems too indicative of an exhaustive, target-driven, bureaucratic, central-command approach. It is a 20th-century answer to a 21st-century problem. In the words of Steve Hilton, a great guru for the Conservative party, this marks a backwards and “Soviet” approach to education.
Higher ambitions require more substantial reform, and I am convinced that in England that requires us to explore the merits of a 14-to-19 baccalaureate system of upper secondary education, particularly now we are raising the participation age. There is an emerging consensus on that idea, and it demands closer inspection.
The Schools Minister says there is not, but he should listen to the CBI and leading headteachers, including those on the Headteachers’ Roundtable, and to one of the great Tory Education Secretaries, Lord Baker. There is a far broader consensus on the need to rethink the purposes of upper secondary education in the light of the continued inability of the current high-stakes, teach-to-the-test, exam-factory model in order to tackle our long tale of underperformance.
I do not expect the Government to commit to that today as a point of public policy. I accept, as we did during the election, that the short-term priority is to provide heads and teachers with a degree of curriculum stability, given the rather, shall we say, frenzied pace of recent reform. Now is the time to launch—as the CBI, the voice of business, has requested, alongside the Labour party—a broader cross-party review.
Disappointingly, prior to the election the Education Secretary walked out on the cross-party talks that the Royal Society had convened to introduce some stability to the curriculum process. Now that she is back in office, I hope she will take a slightly more mature approach and support a CBI-endorsed cross-party review to look into a more ambitious settlement for secondary education that can stretch the more able students, challenge the damaging snobbery towards creative, technical and vocational pathways, and tackle our seemingly intractable low skills problem, which so cripples our productivity.
In the light of the radical skills shift required by the industrial revolution we see all around us, with the move towards a digital society, we need to answer the deeper question of what skills, knowledge and attributes our young people now need to thrive and succeed in the 21st century. Until we have a clearer answer to that question, I fear we will not find a long-term solution to the productivity woes.
I hope the Government will give serious consideration to backing this bipartisan motion, and I commend it to the House.
This debate provides a great opportunity, in contrast to the doom-mongering of Tristram Hunt, to set out the reforms and progress that the Government have made in the area of skills and growth. Every time he speaks, the hon. Gentleman seems to collect people whom he wishes to offend. First, it was nuns; today, he offended anyone working in the potato industry, such as my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen, who runs a successful business employing many hundreds of people.
Conducting a root and branch review of 14-to-19 education of the sort the CBI advocated in its report is exactly what we have been doing for the past five years, ensuring that every young person, wherever their talents lie, has the opportunity to succeed in modern Britain. As ever, the hon. Gentleman managed to be a torrent of sound and fury—but little else, unfortunately.
He certainly was not pithy.
The skills and qualifications of 14 to 19-year-olds should not be the subject of the hon. Gentleman’s sound and fury. I wait with bated breath for the day when he acknowledges the 2.2 million apprenticeship starts and the fact that more young people than ever are going to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that over 70% more pupils are taking GCSEs in the core academic subjects that will help them to get on in life.
May I take the right hon. Lady back to the start of the shadow Secretary of State’s opening speech, when he asked for the definition of a coasting school? Does she recognise that coasting schools include not just schools that are underperforming at a low level, but schools at a higher level that are not pushing children as hard as they should be or as far as the children are capable of going?
Although I do not want to cover the ground that the House will cover on Monday when we come to the Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that coasting schools need to be challenged, including schools that do not stretch pupils of all abilities. That is why we are moving to the Progress 8 measure. I hope that he will speak on Monday, and perhaps play a full part in the Committee proceedings too.
As was clear from Question Time, nobody on the Opposition Benches wants to talk about the successes of the Government’s long-term economic plan. The most relevant of those successes to this debate is the fact that the youth unemployment count has come down by 115,000 over the past 12 months. That is a record that I am proud to defend.
On that very point, according to records produced this morning, youth unemployment in my constituency is at its lowest level on record: only 70 young people there are claiming jobseeker’s allowance, compared with 365 young people in April 2010. The credit for that must go not only to the further education institutions and business, but to the coalition Government. Of course, there is more that we should do, so will the Secretary of State say what steps are being taken to increase the quality of apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds?
I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to the House. This is the first time I have been in the Chamber when she has spoken, and she did so eloquently. She was right to recognise the fall in youth unemployment in her constituency and across the country. I will come on to the steps that we will take to ensure that apprenticeships are highly valued by employers and give every young person the best start in life, which is what the Conservative party is all about.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the quality of apprenticeships. The average length of stay on an apprenticeship, as described by the Government, is 10 months. Would she allow somebody with 10 months’ training to build an extension to her home?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, because there is a statutory minimum of 12 months for apprenticeships. He may well be talking about the programme-led apprenticeships that were introduced by the last Labour Government.
Let us remember what we inherited in 2010 from the Labour party: standards were falling and vocational qualifications were debased, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central did have the grace to recognise. Indeed, at the heart of many of his problems is the fact that he agrees with an awful lot of what the Government have done. Even he has admitted that he failed to persuade his former party leader to take much interest in education during the election campaign.
Young people and students were failed by those debased vocational qualifications. Young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were told that academic qualifications were not for them, and those who wanted a vocational qualification were sold short by qualifications that were not backed by employers and did not lead to a job. Schools in England were stagnating in the international league tables, going from seventh to 25th in reading, eighth to 28th in maths and fourth to 16th in science.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, with female employment at a record high, we need to ensure that maths teaching in particular continues to improve so that we can encourage girls to follow a maths education right through their careers? I speak as a woman with a maths degree—a rare bird, I admit.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. I welcome her to the House; this is the first time I have heard her speak. She put her case passionately. I am delighted to hear about her maths degree. I hope she will take the opportunity presented by her position in this House to visit local schools and encourage all students, but particularly girls, to study maths to the highest possible level. We know that the higher the level at which people study maths, the greater their earning power. The subject is important in tackling issues such as the gender pay gap.
I was talking about the legacy of the Labour party on equipping young people with the skills they need to succeed. Despite the daily dose of painstaking soul-searching that the Labour party is subjecting us to, it simply has not learned its lesson when it comes to education.
When the Conservative party came to power in 2010, work experience was a common feature of the work of secondary schools and that was supported by education business partnerships. The last Government removed work experience and cut the funding for EBPs. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the use of EBPs and to work in co-ordination with business to get work experience back into schools, because businesses value work experience and say that it prepares young people for the world of work. Taking forward the skills agenda must be a fundamental part of our efforts to address the productivity gap.
I know how passionately the hon. Gentleman feels about work experience. He raised it with me in the last Parliament as a member of the Education Committee. The issue is that even if something is compulsory, that does not mean it is of high quality. Young people were going on work experience weeks, but were gaining no skills at all. That is why we are focusing on high-quality, meaningful work experience post-16, the age at which students can acquire those skills. There are other ways of gaining meaningful interactions with the workplace that inspire young people before they hit the age of 16. Many employers were also reluctant to offer work experience because of the red tape surrounding it. We have taken that away.
Education gives every child the chance to reach their full potential, so it is the key to delivering true social justice. It is through good education that we can ensure that all young people are prepared for adult life and sustained employment in an increasingly global world. Good education also lies at the heart of a strong economy. Our analysis, which is backed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, shows that the increased number of pupils getting good GCSE grades since 2010 will add more than £1.3 billion to the country’s economy. Achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including in the vital subjects of English and maths, adds £80,000 to a student’s earnings over their lifetime.
In that context, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the position of disabled young people. The Government have introduced education, health and care plans, which have been widely welcomed, but there is no obvious link with the employment prospects of those young people. What will she do to ensure that the ambitions that our schools and colleges have for disabled young people relate not only to their education, but to their employment prospects?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I am glad to hear that there is cross-party agreement that education, health and care plans are welcome. They offer an opportunity for various services, including schools, to support young people with disabilities. At its heart, the issue is about inspiring young people about all the options, making sure that no barriers are put in place, and ensuring that nobody else makes choices for young people about what they can and cannot do. I would welcome any thoughts or suggestions that the hon. Lady has in that area, as would the Minister for Children and Families. I want all young people to fulfil their potential—and that, of course, includes anybody with disabilities.
We need to ensure that young people master the basics at primary school and go on to develop deep understanding in secondary school. Under the party of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, one in three children left primary school unable to read, write or add up properly—a figure that we have reduced to just one in five, with further still to go. Until age 16, there is a fundamental core of knowledge and skill that all young people need to access.
As I said, it is the most disadvantaged who always lose out when anyone says that a core education is not for everyone. A rigorous academic curriculum until age 16 is the best way to ensure that every child succeeds regardless of their background and allows us to be ambitious for everyone, to keep options open and horizons broad. We have revised the national curriculum to make it more rigorous and it now provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said, and helps to develop an appreciation of culture, creativity and achievement.
The new curriculum sets expectations that match those in the highest-performing education jurisdictions in the world, challenging pupils to realise their potential in an increasingly competitive global market. We have reformed GCSEs, so they are more rigorous and provide a better preparation for employment and further study. GCSE students taking modern languages will now have to translate into the target language accurately, applying grammatical knowledge of language and structures in context. GCSE students in maths will have to know how to develop clear mathematical arguments and solve realistic mathematical problems. The new English literature GCSE requires students to study whole texts in detail, covering a range of literature including Shakespeare, 19th-century novels and romantic poetry. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s books are not on that list.
Well, that’s debatable. [Laughter.]
This is what the top performing countries in the world expect for their children and we should settle for nothing less. Yesterday, we announced that every child starting year 7 this year will be expected to study core academic subjects that make up the EBacc. This means studying English, maths, sciences, history or geography and a language right up to GCSE.
We want every child to be studying the EBacc subjects. There will, of course, be some children for whom that is not the right thing. There might be particular special needs, in which case there will need to be some flexibility in the system—I appreciate that. The hon. Gentleman, who wants to mandate things, will find that much harder to do with the profession. Safely for all of us, he is not on the Government Benches and is not having to work with the education sector.
There is no suggestion that arts subjects are in any way less valuable. Good schools, such as King Solomon academy, which I visited yesterday, show that there does not need to be a false choice between an academic or arts-based curriculum. Children can do them both and they can do them both well. There is time for most pupils to study other subjects in addition to the EBacc, including technical disciplines which set them up for apprenticeships or further study, but the academic core of the EBacc is something we think every school has a duty to provide and every child has a right to study.
A core curriculum needs to be backed by strong accountability. From 2016, the existing five A* to C English and maths headline measure will be replaced by Progress 8, a measure based on the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school compared with pupils who had the same starting point. Schools with tough intakes will be rewarded for the work that they do, and schools with high-attaining intakes will—rightly, as I said earlier—be challenged to help their pupils achieve their full potential. Above all, the measure will remove the obsessive focus on the C/D borderline and instead place a premium on those schools that push every young person to reach their full potential.
The Progress 8 measure will come into force beforehand. What we are saying with the EBacc is that students starting year 7 in September will be taking the EBacc subjects when they reach GCSE. They will sit alongside each other. I think they are both extremely valuable.
Above all, we need great teachers. Evidence from around the world is clear that the single most important factor in determining how well pupils achieve is the quality of the teaching they receive. We are hugely fortunate to have many thousands of dedicated and hard-working professionals in classrooms throughout our country. Teaching continues to be a hugely popular career. Almost three quarters of new teachers now have an upper second or first class degree, which is 10% higher than was the case in 2010. We have a record proportion of teacher trainees and 17% with first class degrees. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I trust head teachers to hire the best teachers for their schools, rather than proposing to sack more than 17,000 of them from our classrooms.
Having mastered the basic core at 16, we then want to give young people the chance to choose the future path for them. High quality post-16 education is vital for ensuring that every young person will leave education capable of getting a good job, a place at university or an apprenticeship.
For some young people an academic path will be right. We have reformed A-levels. Giving universities a greater role in how A-levels are developed has been an important part of the Government’s plans to reform the qualifications. Their involvement will ensure that A-levels provide the appropriate foundation for degree-level study.
I will make some progress. If I have some time towards the end I will certainly give way, but I want to allow time for Back Benchers. I do not want the Front-Bench speeches to go on and on.
We have introduced linear A-levels, of the sort the hon. Gentleman is on the record as having once supported, to make sure that young people spend less time in exams and more time learning and studying.
For other young people, professional and technical education will be the route they take. Until 2010, this critical provision was neglected for far too long. Thanks to our reforms, we are no longer selling students or employers short.
Records show that youth unemployment in Taunton Deane is today at a record low, but that is not to say that we should not still invest in the skills to get the right students coming forward. I am very pleased that there is now an emphasis on vocational qualifications, which I think my right hon. Friend will go on to talk about. I am thinking particularly about subjects I am very interested in and were sadly neglected by the Labour party: agriculture, horticulture, the environment and conservation. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is bringing this in.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. It is the first time I have heard her speak. I know she will be a passionate advocate for Taunton Deane. She is absolutely right that, while it is very welcome that youth unemployment continues to fall, there are still many employers who are identifying skill shortages. There are sectors and industries that continue to need more people and a younger workforce, and she has mentioned some of them in her intervention.
Under Labour, students were encouraged to study hollow vocational qualifications that were not valued by universities or employers. It is notable that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the Wolf reforms. I am delighted. It is absolutely right to take away qualifications that were not valued by university employers. Young people were being asked to study qualifications and then finding they were not worth the paper they were written on. That is why Alison Wolf concluded that 350,000 young people were let down by courses that had little or no value. The flagship Tomlinson diplomas under the previous Labour Government turned out to be the greatest white elephant in the history of education—universally rejected by colleges, universities and employers.
May I recommend the latest Manpower report to the Secretary of State? It talks about how businesses in Yorkshire are very keen to take on more staff, but are struggling from skills shortages and a worsening crisis—something that has happened on her watch. I recently visited an engineering firm in my constituency, Wakefield Acoustics. It has jobs, but is struggling to take on qualified engineers, particularly younger people. I recommend the report and I would like the Secretary of State to address this issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will certainly look at the report. [Interruption.] I thank Kevin Brennan for helpfully prompting me, but I am able to tell when I have heard female Members of Parliament from both sides of the House make excellent contributions. As I was saying, I will certainly look at the report.
The overall point that the hon. Lady makes about a skills shortage is absolutely right. Those seeking employment or looking for engineers would have started their education under the previous Labour Government, but she has made her point and she is right to identify that we need more highly skilled young people, particularly in engineering.
The Secretary of State and I get on well, and she knows I have a high regard for a lot of what she does, but we have to get away from this sterile debate in which she claims that everything was terrible under the last Labour Government and that everything is brilliant now. The truth is that we did not do nearly well enough and the current Government are not doing nearly well enough either. We face a long-term crisis in the quality of education and skills, so we need to drop this ridiculous habit of dressing up relatively minor differences as huge ideological chasms. We need a royal commission so that we can agree as a country that education and skills are the No. 1 priority and to set cross-party, long-term goals enabling every child to fulfil their potential.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we get on well. We have had some interesting conversations—I am not sure that is good for his career in the Labour party, but I do not think he is standing for anything in the upcoming Labour party elections, so perhaps it will not be too damaging. He and I agree on the importance of academies and the success they bring, so it is a great shame that, as we will probably hear on Monday, other Labour Members are rowing back from the reform introduced by a Minister in the last Labour Government. A royal commission would mean more hot air and time. We have made enormous progress in the past five years in giving young people the right skills, providing more apprenticeships and getting people into university, and I am grateful for his support for that.
I want to make some progress, because I know that other hon. Members want to contribute. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central talks about being pithy, but he did not typify that today when he spoke. We have stripped out 3,000 poor-quality qualifications so that the only vocational qualifications are those backed by employers that lead to a job. In addition, we have put in place rigorous 16-to-19 tech levels endorsed by employers and leading to a technical baccalaureate for the most talented. Every qualification for which young people now study, be it academic or vocational, will be demanding and rigorous and provide a clear route to employment. English and maths are critical to successful progression to employment, which is why all students now have to continue studying them if they do not get a good GCSE.
The quality of apprenticeships is rising too. Every apprenticeship now needs to be a paid job in the workplace, to last 12 months and to include meaningful training on and off the job. Employers can design the standard an apprentice must reach, and the reformed funding provisions mean that the training apprentices receive follows the needs of their employers. New traineeships are helping young people who need extra work experience, as well as English and maths education, to move on to a lifetime of sustained employment. Let us not forget that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central went into the election promising to scrap level 2 apprenticeships.
It is not often I agree with the TUC, but on this occasion I wholeheartedly agree with Unionlearn that scrapping apprenticeships in key areas, such as construction and plastering, would be a disaster for the young people for whom this provides their opportunity. Young people need resilience and character to get back up in the face of adversity. If we are to have high expectations for every child, we have to create the right conditions for those high expectations—conditions in which a love for learning can flourish—so that, when young people leave school, they can bounce back from the knocks life throws at them. That is why I announced at the end of the last Parliament £3.5 million in character grants to support work to develop civic awareness, resilience and grit in schools, and it is why we will offer any young person who wants it the opportunity to participate in the National Citizen Service.
There is more to do, however. The rising participation age gives us the chance to ensure all young people are on the right path to the world of work. We will ensure that the routes are clear and that all young people have options leading to outcomes with real labour market currency. There will be no dead ends. We are developing a comprehensive plan to increase to 3 million the number of apprenticeships in this Parliament. That will include more work with large employers, more support for small businesses and a greater role for the public sector. We will put in place the right incentives and support to ensure that everyone is earning or learning, including support for young people who are not in education, employment or training or at risk of not being—I am pleased to say that the number of NEETs is already at a record low. Catch-up support will also be in place to provide a stepping stone to employment.
We want to ensure that in every area of the country there are strong institutions making available a full range of specialisms to every child, based on collaboration between different providers and institutions. University technical colleges and studio schools are unique in how they develop their education around the needs of local employers, and I would like to send my congratulations to UTC Reading on being the first to be judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
I am proud to defend the work of the last Government on improving the knowledge, skills and life prospects of the next generation. Now, as part of our commitment to securing real social justice, we are determined to ensure that the reforms of the last Parliament—the innovation and progress we unleashed—reach every young person in every part of our country. If governing for one nation means anything, it is ensuring that the education we provide—be it academic, professional or technical—gives every student the chance to realise their full potential and to be all they can be. We will be asking the House to reject the motion this afternoon.
I am honoured to represent East Dunbartonshire. For those who do not know my beautiful constituency, Dunbartonshire is an ancient land, and one that has always fascinated outsiders, from the Romans to Margaret Thatcher. It is said to be the Scottish constituency that fascinated the late Prime Minister above all others. “How could it be”, she used to ask her Scottish Ministers—younger Members might not know that there was once a time when the plural tense could be used about Scottish Conservatives—“that such a prosperous constituency, with more than its fair share of douce hooses and perhaps the highest percentage of graduates in the whole country, keeps returning non-Conservative MPs to the Commons?” Not for the first time, Mrs Thatcher misunderstood Scotland. The Prime Minister who believed that the reason the Good Samaritan attained lasting fame was that he was rich enough to become a philanthropist—who, indeed, visited the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to labour that point in her Sermon on the Mound—did not realise that East Dunbartonshire rejected Conservatism for many reasons, and not least precisely because it had one of the highest percentages of graduates in the country. It is a thoughtful place.
Mr Speaker, you well know of the towns of Bearsden, its name shrouded in mystery, and Milngavie, bane of a thousand newscasters who have fallen into the “Milngavey” trap. You will have heard of Lenzie and Kirkintilloch, of Westerton and Bishopbriggs—a town, as the name suggests, with pious origins, having been granted to Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow, in the 12th century by King William the Lion. The Caledonians, the Picts and the Vikings battled it out for control of my constituency’s fertile soil and ancient sandstone hills.
Some claim the Romans called Dunbartonshire the province of Vespasiana. Perhaps; in any event, it was a place they could not hold. Running across Dunbartonshire to this day is the Antonine Wall, named after Antoninus Pius, who ordered its construction in AD 142 to defend the mighty armies of Rome from the locals. The Antonine Wall was the northern-most point of the Roman Empire. Having fought and conquered Hispania, Gaul, Germania and, of course, Anglia, the Roman legions were halted in East Dunbartonshire, just outside Bearsdenia—as it might have been called had they been allowed to stay. We underestimate my constituents at our peril.
It was not just the Romans who found the locals difficult to woo. More recently, my MP predecessors have often been reminded of just how tough the locals can be. Over the past few decades, East Dunbartonshire and its earlier incarnation, Strathkelvin and Bearsden, have been represented by MPs from all the major parties. Margaret Bain was one of three outstanding nationalist women to represent Scotland in this House in the 1970s, the others of course being Winnie Ewing and Margo MacDonald. Maggie snatched the constituency in 1974 with a majority of just 22 votes. She went on to lose at the next election, but she left a legacy of respect and affection. Norman Hogg, John Lyons, and the late lamented Dr Sam Galbraith held my seat and its predecessor for the Labour Party. Michael Hirst was an inclusive Conservative whose misfortune was to be in situ when Scotland turned against the Tories. My immediate predecessor, Jo Swinson, held this seat for 10 years, arriving as the baby of the House, before—famously and rightly—bringing her baby to the House. She was, as many Members will know, tenacious. The lesson is clear: East Dunbartonshire voters are not sentimental when it comes to political defenestration. I am acutely aware of the lessons of that history.
Many think of East Dunbartonshire as a prosperous place, and it certainly has many advantages. It is the constituency with the longest life expectancy in the country, and it is also a constituency with excellent state schools, which may explain the large number of graduates.
I find myself agreeing with the central tenet of the motion. We all know how vital education is to growth, not just for the benefit of the economy but for the individuals who, of course, benefit from it. Education has transformed the circumstances of my own family. Like all her relatives, my grandma, Janet Stant, left school at the age of 12—in her case, to go into domestic service—and was self-conscious for ever thereafter about her reading and writing skills. My mum left school at 14. because she had to go to work to support her family when her dad was killed in a shipyard during the Clydeside blitz. From my earliest years, I heard from both of them, and from my dad, about the importance of education. They did not care what I studied; all they cared about was that I should study. I went to university, the first member of my family to do so, first to Glasgow and then, with a scholarship, to Harvard. Such privileges would have been impossible dreams for my immediate forebears.
For me, and for many people of my age, free education was key. As an SNP politician, I take immense pride in the fact that my party has championed free tuition north of the border. For me, it was immensely depressing to see some of my contemporaries—on both the Conservative and the Labour Benches, sadly—who had themselves benefited from free education voting to pull the ladder up and away from future generations. Unfettered access to education and training is, for me, the mark of an improving, ever more civilised society. It is also, of course, the key to social mobility.
Earlier in my speech, I mentioned some of the benefits of living in my constituency, but it would be a mistake to think of it as a place of uniform privilege. In recent decades, post-industrialisation has brought pain in the form of unemployment. Kirkintilloch is one of several places in the constituency that have been hit hard. A fine market town with ancient roots and a legacy of outstanding architecture, it was a hotbed of the industrial revolution. It had a booming textile industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in the 20th century shipbuilders were the principal employers. Until 1984, the town made the iconic red phone boxes and red pillar boxes which are known around the world. As in other areas, however, manufacturing jobs were lost, and successive Westminster Governments gave too little thought to what would replace them. That apathetic detachment in the face of radical social and economic change planted the seeds which led to the seismic political events of last year and this year in Scotland.
The radical tradition is not a new development in my constituency. The great Thomas Muir, sometimes described as the father of Scottish democracy, had his home at Huntershill, which, tragically, is now under threat from its unappreciative custodians on East Dunbartonshire council. A champion of parliamentary reform and a leading light of the Friends of the Scottish People Movement, he was shipped to Botany Bay as a punishment for inspiring the people with his dream of a democratic franchise. Undeterred, he escaped to France, where he was lauded as the foremost proponent of a Scottish republic.
In the House this week, we have found ourselves debating the Scotland Bill, the latest in a long and sorry sequence of Westminster attempts to appease Scottish national aspirations. It is as inadequate as its predecessors. Events north of the border on
The Prime Minister promises that he will listen. He promises that he will respect Scotland and its Government. We shall see whether he matches fine words with deeds.
Order. I am not imposing a time limit, but if Members aim to speak for between eight and nine minutes, everyone will be able to speak, and everyone will have an equal amount of time in which to do so.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me welcome you back to the Chair.
I listened carefully to the maiden speech of John Nicolson, and I commend him unreservedly for the articulate and eloquent way in which he told us about his constituency and some of the issues there. Having heard what he said about the constituency, which I must confess I have never visited, I think that he may have been wrong when he said that the Romans had been held there. From the sound of it, they may have found it so nice when they got there that they decided that they might as well stay and enjoy the food and the view; but, whatever the reason, they decided to stay. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is descended from the Romans, but, having seen him on television and having heard him speak today, I wish him a long and prosperous career. I am sure that we have not heard the last of him.
I shall try to confine myself to eight minutes as you asked, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall restrict my speech to two specific issues, one of which I think is key to the development of skills among younger people. I refer to the development of university technical colleges. Contrary to some of the partisan comments that are made regularly by Tristram Hunt, UTCs are a classic example of a project with a cross-party foundation. I commend both Lord Baker, a former Conservative Education Secretary, and Lord Adonis, a former Labour education Minister, for the help that they gave me with the setting up of a UTC in Watford. The Watford UTC is chaired by David Meller, a non-executive director of the Department for Education who is very well respected. It opened just 14 months after we had dreamt it up in a café in Watford, which shows that bureaucracy, like everything else, can be overridden with determination.
What struck me most during a conversation that I had with Lord Baker and Lord Adonis at the outset was a statistic that they have often produced. Apparently, 40% of people who work in bars and cafés in London are university graduates. I am not one to undermine universities; like many Members of Parliament, I was the first member of my family to go to a university, and it was a huge thing for me. The fact is, however, that many people have been driven to go to university without really thinking of it as part of a future career. Somewhat depressingly, I nearly always agree with Ian Austin, and I thought he was absolutely right to say that not enough young people either go to university or take up other options.
The response that people give on television quiz shows when they are not quite sure of the position is “Ask me one on sport.” I may be able to give the hon. Gentleman an answer after listening to the debate on Monday, but perhaps I can help him for the future by saying that he might have asked a better question if he had asked whether I agreed that children who go to UTCs should not really be the kind of children who would consider going to university. I do not agree with that at all.
The advantage of the UTCs is the practical education that they provide. Their pupils are thinking about careers at the age of 12 or 13, which is really good. They can combine an academic education, studying for GCSEs like everyone else, with learning specific skills. The UTC in Watford is geared towards hotel and hospitality management, an area in which there are lots of good skilled jobs available, as well as IT skills, the need for which is universal. It is commendable that there are already 30 UTCs in England, with nearly 6,500 pupils, and by September 2016 there will be 25 more. I have met the principals of various UTCs, including Emma Loveland, the principal of the one in Watford, and their view of education is based on their belief that this country is under-skilled and that conventional education—notwithstanding the academies, which are very good—has been producing quite a lot of children who are either unskilled or not in a position to become skilled.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the preparation for the world of work needs to involve the acquisition not only of practical or academic skills but also employability skills? Students need interpersonal skills that include good manners and good timekeeping. They need to appear interested and look as though they really want the job when they go for an interview. That is all part of getting on to the first rung of their career ladder.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. I am pleased that the UTCs are leading the way for the education system now to include ways of getting a job in the whole process, rather than that being an afterthought at a careers fair, as it used to be in the sixth form.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am an evangelist for the UTC programme. Does he agree that we need a massive expansion of the programme, so that we have a UTC in every town? They should become part of the fabric of education so as to give more young people the opportunity to learn in a vocational setting. Every child in the country should have that choice, not just the ones in Watford and the other towns that have UTCs at the moment.
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I agree with every word he has said. It is important that Members on both sides of the House should champion UTCs in their constituencies. Their development is driven by individual people, whatever the Government policy might be. The Baker Dering Educational Trust is really good, but in the end, one individual has to drive the development of a UTC. If the local Member of Parliament could be that individual, or find that individual, it would help tremendously. That is how the academy programme started. Lord Adonis found individuals and talked to them over lunch—which they usually paid for, I might add—to persuade them to establish academies. So I think that engagement is okay.
I am conscious of Mr Deputy Speaker’s guideline time of eight minutes, but I hope that he will allow me to deduct the time I spent congratulating the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire on his maiden speech, because I want to talk a little bit about academies. [Hon. Members: “Cheeky!”] Well, I have learned that we can speak in this place until they tell us to shut up—that is for the benefit of new Members—although Mr Deputy Speaker is far too gentlemanly to say that. [Interruption.] I am not going to talk about academies. He has given me the look, so I shall go straight on to apprenticeships.
I think there is consensus that apprenticeships are the key mechanism for getting skills into the workplace where they are needed. Unfortunately, for a lot of people of my generation and above, apprenticeships still carry the image of some bloke who could not get into any form of education lying around in a boiler suit with a spanner. I commend the coalition Government on taking steps to show that that was a ridiculous and ignorant assumption. The first apprentices I ever met in my constituency were doing what used to be called bookkeeping—it is actually business administration—which I confess appeared to me in my ignorance to be completely unrelated to apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships achieved under the last Government—2.3 million starts, according to the Secretary of State—is commendable. I am sure everyone would agree that apprenticeships are becoming much more sophisticated, and the announcement by Ministers of a comparison with degree level education is absolutely right.
In the time remaining, I would like to concentrate on two things that we need to overcome, both of which are related to sentiment. A lot of work still needs to be done to enhance the status of apprenticeships. The first thing relates to schools: I do not believe that they do enough to promote apprenticeships. That is based on my experience in my constituency. The teaching profession is very much geared towards graduates, as most of its members are graduates. [Interruption.] Will you bear with me for one minute, Mr Deputy Speaker? [Interruption.] Okay, two minutes—[Laughter.] I’ll take five if you like.
The second point relates to the status of apprenticeships among young people. Will the Minister have another look at the original proposal for a royal college of apprenticeships? Under such an arrangement, everyone graduating from an apprenticeship at whatever level would have an independent certification. That would do a lot to help employers to change their sentiments towards apprenticeships, and it would certainly mean a lot to the apprentices if they could become members of the royal college.
It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your re-election. I also congratulate John Nicolson on his maiden speech. I was interested to hear what he said about his constituency. In terms of policy based on his party’s mandate, I believe that the Government should look at giving Scotland full fiscal responsibility. They should take the ball and run with it. They need to do this properly, and they should take some advice on the matter.
I would be very happy to vote for it. The Government should take responsibility for what they have said.
I have a huge interest in apprenticeships. I left school with CSEs—many people probably do not know what they were—but I was fortunate to get an apprenticeship through what was then the Engineering Industry Training Board. I spent my first year doing off-the-job training, then I was lucky enough to be picked up by Delta Metals, as it then was, to do my apprenticeship.
Further education colleges are a hugely important asset to people like me who did not take the academic route, as they enable us to follow the vocational route. More importantly, they provide a basis for people who have not been able to get the vocational qualifications in school that they need to prepare themselves for their lives. The colleges are the last door for those people who want to move forward and get on in life. The focus for colleges is to enable people of all ages to get qualifications and skills and to help them to get into jobs.
I want to talk about funding. Colleges have had a 24% cut in their 19-plus funding. We have heard about the provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, and about the agenda for 14 to 19-year-olds, but there is a real issue for apprenticeships, because they are necessary to give people the life chances that they need. The Government announced the 24% cut in March, and it will take effect when the colleges’ financial year starts on
Students who are 19-plus are in college because they have failed to gain qualifications in schools, are two or three years behind and need to play catch-up in their studying. Most people who want to take the step necessary to get to that level are dedicated, because they realise that perhaps they have been let down and the support they needed was not there for them. They have decided to take the baton themselves in order to move forward. It is important that we look at this issue and see how it can be dealt with.
A significant number of adults who come into college have few or only basic qualifications and need to gain others in order to get into a job or to get to a level where they can get an apprenticeship. We need to help these people to move to those level 2 apprenticeships. That is a real issue in many inner-city constituencies such as mine and that of my Front-Bench colleague, my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne. Our constituencies have historically had a high level of unemployment, which they have not been able to address for at least for the past four decades, and putting this sort of funding burden on the colleges makes it even more difficult for us to address it.
I am lucky that my constituency has the EEF Training college, which is doing well—it is oversubscribed. It is predominantly funded by the EEF, but it faces a funding problem because it seeks to provide the hardware needed to bring engineering apprenticeships into effect. That requires a huge amount of kit. I am talking about traditional kit for the engineering industry, such as lathes, millers and welders. Computer numerical control lathes and millers cost a huge amount of money. When I went to Garretts Green College to do my apprenticeship, all colleges across Birmingham had this sort of equipment and so that training was provided.
My constituency is also blessed with having the advanced manufacturing zone in Birmingham, which means we need more support from people such as EEF. It is also blessed with two colleges, South & City College and Birmingham Metropolitan College, which are working hard to move this agenda forward. The normal further education colleges have moved away, by and large, from that type of engineering training, although some facilities are now being provided at South & City College. Again, it costs a huge amount to put that together, so it is important to see what additional funding we can provide to the training providers and colleges that are actually able to provide that sort of training. If we do not do that, all this talk about the manufacturing recovery and the engineering recovery will amount to very little. I am very determined that we examine those issues and see how we can do that. It is important for all of us if we are to be, as Birmingham and the west midlands has always been, at the forefront of engineering development.
We are very glad that Jaguar Land Rover has its new plant in Wolverhampton and we are glad about all the engineering works we are getting. At the moment, one of the world’s leaders in submarine hull valves, a huge speciality area, is working with Birmingham University to try to develop it. A lot of the employers are moving towards working with universities to try to get this support, but we need the trainers to have support from the Government in order to provide the funding for the equipment they need; it is not just about the current funding that colleges have. I am determined that we ask the Government to support 19-plus funding to do that.
Another area of funding has been restricted, again to our detriment: funding for ESOL— English for speakers of other languages. If we are trying to get unemployment down in our inner-city areas, we need to look seriously at that issue. It is not good enough to say that we cannot fund this any more—colleges are under huge pressure not to fund it. Funding is available from employment-type grants and from the Department for Work and Pensions, but if we stick to the current funding reductions for ESOL providers, particularly for colleges in the inner city of Birmingham, we will not be able to move these people forward and lower unemployment in those areas. People in those areas have the skills in most instances, but they do not have the English to match their skills and therefore to be placed into jobs. It is important that we look at ESOL and how we fund it, particularly where inner-city unemployment is high. People want to work and move forward, so it is important that we provide ESOL and fund it.
My hon. Friend Kate Green, who is not in her place, talked about people with disabilities. There needs to be a recognition in further education of funding for disabilities, because if we do not have that, those people will be isolated and left out, and they need real additional support.
It is important for us to provide the right sort of support in areas such as Birmingham and my constituency if we are to move forward and allow people to get back into employment and into apprenticeships, which is what we and employers in my constituency want. I hope the Minister has taken notice of that.
I, too, would like to congratulate John Nicolson on his maiden speech. I thank the House for allowing me the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech during what is such an important debate, given my training and development background. It really is an honour and a privilege to speak in this House as the Member of Parliament for Derby North.
First, I would like to thank my predecessor, Chris Williamson, who has a long history of being involved in Derby, as a councillor, as council leader and, subsequently, as the MP. None who met Chris can deny his passion for and knowledge of Derby North. For me, winning on
“Well done, an excellent result!
Congratulations on becoming only the second Conservative MP to represent Derby North since the seat was created.
The first Conservative MP ever to be elected in Derby North”.
I am delighted to be the second Conservative MP for Derby North, the first female MP for Derby North, and the first Conservative MP for Derby North in 18 years, in what has otherwise been a Labour-held seat. Winning by 41 was a little tense, I have to admit, but the House can rest assured that I plan to double that in 2020.
I want to note the amazing work that my team did, throughout the campaign and the years of hard work leading up to it; throughout the day, when they came back exhausted, and I asked them to go out one more time and they did; and then throughout the very long night and morning, standing firm in their resolve at all of the four counts, to secure a Conservative win. I especially want to thank my campaign manager, Miles Pattison, for his immense effort, companionship and sense of humour, which kept me going in the hardest times.
While victory was hoped for, it certainly was not a given, but increasingly we were getting a consistently positive message on the doorstep. People believed we needed to have a Conservative Government to ensure that the country continued to thrive; it was a genuine concern that we would take a step back if Labour won. As has been said many times, we are a nation of aspiration, and nowhere has that been shown more than in Derby North.
I have always had a keen interest in politics, but it is only recently that I had the courage to pursue my dream of serving the people in Derby North. As I stand here among so many people, of all political persuasions, whom I have admired for so long, I feel very humbled. I am also a little scared, as I know my brother will be having me streamed live into his office, delighted by my success. Since arriving, I have been notorious for getting lost, though now I can exit a broom cupboard with such confidence and dignity that it looks like I was meant to be there in the first place!
I do not have a degree or any A-levels that I can talk about, but I do have common sense and a business background. The economy is of paramount importance, with regeneration, production and growth at its centre. My background in retail and manufacturing has given me the opportunity to experience at first hand the impact of good management. We are the only party that can truly manage this country’s economy and growth.
Derby is a thriving city, built on its long-standing engineering and manufacturing pedigree. It was with great delight that we received the Chancellor two weeks ago in stunning Darley Abbey. As he visited one of our rail engineering firms, he announced that the midlands is Britain’s engine for growth, and I can tell Members that Derby North is the heart of the midlands.
Derby North has long been the unsung hero of industry. As an example of our industrial heritage, we have an amazing regeneration project in Darley mills, which was originally powered by the Derwent. Established by Jedidiah Strutt, it is one of the most complete cotton mills complexes, which now houses all types of businesses, including IT, photography firms and independent gyms.
In Derby North, unemployment has fallen by 64% since 2010. We have a whole host of small and medium-sized enterprises, which continue to grow and thrive as a result of hard work, vision and ambition. I plan to support all opportunities for growth and to help add even more apprenticeships to the 1,200-plus apprenticeships that have been created so far in Derby North.
Derby has many reasons for being well known. Joseph Wright the artist lived there. We have an ever-growing number of microbreweries, one of the most haunted pubs in England—it is probably haunted by my husband trying out one of those ever growing number of microbreweries—and pyclets, a small oat cake, which I recommend to all Members of the House. Derby is also noted for its straight talking, and I hope to bring some good Derbyshire straight talking to this House.
We also have the tremendous football team of Derby County, or the Rams—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but we do. Recently, Mel Morris was appointed the new chairman. Mel, as Members may know, is a local businessman from Littleover in Derby North. As one of our great innovators, he created Candy Crush, which we are very fond of in Derbyshire, as my hon. Friend Nigel Mills can confirm.
I also know how important community is. Having worked for Help the Aged—now Age UK—I am even more convinced that we must support elderly people across the country to live with dignity. Having been involved with the Prince’s Trust and latterly the YMCA, I recognise that there are times when some young vulnerable people slip through the net, and I will be working to provide some real solutions to that problem.
When I was 17, I was unable to stay in the family home, and friends took me in for a while, which was really good. We must ensure that people are not left uncared for. Mental health is a personal issue for me. My mum suffered from depression, prescription drug addiction and alcohol abuse throughout her life. It was tragic to watch this beautiful and vibrant woman succumb to the illness. I have also experienced first hand the tragic loss of my gorgeous and fun-loving cousin to suicide. He took his own life at 36 because he thought that he had no other option available. This cannot go on. We need to be serious about the problem, and I am fully committed to helping us tackle mental health issues head on, as it is a subject that we must not ignore.
There is much to do in Derby North, which has business at its heart, and so much needs doing in the community, which has compassion at its heart. I made a promise on election night that I would do my utmost for the people of Derby North. I look forward to many years of fulfilling that promise.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for affording me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this very important debate. Before I start, may I ask Members to join me in expressing sympathy for the fathers in Bradford whose children have disappeared? I am sure that everyone will join me in praying for their children’s safe return.
As I make my maiden speech here today, I reflect on my background and roots. I am a working-class lad from Bradford. My grandfather came to this country from Kashmir in search of an opportunity to better himself and to provide a brighter future for his family. He came from a poor village where there was no electricity, let alone job opportunities. It was the Bradford mills that provided him with that opportunity. He worked there for many years to improve the quality of life for himself and his family.
My father started work at a very young age, in a light bulb factory in Bradford, and then, when the opportunity presented itself, he went on to study part time at college to gain qualifications, thereby enabling him to move on and better himself and his family.
I started work at the age 15, sweeping floors at Morrisons supermarket in Bradford. By the age of 17, I was appointed to the prestigious and much sought after position of head of the toiletries aisle. Members will note that I was even given my very own brush. Bradford afforded me many more opportunities that eventually led me to qualify as a barrister. It is a great honour and privilege to speak here today as the MP for Bradford East, as Bradford the city has given both my family and me so much.
As is customary, I wish to thank my predecessor, David Ward. I did not agree with him very often, and I did not know him very well, but he did have Bradford’s interests at heart. Although David was not from Bradford originally, he became part of Bradford and I wish both him and his staff all the best.
Bradford is a beautiful city. Its hills and panoramic views have inspired generations. Its people demonstrate all that is great about Yorkshire. They are gritty, determined and, above all else, resilient. They are also creative and hard-working. Bradford East mirrors the diversity of the city of Bradford, not just in its people but in its landscape, from the farmlands and leafy suburbs of Idle to the inner-city areas of Little Horton and Bradford Moor. It is a diverse constituency, both ethnically and socially.
More importantly, the Independent Labour Party was also born in Bradford out of the struggles of working people for equality and justice. I salute the courage of those pioneers and pledge to carry on those struggles to address the problems that Bradford continues to face.
Famous Bradfordians of note include the magician Dynamo who walked across the Thames, just outside this Chamber. Members need to note that I have no such plans—certainly not in my first 12 months. Richard Oastler is another famous son, who campaigned to end the use of child labour in the mills. Another pioneering figure who can never be forgotten was Bradford MP W. E. Forster, who was the architect of the Elementary Education Act 1870.
Bradford has a proud industrial heritage. Its wealth came from its position as the wool capital of the world, and the names and landmarks in the city, such as Listers and Salts Mill, for example, pay testimony to that past.
However, that grandeur has now sadly passed. Bradford suffered from de-industrialisation as early as the 1960s, but is still an important manufacturing centre. It is now crying out for a new, modern industrial and manufacturing strategy to challenge the failing low-wage economy.
But the biggest challenge that we face is undoubtedly our educational achievement. Our schools are at the bottom of the league tables, and we have a school places crisis that lies unresolved. That will be a clear priority. One in five adults in my constituency lack any educational qualification and our young people are told that they lack the aspiration they need to go on and succeed. As a young person who was told it was too aspirational for somebody like me—somebody from my background—to be a barrister, I understand only too well how that feels. And it is not that our young people lack this aspiration; it is that the circumstances they find themselves in do not afford them the opportunities they need. It is particularly telling that both my predecessors made reference to education in Bradford as part of their maiden speeches.
We cannot fail our young people any longer. They are the future, and we cannot be in the same place 10 years from now, having failed another generation of young people, having debates about the failure of education in our great city. They have the potential and the talent to make the city a dynamic, forward-looking, wealth-creating city. We just need to unleash it.
I will be working to bring a game-changing intervention to Bradford to solve our education crisis. The benefits and successes of the London Challenge are clear for all to see, and my heartfelt, clear view is that Bradford’s children deserve the same chances and opportunities as young people from everywhere else.
I have fought against injustice my whole life, not just within Bradford but wherever that may be in the world, and I will be a strong voice in this Chamber for the struggle of the sons and daughters of Kashmir, the suffering of the Palestinians and, as we have heard in this Chamber over the last few weeks, the plight of the Rohingya. Indeed, I have tabled an early-day motion this week, No. 121, that highlights the plight of the Rohingyan people in Burma, and I would urge hon. Members from across the Chamber to consider signing it. We are witnessing an absolute human catastrophe and we cannot in these circumstances sit back and watch. We must act in relation to the Rohingyan people, quickly and decisively.
At the beginning of my political career, I made it clear that I am a servant of the people. I want to end here, at the start of this new part of my journey, by saying to all the people of Bradford that I will always remain their humble servant.
I am very pleased to be making my maiden speech today, representing the town where I was born, where I grew up, and where, for the last four years, I served as leader of Northampton borough council. I want to start by paying tribute to my predecessors, including
Spencer Perceval, who in 1796 was elected as the Member of Parliament for Northampton. To date, he is the only Member of Parliament for Northampton to have become Prime Minister and, thankfully, the only Prime Minister to have been assassinated. He was shot dead in the corridor leading to Central Lobby in 1812. I was reminded of him daily in my previous job because there is a statute of him in Northampton’s beautiful Guildhall, and I was pleased to be invited to the House of Commons by Mr Speaker last year, while I was leader of the council, when he unveiled a plaque to mark the spot.
At the time, it was said that Spencer Perceval was assassinated because he failed to adequately address an issue raised with him by a member of the public. So, Mr Deputy Speaker, you can imagine how nervous I am every time I walk along that corridor, as another Member of Parliament representing Northampton, hoping that I have adequately addressed all the issues that have been raised with me by the members of the public that I now represent.
I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Brian Binley, who served here for 10 years. He ably served his constituents, was deputy Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and treasurer of the 1922 committee, and served on the Conservative party board. But I want to pay tribute to the work that Brian Binley and I focused on for the last four years—the Northampton Alive regeneration programme, with over 40 projects that are changing our town, including a new railway station and bus station, and the relocation of the University of Northampton to a new town centre campus.
Those projects are regenerating Northampton, but the enterprise zone is a real catalyst for growth and job creation. Four years ago, Brian Binley and I lobbied my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the enterprise zone. Since then, we have created over 1,000 jobs and attracted over £119 million of private sector investment. That is before the University of Northampton relocation, which is a further £330 million of investment and will make a massive difference to our town centre. The work is testament to Brian’s commitment and the work done by Northampton Borough Council, Northamptonshire County Council, NEP and SEMLEP—the Northamptonshire and South East Midlands local enterprise partnerships—and all the businesses, institutions and organisations in Northampton that work so well together. Those include the University of Northampton, Northampton College, Moulton College and the many fantastic schools, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will join me in applauding. I know that Members from all parts of the Chamber will join me in wishing Brian Binley well in his retirement, and I know that a certain golf club will already have seen an increase in its takings.
I should also like to thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for coming to my constituency earlier this year to visit Cosworth—a key employer, which is helping to develop high-performance engineering—to see the new advanced manufacturing centre and to see how the enterprise zone is helping our local economy. I am pleased to report that I visited Cosworth again last week to see the latest progress and applaud how the company continues to grow.
Other key employers in the enterprise zone include the brewery, Carlsberg, and Church’s shoes, continuing
Northampton’s proud tradition as a shoe manufacturing town, plus many of the small businesses that make up 97% of Northampton’s economy.
And I could not, in my maiden speech, fail to mention Northampton’s great sports teams, the Saints, the Cobblers and the Steelbacks, who are fantastic ambassadors for our town.
But today we are debating skills, and a key priority for me is to ensure that we equip future generations with the ability to continue the economic growth and development that we have started. The enterprise zone was a great opportunity to work with employers to improve skills provision, and in Northamptonshire we have two university technical colleges, at Silverstone and in Daventry, which shows that we are at the forefront of the new skills agenda. They are great examples of using local employers to provide skills to young people who are the employees of the future. The Silverstone Formula 1 grand prix circuit, close to my constituency, is also a great location for young people to learn.
I am pleased by the economic growth in Northampton and the jobs that have been created, but with growth comes pressure on our public services and infrastructure. So my hon. Friend Michael Ellis and I have both pledged to work hard to secure investment and funding for Northampton general hospital—a key service for our constituents, staffed by excellent people dedicated to our NHS, to whom I also pay tribute today. The general hospital is an important facility, and my hon. Friend and I are committed to working with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health on its future. It is also imperative that the St James’ Mill link road is finally finished, as it is a key road for people using the road networks in Northampton, and will also help businesses in the enterprise zone, which is so relevant to today’s debate.
I take the opportunity to thank all the supporters who worked so hard on my election campaign, and indeed my family, who have always helped and supported me. When I was elected, I pledged to work tirelessly for my constituents and to be there for them in their time of need. I am proud to pledge that again today.
I also congratulate the hon. Members for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) and for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) and my hon. Friend Imran Hussain on their maiden speeches—they all have totally different constituencies and different backgrounds, but I am sure they will all make a major contribution to the House.
“You are too bright to take an apprenticeship.” That was the advice given to a young woman in my constituency by her maths teacher. Fortunately, she ignored that advice and took up an apprenticeship with MBDA, a company specialising in missile and defence systems. I digress a little to praise MBDA for its policy of taking on at least 50% female apprentices, which the company says has changed its culture for the better. My young constituent completed her apprenticeship, and I met her in this place after she had received an award as apprentice of the year. She is going on to complete a degree sponsored by MBDA, and she acts as an ambassador, speaking to schools about apprenticeships. We all feel extremely fortunate that she did not listen to that well-meaning but misguided careers advice from her maths teacher.
For me, that highlights one of the major problems in our schools: careers advice is a postcode lottery. Many teachers are unaware of the range of business opportunities available in the local area, and indeed why should they be aware? They already have a demanding and time-consuming job teaching our young people. But that means that many of our young people are unaware of the range of pathways available to them. They may know the destination they want to reach, but some of them do not know that there are many different routes.
I am glad my hon. Friend has raised this point. Does she agree that in the past, the careers service has been looked upon as a sort of bolt-on to the education service, whereas in fact an effective, well informed, professional careers service is vital for challenging young people not only in their best interests, but in the best interests of the economy as a whole?
Indeed. The fact that young people do not know that there are many different routes rather than one academic path disadvantages them. Some 85% of students, according to a survey commissioned by the University and College Union, know how to complete an UCAS form, but less than 20% know how to access information about apprenticeships. Youth Employment UK surveyed 16 to 24-year-olds who had current or recent experience of careers advice, and found that 58% were provided with an interview with a professional careers adviser, but just 1% received advice about all their options; 24% were advised about university courses, 7% about apprenticeships and only 2% were given labour market information.
If we are truly committed to developing a highly skilled workforce for the future, as my hon. Friend says, this situation cannot be allowed to continue. All young people have to receive careers advice that gives them all the options, which must include all the qualifications and training available to them.
However, it is not just schools and colleges that young people look to for advice. Family and friends are important sources of information. How are they to keep up to date with the jobs and training available? I would like to praise my local authority in Wigan, which has a partnership with businesses and colleges called Wigan Works. I recently attended an event at Wigan Youth Zone for young people and their families, where local construction companies that have contracted with the council talked about available apprenticeships, and the trainers and apprentices were available to talk to. The event was very well attended. At the end of it, there were queues of young people and their parents signing up for interviews to take up those apprenticeship opportunities. That must be a great result for both the businesses and the young people.
Earlier in the week Wigan had held apprentice awards. I agree that apprenticeships have to be given a higher status. One of the ways of doing that is by holding awards ceremonies and demonstrating to young people and their families that the academic route is not the only prestigious choice available.
I cannot end my speech without a plea for the funding of my excellent sixth-form colleges. My constituency does not have schools with sixth forms; students have to move to another establishment. I am extremely fortunate to have outstanding colleges, St John Rigby and Winstanley, in my constituency. I will use as an example Winstanley College, a member of the Maple Group, which comprises the best performing sixth-form colleges. By the end of 2016 it will have lost more than £1 million in funding cuts over the past five years, with nearly £500,000 in cuts to come this year. That is despite the fact that the college has 17 Oxbridge offers to students, 36 offers to future engineers and high quality offers of apprenticeships. Those cuts will impact on the future chances of young people in my constituency.
From September 2016 many of the college’s students will start on three A-levels, not four, and the college is struggling to protect the maximum class size of 24. Wigan and Leigh College, just outside my constituency, offers high-quality vocational education, but it is struggling to attract engineering lecturers and struggling to pay them at the appropriate level. What is the Minister doing to address that gap?
Some 75% of sixth-form colleges have cut their curriculum, including languages and science courses. The school-leaving age will increase to 18 this year. Given that the funding for 16 to 18-year-olds is already 22% lower than for students aged 14 to 16, it is indefensible to cut funding still further, jeopardising the future of the young people in my constituency. Investing in 16-to-18 education and, crucially, giving young people a clear map of the routes through the maze of opportunities and qualifications by providing quality careers advice, is vital not just to the career prospects of young people but to creating the workforce of the future who will provide the foundation for our economic prosperity.
Congratulations to all those who have made their maiden speeches. They have been fascinating, and it has been enjoyable to hear lots of them from all round the country. I will have them in mind when I start travelling.
I am very pleased to announce that a university technical college will soon be coming to Portsmouth. I rang up about it two years ago, and it is finally coming next year. Education is improving in Portsmouth, but there has been a lack of options for those who are not academically minded, so that initiative by Lord Baker and others will add to the choice for our young people.
Portsmouth is becoming a centre of excellence for maritime services and technology. We have BAE, Airbus, QinetiQ and many other engineering companies, alongside the Royal Navy. I am delighted that many of those companies, along with Portsmouth University, will be sponsoring the university technical college, as well as taking on more apprentices and providing more opportunities for further training.
We must make sure that the qualifications are suitable, so I am delighted that the Government are bringing in the new technical levels advocated by Professor Alison Wolf, which will provide a vital stepping stone and ensure that employers can recognise that there is a gold standard as an alternative to A-levels. Vocational qualifications should be treated as equal to A-levels, and I am pleased that young people are going to university with a variety of BTEC qualifications. May I congratulate my own nephew, Cuthbert Shepherd, who recently got three starred distinctions in sports development, fitness and coaching? He will be taking up a place at Birmingham University to read sports science. One does not necessarily need A-levels to go to top universities.
However, university is not for everybody, so I welcome the massive increase in apprenticeships, many of which have been taken up by young people in Portsmouth in a variety of jobs. BAE is taking on 80 apprentices this year, up from 40 the last year. There are also opportunities in leisure, sport, travel and tourism. I have visited many schemes, including those at the Kings theatre, Portsmouth College and the Cathedral Innovation Centre, to name just a few. I know that an increase in apprenticeships and technical levels will add hugely to engaging our young people in Portsmouth and around the country, and I welcome the initiatives that this Government have introduced.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate on skills and growth. I begin by paying tribute to those who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon, some of whom have left now. I associate myself with the comments of Mr Mahmood about ESOL and English as a second language, which is a huge issue in my constituency too. I was touched by the tributes of Imran Hussain. He is a huge credit to his family and he should be an inspiration to all the young people in Bradford. Amanda Solloway is not my in-laws’ MP, unfortunately, but my husband bears the same name as the artist from that town, so I have a soft spot for it.
I intend to focus on the need to improve skills, particularly in the area that I represent. My predecessors in the seat—Anas Sarwar, Mohammad Sarwar, Mike Watson and Robert McTaggart—all made reference in their maiden speeches to the need to boost employment in the constituency, so it seems appropriate that I should make my maiden speech this afternoon.
There have been many changes in employment in Glasgow Central over the years, marked in the main by a decline in heavy industry and a move to a more service-based economy. The situation is similar in many constituencies, as we have heard this afternoon. There are particular challenges in that. I urge anyone who is not familiar with the work of Scotland’s outgoing chief medical officer, Sir Harry Burns, to seek out his thoughts on the disproportionate effects that de-industrialisation has had on the city of Glasgow and on the health and wellbeing of the people who live there. His key point is that people must have a sense of control over their lives.
A sense of pride in one’s work is absolutely vital, which is why it is so important to build up skills and support people to achieve.
People who lose their skills can suffer the effects of hopelessness for the rest of their lives. Sir Harry Burns often refers to the late, great Jimmy Reid, whose portrait hangs in the People’s Palace in Glasgow Green. Jimmy Reid’s famous Glasgow University rectoral address, which the Scottish Government have made available to students across Scotland, contains much about alienation and a critique of the rat race. I ask hon. Members to reflect on this quote:
“To appreciate fully the inhumanity of this situation, you have to see the hurt and despair in the eyes of a man suddenly told he is redundant without provision made for suitable alternative employment, with the prospect in the west of Scotland, if he is in his late forties or fifties, of spending the rest of his life in the Labour Exchange. Someone, somewhere has decided he is unwanted, unneeded, and is to be thrown on the industrial scrap heap. From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable.”
It is in that vein that I implore the Government to change track. I urge them, instead of beating people of all ages with sanctions, to invest in enabling people to develop their skills and use their talents, and to support people in employment.
The Scottish Government have done a great deal in the areas over which they have control. More people than ever are active in Scotland’s labour market, and we are taking action to help them into work. Economic inactivity is at the lowest level on record. When I wrote this speech earlier, I put that the female employment rate was 72.4%, but it is actually 72.5%; it has gone up in the figures that were released today, making it the highest in the UK and among the highest in the EU. Increases in childcare entitlement, support for women to start their own businesses and a raft of support to tackle youth unemployment are all helping women into work. That should be commended and reflected here as well.
Figures released today show that youth unemployment is at its lowest rate for six years. The Scottish Government continue to act to address the long-term effects of unemployment through strategies such as “Developing the Young Workforce” and the refreshed youth employment strategy, and initiatives such as Community Jobs Scotland, the youth employment Scotland fund and “Opportunities for All”.
Our employability fund in 2013-14 provided £34 million to offer 17,150 pre-employment skills training places to unemployed people of all ages. It achieved 68% successful job outcomes, compared with the UK Government’s Work programme, which averages 20%. During the past year, the Scottish Government’s Partnership Action for Continuing Employment initiative for responding to redundancy situations, like those of which Jimmy Reid spoke, supported 12,161 individuals and 252 employers over 392 sites in Scotland. The latest research shows that 72% of those surveyed who received PACE support obtained employment within six months. The significance of that to workers and their families cannot be downplayed. We seek further powers to make work pay—powers to raise wages and to build the fairer Scotland that we seek. We have a mandate for that, and the people of Scotland have high expectations that it will happen.
I am proud to have been allowed the honour of representing the Calton ward as a councillor in Glasgow over the past eight years. I was sad to leave that role to come here, although I was pleased with the result. The ward covers the Calton, Bridgeton, Dalmarnock, Parkhead, Gallowgate, Reidvale, Saltmarket, Lilybank, and Barrowfield communities. Despite unfair characterisations of the east end of Glasgow, kinder and more generous people are not to be found anywhere, so I am glad that the Glasgow Central constituency encompasses some of those communities.
The Calton is one of Glasgow’s oldest communities and it has the distinction of requiring “the” in its title. It is a community dominated by formidable women, such as the late Betty McAllister, a community activist and Labour stalwart, who famously told a certain Conservative Prime Minister in most unparliamentary language what she could do with her poll tax. I firmly believe that the UK Government have never done enough for communities such as the Calton, and I seek a better deal for all such communities.
Bridgeton and Dalmarnock have seen stunning transformation over the past few years, with community-led regeneration through the urban regeneration company Clyde Gateway, which is a partnership between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Glasgow City Council and South Lanarkshire Council. Clyde Gateway has learned the lessons of failed past regeneration projects that were imposed on people, and it is working closely with the local community to spearhead the changes in the area and turn around decades of post-industrial decline. Clyde Gateway has brought much needed investment to the area and supported 700 local people into work, some of whom are working for the very first time. Clyde Gateway has seized the opportunity brought to the area by the Commonwealth Games, and it has embedded good practice, working incredibly hard alongside local people to improve their lives. Through the innovative use of community benefit clauses in contracts, Glasgow residents have been able to access apprenticeships and many have now moved on to employment. Any Member in whose constituency construction work is taking place should find out whether such a clause can be brought to bear, because they were of huge value to local people in my constituency.
The offer of an apprenticeship was not the only important thing, however; for a significant number of people in the area, their skills were not adequate to allow them to be considered for an apprenticeship. In the Clyde gateway area, 46% of people do not have formal qualifications, but that is being addressed by community centres, housing associations and other agencies, which are all working hard to target that group and ensure that people of all ages can acquire the qualifications and the soft skills that they need to get into the workplace. In the area covered by Clyde Gateway, the number of people moving into higher education has improved from 11% to 17% since 2008, but it still lags far behind the overall Scottish figure of nearly 40%. There is a lot still to be done, but things are moving in the right direction.
Clyde Gateway has a 20-year plan, and that foresight is what is required; there is no quick fix for problems of de-industrialisation and generational unemployment. The UK Government must look at the example of
Clyde Gateway and factor meaningful training into their plans, otherwise they will set people up to fail. I invite all hon. Members to come to Glasgow to see the transformation that is taking place, and to speak to local people, such as Grace Donald, whose powers of persuasion have seen Scottish Government Ministers part with many a bawbee.
Many hon. Members have spoken passionately about their constituencies, but few constituencies can be as diverse and exciting as Glasgow Central. It covers the city centre, which has the best shopping area outside London, the international financial services district, the vibrant merchant city and institutions such as Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian Universities, the world famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh Glasgow School of Art—at which the exceptionally talented students have their degree show just now—and the City of Glasgow and Glasgow Kelvin Colleges. They all combine to make Glasgow a vibrant and creative city that leads in many sectors.
There are too many brilliant community organisations to mention each by name, but I would like to single out the Glasgow Women’s library in its new home in Bridgeton. Its staff and volunteers deserve recognition for the work that they have done for women from all backgrounds in Glasgow and beyond. I am proud to be the first woman MP for Glasgow Central, and I will donate to the library’s archive a copy of this speech along with my rosette and my yellow election dress.
The city bears the slogan “People Make Glasgow”, and that is absolutely true. Glasgow Central is diverse in its population, with many churches, mosques, gurdwara and the synagogue in Garnethill. There are people of many faiths and none, with many languages and backgrounds. Some are born and bred, and others, like me, have chosen to make Glasgow their home and raise their family there.
Glasgow Central is dominated by the great River Clyde, which flows through it and deserves to be a focal point of our city. North of the Clyde are the city centre and the communities of Townhead, Garnethill, Dundasvale, Cowcaddens, Anderston, Yorkhill, Park Circus and Finnieston. South of the Clyde are the communities of Toryglen—where, I am sad to say, Government Members will not find very many Tories—Hutchesontown, Oatlands, the Gorbals, Laurieston, Govanhill, Strathbungo, Pollokshields, Dumbreck, Cessnock, Kinning Park and Tradeston. Each area has a distinct identity, which is why I have mentioned them all by name. To me, Glasgow is like a series of villages, rather than an urban mass, and I aim to respect and represent each one of them.
The constituency contains many wonderful arts and cultural institutions, such as the Kings theatre, the Tron, the Tramway, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, the People’s Palace, the Panopticon, where Stan Laurel played, and of course the much-beloved Barrowland ballroom. I was sad to see that one such institution, the Arches, went into administration last week, and I hope that a solution can be found to keep it open. Glasgow Central has modern venues too, such as the SSE Hydro arena, which has a very significant distinction: our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is the only politician to fill the 12,000-seater venue.
My election result is no mean achievement; Mr Jenkin and my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara can surely testify to that as former candidates for the seat. In winning in Glasgow Central, I have managed to achieve something that Nicola Sturgeon has not: defeating a Sarwar. In all seriousness, I would like to say a few words of thanks to my predecessor, Anas Sarwar, who represented Glasgow Central with great enthusiasm from 2010, and to his father Mohammed Sarwar who became the UK’s first Muslim MP when he was elected in 1997 for the Glasgow Govan Constituency. They worked hard over the years for the communities of Glasgow Central, and I thank them for their endeavours.
The result in Glasgow Central in the early hours of
May I say what a privilege it is to be called in this debate—first, Mr Deputy Speaker, to welcome you back to the Chair, but also to follow the excellent maiden speech by Alison Thewliss? She represents a fascinating area of the country and she gave a very good explanation of what has been going on there and her role in it. Her speech comes on the back of an enormous number of excellent maiden speeches, including those of the new broom, Imran Hussain, and John Nicolson, if I may pick out just two. The latter reminded me of my days as an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh. I am very familiar with the Antonine Wall that he described.
I want to deal with apprenticeships. I can agree with the first bit of the motion—
“That this House notes that improving education is imperative for the future economic growth of the country”— but not with the rest of it. If Ian Austin, who is no longer in his seat, wants a more bipartisan approach, it could start with this motion acknowledging that the apprenticeship programme has been a flagship programme of this Government and we have put £1.5 billion into making sure that it works.
The wording of the motion does not bear comparison with the situation in my constituency, where the advancement of the apprenticeships scheme is having an excellent result. One way of seeing that is to look at the unemployment figures in the constituency. The figures released today show that the total number of people unemployed across the whole constituency amounts to 244. That is a diminution in the number of unemployed on the previous month, and in effect it represents full unemployment and the normal churn of people looking for jobs. Most importantly, in the previous month the number of youth unemployed in the constituency was down to 30. I have every sympathy for those 30, but this represents a very good achievement for the Government. I welcome my hon. Friend Richard Harrington, who is no longer in the Chamber, to his new position. He is right to stress the role of MPs in driving the process along; each of us has the ability to do that. In my constituency I have Henley College, which is a very strong player in providing training for apprenticeships and has been working hand in hand with companies to promote those apprenticeships.
Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the increasing number of girls who are taking STEM subjects, which are leading to apprenticeships in engineering and technical subjects, and does he agree that we need more of them?
I absolutely welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. She makes a very good point that we all need to bear in mind.
At the time when the recession was at its deepest, I took the initiative in my constituency to get together a whole lot of players in this field, including Henley College, to help businesses cope with the fact that they were going into recession. Henley College rose to the challenge very well. It was instructive to find that many people in the room from firms that had done business in the area for 25 years did not know a single soul among the rest of those gathered there. I think that if I were to do the same thing now, that would not be the case. They know where they are going, and they are taking the lead in promoting apprenticeships.
Colleges like Henley can make an important contribution in encouraging the provision of training. This is to do with a lot of the work that companies are undertaking to find the best training providers to help them in delivering apprenticeships. I recently went to see two contrasting companies in the constituency to hear about the work they were doing in apprenticeships. One was DAF, the truck manufacturer, which is one of the biggest companies in my constituency and sits at the centre of a web of apprenticeships that goes right across the country. It has made great efforts to find the right training provider to help it in this—a college down in the west country with which it can work to deliver this training. It has degree-type award ceremonies at the end of the apprenticeship training so that people feel they have got something out of the whole process. I have been invited to the ceremony it will conduct in September, to witness it at first hand.
The other company I went to visit was Williams Performance Tenders. Despite the constituency being landlocked, Williams Performance Tenders is the biggest producer of boats by volume in the whole country. Having been on one of those boats, I know they are extremely fast. This company, too, has a very good apprenticeship scheme that it manages largely by itself. That scheme operates in the most deprived village in the whole of my constituency, and it is making a big difference to people’s lives.
As a result of all this, if we look back to the beginning of 2010, we see that there has been an increase of some 58% in the number of apprenticeships taken up in the constituency. That is an excellent achievement. I put on record my thanks to all the businesses that have participated in and are contributing to this.
Does my hon. Friend attribute that to good co-operation between local education and training providers and local employers, so that the skills that employers need are identified and young people are taking the right courses?
That is a difficult question to answer. I attribute it partly to that, but the role of schools needs to be worked on further, because they can do more.
During the election campaign, I became aware of the way schools in the constituency still regard apprenticeships in an academic light as providing an academic training rather than a genuine life option for people.
I am interested in the increase in the number of apprenticeships in the hon. Gentleman’s area. Despite the statutory duty on schools to provide a better careers service, the opposite has happened. We are finding that they are not giving people the option of doing very different things or telling them about the availability of apprenticeships. Does he agree that we need to invest more in the careers services in our schools so that people get proper advice and are offered the very different options that are now available?
I think I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I would like more effort to be put into encouraging schools to focus on apprenticeships being self-standing as a life’s ambition that can be fulfilled. So many schools approach apprenticeships as though such people were going to university and deal with them in the same way—the careers advice process still encapsulates the whole thing—which is wrong. We need to ensure not just that providers and companies provide quality, but that the schools regard them as providing quality. To that extent, I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is therefore an onus on the Government to redirect some of their efforts towards schools to encourage them to do this, and to move the debate on so that in a few years’ time people will have genuinely equal opportunities, whether they want to go to university, as I did, or have an apprenticeship, as so many young people in my constituency want. I welcome the Government’s emphasis on apprenticeships, and the important part that apprenticeships play in delivering the long-term economic plan.
Order. May I just say that we will stray over time if we are not careful? [Interruption.] I am not going to impose a time limit, Mr Rotheram; do not worry about that. If hon. Members aim for between seven and eight minutes, we will all be happier.
Welcome back to your place in the Chamber, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank Alison Thewliss for her speech and congratulate her on it. I have a great affection for Glasgow as well, and for her predecessor, Anas Sarwar. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Imran Hussain on his maiden speech, and all other Members who have made their made their debuts in the Chamber today.
It is a pleasure to be back in the Chamber, following my narrow electoral victory, to speak on the really important issue of apprenticeships. First, I want to place on the record how concerned I am that the City of Liverpool College is facing further cuts on top of the 24% FE cut to date. If that cut is implemented, it is estimated that it will equate to a further reduction of about 1,300 off its rolls. That is setting a near-impossible task for colleges, such as the City of Liverpool College, in continuing to provide courses to disadvantaged students from places like Walton.
I want to press the Minister to look more carefully at his Department’s flawed decision to scrap its plan for a UTC in Anfield, which had been hugely welcomed in Liverpool, Walton and had the backing of major companies, including Peel Ports. The decision flies in the face of the Tory rhetoric about commitments to having UTCs in every city.
Colleagues who sat in the last Parliament will be aware that I was critical of the Government’s use of rhetoric over reality in relation to apprenticeships. It will therefore come as no surprise to Conservative Members to hear that I have no intention of discontinuing that particular stance in this Parliament when they get things wrong. The reason for that is quite simply that apprenticeships are close to my heart. As a former apprentice bricklayer, I know their value and necessity in the modern age.
It is irresponsible of any Government erroneously to claim that they have created 2.2 million apprenticeships, when they have in fact created nowhere near that number—not proper apprenticeships anyway. The apprenticeships that the Government claim to have created are on programmes where the average length of stay is a duration of just 10 months. One of the Conservative Members—I cannot remember who—highlighted an example of best practice in an apprenticeship that was 16 weeks long. That is not an apprenticeship. I obtained that figure of an average stay of 10 months from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so the Minister may wish to have a word with his colleagues in BIS before attempting to question his own Government’s figures. Such illustrations highlight the problem. Short-stay programmes are simply work-based training programmes re-badged to hit Government apprenticeship targets. These distortions, which are commonly perceived as bona fide apprenticeships, dilute and devalue the brand.
We have created 2.2 million apprenticeships, which the hon. Gentleman doubts, and we have also created 2 million jobs. On that basis, are people not moving from apprenticeships into jobs, and therefore carrying on their training in the workplace?
No. The hon. Gentleman conflates two things, which is exactly what I am trying to highlight. Taking somebody in a job who is getting some training and re-badging them as an apprentice is wrong. That is not an apprenticeship. Most think of an apprenticeship as having a duration of two and a half or perhaps three years and involving people learning the skills of a particular occupation and going on to get a full-time job in that skills area. It is not the 16-week shelf-stacking example that one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues gave.
In my constituency, we now have the worst of all worlds, as the plans for the UTC have been scrapped, and there has been a fall of 32% in apprenticeship starts in Liverpool, Walton for 16 to 18-year-olds since the Tories came to power.
I am sure my hon. Friend’s majority is as narrow as the Mersey.
Our FE colleges are playing an increasing role in supporting apprenticeships. We heard some great examples of that on Monday, when the Association of Colleges held a reception. Yet colleges’ ability is restricted by funding cuts and the fact that they are paid up to a year in arrears for new courses that they develop. That is putting them at the mercy of the banks as colleges run out of money. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to sort out this funding mess, and release our colleges to drive the apprenticeship programmes we know they are capable of providing?
My hon. Friend highlights just one of the anomalies in the funding system for FE colleges. I hope that I will be able to tease out one or two other anomalies in the time remaining.
I believe that we have to be honest about the scale of the problem facing our nation, so I want to talk specifically about apprenticeships in technical sectors. As colleagues will know, our country needs 82,000 additional engineers, scientists and technologists by 2017. To compete globally, almost half of those in technical roles will require upskilling to keep pace with technological advancements. Some 10,000 new technicians are required for the rail industry, of which 30% are required in London and the south-east alone. In aviation, 7,000 new engineers are needed between now and 2020, of which 30% need to have an NVQ level 4 and above. A growing number of engineering roles feature on the national shortage occupation list, and there is the stark statistic that two in five businesses requiring employees with STEM qualifications and skills are reporting difficulties with recruitment.
The time has come for the Government to roll out advanced technology colleges across the UK to match their, as yet undelivered, commitment for a UTC in every city. We have long lived in a country where the post-16 education system is geared towards results and targets, rather than businesses and young people’s needs and aspirations. In essence, this country faces a skills shortage in many leading industries, such as engineering and construction, because we have not focused our post-16 education system on equipping people with the skills that businesses need in order to thrive. Successive Governments have sometimes got this wrong, and I believe that one way to address the escalating problem is to increase the number of advanced technology colleges.
Last week, I had the privilege to visit Prospects College of Advanced Technology in Basildon. PROCAT is an advanced technology college that specialises in the engineering, rail, aviation, construction and building service sectors. It comprises three skills campuses, with more than 2,000 students and 850 apprentices. The previous Labour Government invested significantly in this facility, with a bursary of about £20 million. I visited to learn about how it recruits, trains and retains apprentices in specific sectors, because I am interested in how we can develop the ATC model across the country. In fact, in the 1950s a host of what are now known as universities, such as Brunel, Aston, Bradford, Cardiff and many more, were all ATCs before they became polytechnics and then universities. The beauty of an ATC is that it has a direct link to the business—it is a model, I think, of absolute success.
ATCs align themselves with businesses that invest in their apprentices, helping to provide a clear and professional training environment and a guaranteed job and career at the end of the training, which is exactly what I was trying to outline to Huw Merriman. The curriculum at an ATC is also aligned to the needs of that business, which helps to ensure that all apprentices leave with the necessary skills to be employable.
Lord Heseltine made it clear in his 2013 report on growth that university technical colleges, with links to businesses, are the way forward. I would not normally quote Lord Heseltine; it is not easy for me to quote him, but, after all, he was responsible for bringing Thatcher down, so every cloud has a silver lining and all that! Indeed, I think we must go full circle and return to ATC status in order to restore parity of esteem and to address the urgent need to deal with our growing skills shortages.
In my remaining time, I would like to touch on another issue. Another anomaly in the education system is the entry level for UTC students, which currently stands at 14. At 14, many students will have decided what path they wish to take and whether they want to specialise in any particular occupational area. A UTC is therefore perfect for them, as it allows them to begin their vocational training in a new college at an early stage and focus on that specialty 40% of the time, with the other 60% focused on STEM subjects.
I implore the Minister to study the faculty of foundation apprenticeships, which is being developed by PROCAT and offers pre-apprenticeship training to any 16-year-old seeking to enter technical apprenticeships. There is a gap in the system, and that would be a good way for the Government to address it. They should look seriously at promoting ATCs, step up their game and improve the quality of apprenticeship training to provide real choice for young people deciding between an academic or vocational route to the workplace. We could then finally achieve that parity of esteem we so often hear about in this place.
There are four remaining speakers. With nine minutes each, we will have time for the Front-Bench speeches and a 4 o’clock vote.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. This topic is one of the most important facing our country. We must skill the next generation for the jobs of the future. I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram, who set out clearly some of those challenges.
We know that the UK is facing the worst skills crisis for a generation, with skills levels failing to support the diversity of the modern economy and secure job opportunities and investment for the future. A number of recent reports, such as those of Lord Adonis and the OECD, clearly showed that skills shortages were the main barrier to growth amongst employers in our top 10 major cities. They made it clear that we need to do a much better job of linking the development of relevant skills to growth sectors in our economy. Only then will we deliver the economic growth that is needed for the future.
Nowhere is that more exemplified than in my own area of the north-east of England. We had a very interesting report from the local enterprise partnership last year, which set out the challenge very clearly, stating that, for the north-east, it
“is not just the number of jobs but the quality of these jobs”
Improving the quality is fundamental to its plan. It says:
“the area needs to increase the volume of skills at a higher level to address a changing demographic, in particular higher skills required by employers of younger people and those moving into and between work”.
That clearly sets out the situation we face. The report also highlighted the fact that productivity levels are a real problem—we have heard about that today—as are the skills levels. The report mentioned the disparity in skills levels between more advantaged areas and disadvantaged areas, including areas such as the north-east. It states:
“The proportion of secondary schools judged as good or outstanding for teaching in the least deprived areas is 85%—almost equal to the national average of 86%. In the most deprived areas however, this drops to 29% compared with the national average of 65%.”
This shows the “massive…percentage point difference” between the proportions achieving five A to C grades at GCSE in the average areas in comparison with the most deprived areas. The Government have not given that problem enough recognition when it comes to putting additional resources into the areas that need it most.
Overall, there has been an increase in levels of educational attainment in the north-east and a fall in the proportion of adults with no qualifications. As I said, however, we need to increase the volume of higher-level skills to address the changing demographics in the region, with a particular focus on key sectors, particularly the STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—sector. In many areas of the UK, there are too few people achieving qualifications in STEM subjects, particularly amongst women.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on these issues. Does she think that it was a retrograde step when the previous Government scrapped Aimhigher? We all talk about aspiration, but in many of the communities my hon. Friend mentions, we need to raise those ambitions further.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it was a hugely retrograde step to get rid of Aimhigher, as indeed it was to scrap other measures that supported young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, into taking up opportunities in further and higher education.
The CBI cites major skills shortages in STEM subjects as being a major barrier to growth, while the Royal Academy of Engineering forecasts that the UK needs an extra 50,000 STEM technicians and 90,000 professionals each year just to replace people retiring from the work force.
We are really fortunate in the north-east in that there have been more new technology company start-ups than in any areas of the UK outside London. However, due to skills shortages, organisations frequently need to recruit from outside the region—and increasingly overseas—to fill the skills gaps in the area. We want to see young people skilled, and the reskilling of those who are currently seeking work, so that they can find employment in some of the key sectors that are growing in the north-east, such as advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, our university and technology sector, professional services, tourism, creative and digital industries, logistics and the renewable energy sector. Improved investment and additional skills are needed if we are to achieve the 100,000 additional jobs that the LEP wants to see across those sectors over the next 10 years.
We also want an expansion of high-quality vocational education and youth apprenticeships to establish a stronger non-university route into employment. That is not to say that higher education is not important—I think it is, and we must continue to invest in it—but we want to ensure that young people know that there are wider training opportunities available. They might want to know that they can combine vocational education in the workplace with education in the university and further education sector. My right hon. Friend Liam Byrne, one of our Front-Bench team, produced a wonderful report last year called “Robbins Rebooted” that really highlights the mixtures that we are capable of achieving when we are imaginative about training opportunities for young people to take them from school into the workplace. They can be then assigned to college courses to ensure that they get the skills levels they need.
Let me make two brief points before I conclude. Funding from Europe is really important in the north-east and sustains a lot of our skills and education. In future debates about staying in Europe, it is really important that European social fund financial support is put into the mix, because we could not sustain the skills levels without it.
Devolution is very much on the agenda in helping areas to link the skills that are needed to future economic development. The Association of Colleges has produced a very helpful report for all of us that considers what devolution could bring by giving local people much more knowledge about the industries there are likely to be in the area in the coming years and how they can acquire the skills for themselves and for their children and grandchildren so that they can take on those opportunities.
My final challenge is for the Minister. Will he say what he is going to do to sustain investment in the infrastructure supporting education and skills development and to ensure that those opportunities are spread into the most deprived areas of our country?
We have to make education and skills our country’s No. 1 priority. Improving education is the answer to our country’s biggest challenges, as it brings better paid and more secure jobs to areas that have lost their traditional industries, tackles poverty and improves social mobility, boosts productivity, builds a stronger economy and enables us to tackle the deficit.
The only way our country will pay its way, let alone prosper, is with the skills we need to compete. Germany has three times as many apprentices as the UK. The number of young apprentices and apprentices in IT and construction is falling and, although I welcome degree-level apprenticeships, they account for less than 2% of the total number. On education, we are no longer merely falling behind Finland, South Korea and Germany in basic numeracy and literacy but behind Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well. Think about this: we are the only country in the developed world in which those approaching retirement are more literate and numerate than those entering the workforce.
Children today will work with technologies that have not yet been invented or even imagined. They will have more than a dozen jobs over their lifetime, so they must learn how to adapt, how to learn and how to acquire new skills, but a CBI survey found that nearly a third of employers were dissatisfied with school leavers’ basic literacy and numeracy.
We should all agree—all parties, the Government, schools, colleges, universities, the teaching profession and businesses—on clear long-term targets to improve education and provide the skills we need to compete. The CBI is right to call for a cross-party review of 14-to-19 education considering exams, the curriculum and the status of vocational education so that we can plan properly for the future and prevent the sort of problems we face in Dudley at the moment.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a real need for greater and better capacity in vocational education for children with special educational needs, particularly for 14 to 19-year-olds?
The hon. Gentleman is completely right. As he represents Dudley South, he will know that Dudley College has just opened fantastic new facilities on The Broadway. I do not know whether he has had a chance to visit yet, but he definitely should. It provides fantastic opportunities for young people with profound disabilities and learning difficulties. It is a unique institution, the first of its kind in the country. It is another brilliant success, which is down to Principal Lowell Williams and his colleagues, and it is an example that colleges around Britain should be following. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I look forward to working with him to drive up educational standards and improve standards not just for children with special needs but for all children in Dudley over the next five years.
Under the brilliant leadership of Lowell Williams and his colleagues, Dudley College has not only provided those fantastic facilities but has transformed our town centre and opportunities for local people. Our new manufacturing college, Dudley Advance, has been developed with Aston University and local manufacturers. We have a new vocational centre, a new sixth form college and plans for a new construction centre. Ministers will be pleased to hear that the vast majority has been funded by more efficient use of the college’s own resources and not by external funding. Ofsted has rated all aspects of the college’s provision as “good” or “outstanding” in its most recent inspections and the college has been named one of the top three colleges in the country for students completing apprenticeships, with nine out of 10 students successfully completing their training compared with 69% nationally.
Mr Williams and his colleagues are helping local businesses to grow, educating young people and helping adults to get new jobs, too. They are doing exactly what Ministers have asked of them, but far from supporting their work, Government policies are putting courses and places at risk.
Cutting the adult skills budget by 24% means that Dudley College will lose £1.4 million, so 30 jobs are at risk and 1,500 places will be cut, most of which are employability programmes for unemployed adults and workplace qualifications in health and social care, early years and construction. The college faces further 20% reductions in each of the following two years, removing another 1,700 adult places. Thousands of adults struggling to find work will lose their retraining and many more jobs are at risk.
Dudley College has worked hard to help Ministers to increase apprenticeships, doing exactly what they want and making it by far the largest provider in the region. In May, the college again requested additional places from the Skills Funding Agency for 16 to 18-year-olds in areas such as engineering, manufacturing and care, which, again, is exactly what the Government want it to do. The agency indicated that that would be possible, as it was in previous years, but the funding is now at risk after the Chancellor’s announcement that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education must find £450 million of savings this year.
Spending on 16 to 18-year-olds is unprotected and apprenticeship providers are worried that the SFA will not be able to deliver the promised funding. That is the complete opposite of the long-term planning needed to fix the skills gap. Dudley College must either turn away 150 apprentices in priority areas or deliver the training without any funding. The college has also requested growth for 2015-16 and beyond, but how will the Government meet their target of 3 million additional apprentices if they cannot fund the growth at successful institutions, such as Dudley College, that are already doing a brilliant job and delivering exactly what the Government want?
Finally, Dudley College is now particularly vulnerable to changes in the amount of funding that the Education Funding Agency will offer for courses for 16 to 19-year-olds. That has been another growth area, with the EFA set to fund places for an extra 263 learners next year. A significant part of the college’s investment in new facilities such as Dudley Advance has been based on the expectation that EFA funding will increase, but the Chancellor’s announcement threatens that funding too, and any change in the number of funded places or the rate of funding will damage the college’s ability to meet local needs skills such as manufacturing. That comes on top of an 8% reduction in funding per learner in the past four years and a 22% funding reduction for 16-year-olds.
All of that shows why we should listen to the CBI, launch a cross-party inquiry and set out a long-term plan to tackle our country’s skills gap and, as I said at the outset, make education and skills our country’s No. 1 priority. But for a long-term plan to work, the Government need to give colleges the certainty they need to keep growing to meet demand.
Will the Minister work with the Skills Funding Agency to set out urgently the number of places it will fund in the coming year? Will he and the Business Secretary set out plans to meet the spending reductions as soon as possible, so that providers know how much funding will be available in the future? Will he come to Dudley and join me and Mike Wood in visiting the college, where he will be able to meet Mr Williams and his colleagues, see the brilliant work they are doing and help them solve the problems they face?
May I congratulate you on your re-election, Mr Deputy Speaker? I also congratulate all the new Members who have made their maiden speeches today.
The Achilles heel that is causing the skills and growth shortage is the issue of funding. This debate shows that any pretence the Government have of being in favour of aspiration is a total fabrication. How is it possible to have strong institutions when Tameside College in my constituency of Ashton-under-Lyne has had nearly half its funding cut in the past five years? That amounts to more than £2.3 million—or 44%—of its total budget. Meanwhile, more than a third of the population in Tameside have qualifications below a national vocational qualification level 2.
It just does not compute. How can my constituents aspire to get on in life, gain extra qualifications, get decent jobs and provide for their families when one of their main routes to doing so—further education—is being closed off or shut down? How do Ministers think my constituents will be able to access the jobs that may come from their much-vaunted northern powerhouse project without the training and skills revolution that will be needed?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House; she has already made a fantastic contribution. Greater Manchester spends £22 billion on public services and raises £17 billion from taxes. The key driver to bridging that gap over the next few years will be ensuring that we have the skills to wipe our own feet economically as a conurbation. How can the Government talk about a northern powerhouse without investing in improving the skills we need to make sure that we reduce our public spending and increase the amount we raise in taxes through a skilled workforce?
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution.
For people like me who left school at 16, further education was one of the few routes out of poverty. I did an NVQ in care at my local college, and as a young woman—as a young single mum—it gave me just the start I needed to find work and fend for myself. I needed that opportunity to try to make my way in the world.
Further education gave me, and millions more like me, a second chance. It was a vital part of the comprehensive education system, which this Government now seem hellbent on destroying. They are kicking away the ladder of opportunity for thousands of young adults in my constituency in Tameside and Oldham. I recommend that they come and visit. It is all right for those who can afford a place at Eton, but there’s nothing in this Government’s cuts to further education that will help the people to aspire to go to Tameside College or Ashton sixth-form college. One nation Britain? Do me a favour.
Coming from a very similar background to the hon. Lady, and having benefited from a sixth-form college, I will give her a different take. In my constituency, Bexhill sixth-form college continues to thrive and provide vocational education and to build people’s confidence. That is a very different pattern from the one she has just painted.
But may I just remind the hon. Gentleman of the enormous 24% cut to the adult further education budget in England? That is a massive blow to the hopes and aspirations of millions of people who just want to get on in life: people who want improved qualifications in order to improve their pay and prospects; people who want to learn English so that they can be fully part of our communities, get work and pay their way in our country; people who may have lost their jobs because of the massive cuts in public services and who want to retrain and develop new skills; women with families who want to return to education and better themselves after bringing up their children; and young people looking for an apprenticeship because they have a vocation in life.
I welcome my hon. Friend, my neighbour in Tameside, to her place. With regard to upskilling young people, is it not worth commending Labour-controlled Tameside council, which has established a Tameside apprenticeship company, working with local partners and businesses, to provide the opportunities that she is talking about?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but this Government are saying no to all those people, kicking away the ladder of opportunity. [Interruption.] They are destroying people’s hope. It is a massive blow to our economic success as a nation. They are setting our country back decades. The Opposition agree that the future for Britain is a high-skill, high-wage, dynamic economy in which learning is lifelong. We do not believe in a race to the bottom on the basis of low skills and low wages so that we can become the sink economy of the developed world.
No, I am going to continue.
That way lies failure, waste and stagnation. I call on this Government to think again. You do not have a mandate for this. You did not tell the electorate about it. [Interruption.] If you continue with these shocking cuts, you will be wrecking Britain’s future and blighting the lives of millions of people for whom further education is the route onwards and upwards to reaching their goals and achieving their dreams. You will also set back our economic prosperity. I urge you to think again.
Order. To be helpful, Ms Rayner, I just want to let you know that when you say “you,” that means me, and I do not want to accept any responsibility for what you are accusing others of. I have taken the blame, so I do not know why Government Front Benchers got quite so upset.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would never use the sort of appalling, sexist language that the former First Minister of Scotland used to describe Anna Soubry, but is it in order for her to chunter from the Government Front Bench all the way through an Opposition Member’s speech, and as loudly as possibly—
Order. We both know that that is not a point of order. It is for the Chair to decide that, and I must say that I thought on this occasion the Minister was much quieter than she normally is, so let us not worry about it.
I would like first to congratulate those Members who have made their maiden speeches. I was particularly taken by what John Nicolson said about a well-educated electorate. I represent Cambridge, so I recognise his description. The point he was making is that the better educated the electorate, the more sensible their electoral choice. If the Government are as successful in their education policies as they claim to be, we will have a much better educated country, so I think the future of progressive politics looks bright. We look forward to their success on that basis. I also agree with the comments of Richard Harrington on university technical colleges. We have a university technical college in Cambridge, and it is doing excellent work and making a major contribution.
I want to reflect on not only some of the problems of the skills crisis, but some of the less well-rehearsed consequences. The problems that my constituency faces—we have an excellent further education college, Cambridge Regional College—are similar to those described so eloquently by many other Members. Unfortunately, there have been similar levels of cuts, with cuts in its budget every year since 2010, and it is facing funding cuts of between £2.5 million and £3 million over the next couple of years.
Yesterday we spoke to a number of representatives from the University and College Union, Unison and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. They fleshed out what those cuts actually mean. While Government Members are claiming that things are going well, the people on the front line are telling us what that means in practice. We heard about the effective deskilling of many of our key people. For instance, people who had been lecturers are becoming instructors. I do not think that many of us would like to be offered the opportunity to come back the following year to do effectively the same job for £10,000 a year less, and with a very different status, but that is clearly what is happening in a number of places. Whatever one feels about the effect on those individuals, we have to ask what the effect is on the learner experience. I do not believe that it can be good.
If Government Members do not want to listen to the people who represent the staff, I suggest that they talk to employers in their area, as I do in my area. The messages that I hear about skills shortages are absolutely clear. Our local enterprise partnership recently conducted a survey and found that about 91% of employers had problems recruiting in the previous year because they could not find people with the right skills. That is a block on economic progress in our area. Last week, I met the Federation of Small Businesses, which said that the biggest issue its members face is exactly the same problem: they cannot find people with the right skills to do the jobs.
Perhaps more surprising is what I heard from local housing associations when I met them yesterday. Housing associations have a lot on their plate at the moment, as Members can probably imagine. Should the Conservative party’s policies be implemented, they will be required to replace houses. The problem they face is that finding the skilled people to build houses in areas like Cambridgeshire is near impossible. That is the basic problem with that policy. I will tell Members what the answer is for the housing associations. It is migrant labour, because people from other countries have got the skills and will come here to do the jobs.
Interestingly, it is often claimed in debates on other issues that the pull factor to this country is benefits. Actually, the pull factor is the lack of skills in this country—our inability to train our own people to do the jobs that we need to be done. This is a five-year Parliament and there is a long time ahead, so I suggest to Conservative Members, in a friendly, positive way, that if they want to have economic success, they will have to analyse the problem correctly in the first place. If they misdiagnose the problem, they are certain to fail to get the right answer.
One problem in this country is the difference between the regions. Unemployment is almost 50% higher in the north-east of England than in the rest of the country, yet there has been a shift of money from the north to the south. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has problems in his area, but there has been a shift of funding from north to south. Does he agree that the Government need to tackle that issue?
It is certainly right that we need different approaches for different parts of the country. That is why I have always been a strong regionalist and why I decry the savage cuts to the regional structures that were made by the last Government. However, I have funding problems and inequalities in my part of the world. Schools in Cambridgeshire are woefully underfunded compared with schools in other parts of the country. This is a complicated set of issues, but my hon. Friend is right that, in general, there has been a shift of resources from poorer areas to wealthier areas. That cannot be right.
I want to reflect on some of the alternative solutions. Given what I have said, it is obvious that in my view the policy that is being pursued of reducing the resources that go to those who provide our training services is not the right way forward. However, this matter goes beyond our colleges. As I just mentioned, our sixth-form colleges have suffered an enormous hit to their funding over the past few years. I understand that over the past five years, their budgets have been cut by as much as a third. My constituency has some fantastic sixth-form colleges—some of the best performing in the country—but they continue to perform well only because of the heroic efforts of their staff in very difficult circumstances. Some of them face appalling recruitment problems. That is not sustainable. We will not be able to go on producing good results with ever-diminishing resources. Frankly, that will not work.
We have seen the near destruction of the careers service in many places. That means that, all too often, the provision of careers advice falls to teachers, who are not necessarily trained in making the right suggestions to young people. Understandably, they tend to fall back on their own experiences. What happens far too often is that the advice given to our young people does not necessarily put them down the vocational route that would be best for them.
Some good things are happening. Marshall Aerospace is doing a very good job in my constituency, working with schools on a programme it has just launched, of encouraging more young people to go into engineering. Frankly, however, it is a drop in the ocean compared with what we need. We need a major change of tack to tackle this problem. I have to say that I have not heard much from Government Members to give me great confidence that that is going to happen. I fear we will to have to wait for a different Government to solve these long-term problems.
This has been an excellent debate. It has been made all the better for the outstanding maiden speeches we heard from the hon. Members for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) and for Northampton South (David Mackintosh) and my hon. Friend Imran Hussain. I was very glad to hear about the warnings and risks to our line of work from the hon. Member for Northampton South. The hon. Member for Derby North spoke with great courage about the progress we need to make to improve our mental health services. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East spoke with real passion and force about the transformative power of education. They all spoke with great wit, great eloquence and great passion, making a mark on both the debate and the House.
What we have sought to do in the debate is put the challenge of productivity centre stage. I am delighted that the Chancellor has now woken up to the productivity crisis that bedevils us, albeit arguably five years too late. The facts are very clear, extraordinary and alarming: there is now a 20% productivity gap between the United Kingdom and our G7 competitors. What does that mean? It means something pretty stark: what the rest of the G7 finish making on a Thursday night takes us to the end of Friday to get done. If this carries on, it will mean something pretty simple for the UK economy. We will become the cheap labour economy of Europe, while the rest of our competitors—we have heard many of those stories today—will continue to streak ahead. Quite simply, unless we grow smarter, we are going to grow poorer. There is no other way of raising living standards in the medium term unless we improve our productivity. It is good that the Chancellor has finally woken up to this issue. In three weeks’ time, he has the chance to set out a Budget that reflects on the contributions we have heard this afternoon and, crucially, does something about it.
The productivity crisis has come around every decade or two in this country since the second world war. In the 1970s we invented a phrase for it. We used to call it the British disease. Right now, the growth in productivity is worse—not better—than it was at the end of the 1970s. The British disease is back and it is worse than ever. The danger is that this is unfolding at a time when our challenges are getting stronger. We are now all pretty familiar with the strength of the education system in countries such as China and in cities such as Shanghai. I commend the Government for seeking to learn what lessons they can about how we improve our education system from some of those new competitors. I think it is next year, however, that China will spend more on science than the whole of Europe put together. Four out of the top 10 biggest global technology firms are now Asian. We are going to fall behind, and fall behind fast, unless we tackle skills and growth with greater vigour.
Across Westminster and beyond, I think there is an acceptance and a sense that reform of technical education is too fragmentary, not ambitious enough and too piecemeal. What we are seeing in some of the Government’s reforms are challenges to every single rung of the ladder. It is not clear whether the EBacc will apply to all students in all schools, such as UTCs. I hope the Minister can clarify that.
Richard Harrington was heroically, and quite understandably, unable to answer that question. We hope the Minister will do a better job.
The number of unqualified teachers in our classrooms is up 16% at the last count. Half of state schools do not send a single girl to do A-level physics. The CBI says our careers service is on life support. As the Minister will know, the number of apprenticeships for under-25s has not risen in the past year, but has actually fallen. The Secretary of State needs to talk far more about the apprenticeship opportunities she is championing in government for 16 to 19-year-olds. It is now widely accepted that it is not enough for the Government to talk about their ambition for the number of apprentices; they have to talk about raising the quality bar too.
A far-too-small number of apprentices go on to degree-level study. I know the Minister is working hard on this, but it is simply not good enough, as my hon. Friend Ian Austin pointed out, that only 2% of apprentices go on to degree-level studies. At the moment, 70% of higher apprentices go to over-25s, and there has been a 40% fall in the number of people studying for HNCs and HNDs. As a result, the skills gap is getting wider and wider. The chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, Mike Wright, says that there is a 40% gap every year in the number of qualifying engineers. My hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods set out with tremendous eloquence what damage that is doing to the fabric of our economy.
Of all the challenges, however, perhaps the most serious is that the Government seem hellbent on destroying the spine of the technical education system—our further education colleges. This afternoon we have heard powerful testimony about the damage being wrought all over the country. My hon. Friend Mr Mahmood spoke with his customary eloquence about the impact of the 24% in-year cut to the adult skills budget. It is hard for cities such as Birmingham to move people up the skills ladder when every rung of that ladder seems to be being broken. He was absolutely right to set out the extraordinary work that colleges such as South and City College Birmingham and Birmingham Metropolitan College are doing, but they are doing it despite the Government, not because of them.
The right hon. Gentleman’s words might have more credence were Labour not doing the same in Wales to further education colleges there. It is clear that cuts are being delivered and that qualifications, particularly in STEM subjects, are not being achieved in Wales.
The hon. Lady cannot evade the fact that a 24% cut is being delivered to adult education budgets across our country. Right now, colleges and college leaders all over Britain are saying to right. hon. and hon. Members that many colleges are about to fall over. If the Minister is serious, as I hope he is, he has a judgment day coming at him in three weeks. If the Chancellor stands at the Dispatch Box and does not deliver a sensible, sustainable settlement for further education, I fear that the Minister’s ambitions for the future of the technical education system will come to naught.
My hon. Friend Steve Rotheram set out the horrifying scale of cuts to the City of Liverpool College. I cannot believe that such a college is having to lose 1,300 places at a time when the prospects for regeneration in Liverpool are pretty good. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North talked about the catastrophe unfolding at Dudley College, which is doing anything and everything to help people in Dudley get up the skills ladder, get qualified and get better jobs, and again it is doing that despite the Government, not because of them.
My hon. Friend Angela Rayner has not been in the House long, but she made a powerful speech about the damage being wrought to Tameside College and the denial of opportunities she is already seeing in her constituency. The right answer would have been to protect the 16-to-19 education budget, which would have delivered a £400 million uplift to further education over this Parliament.
The Government will have to make a decision in three weeks’ time. Are they serious about backing the Secretary of State for Education in her ambitions? Are they serious about backing the Minister for Skills in his? It will be decision time, and Ministers will be judged on whether the Chancellor delivers.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the prime examples of the lack of numeracy in the United Kingdom workforce that is undermining our productivity is the inability of Conservative Members to make any association between the massive cuts that they are introducing and the reduction in the skills base and skills training in this country?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The same case was made earlier, with some force, by my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner.
There has been an improvement in the youth unemployment figures, but they are still too high. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State should listen, because it is in towns such as her constituency of Loughborough that employers are “sponsoring in”. This country imported 300,000 people over the course of the last Parliament because firms were able to prove that there was a skills shortage here, and I am afraid that that gap, and that pull, will only increase unless the Secretary of State weaves her magic with her right hon. Friend the Chancellor in three weeks’ time. Where initiatives such as the northern powerhouse are creating the opportunities for which we pray, those initiatives will come to mean nothing to families unless we give local people the skills that will enable them to do those new jobs.
Last week, in Westminster Hall, the Minister reflected thoughtfully—as he often does—on his ambition to agree strategic principles for the long term to underpin reform of the technical education system. Our motion this afternoon, which has been welcomed by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, gives him a chance to seize that opportunity with both hands, and I hope that he will take up the offer to agree on principles that could reform the system for a generation to come. There are points of consensus, a couple of which were identified by the hon. Member for Watford in what was a very thoughtful speech.
Over the last year, my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt and I have set a number of principles, which I offer the Minister this afternoon. First, there must be a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools. That will be harder to deliver at a time when school budgets are being cut by 10%, and at a time when there is ambiguity and confusion over whether every pupil in every school is required to take the English baccalaureate. Secondly, we need to rebuild the careers service in this country. Modern economies need strong careers services in schools. There is an obvious place to look for the money: £50 million could be taken from the widening participation fund.
Thirdly, there must be huge support from the Government for the city apprenticeship agencies that are being established by Labour councils such as those in Leeds and my home city of Birmingham. They are important, because they help small and medium-sized enterprises by finding young people who want to take up apprenticeships. SMEs are creating most of the jobs in our economy today.
Fourthly, there must be more specialisation and quality in further education, which will require a sensible funding settlement. That is the only way in which we can set good examples such as Prospects College of Advanced Technology, or PROCAT, which was mentioned earlier. Fifthly, we must allow more apprentices to study skills to degree level. We cannot simply pass a law to deliver parity of esteem between apprenticeships and degrees. We must create a system that will allow more than 14,000 apprentices a year to proceed to higher-level skills.
When we live in a country where those who are retiring are more literate than those who are coming into the labour market, we face a very serious challenge, and, this afternoon, no one described that challenge better than my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North. The challenge of technical education has long frustrated us in this country. It was back in 1944 that Lord Percy said, in a report that he delivered to the Government, that
“the position of Great Britain is being endangered by a failure to secure the fullest possible application of science to industry… and…this failure is partly due to deficiencies in education.”
We do not want that conclusion to be delivered again in 50 years’ time.
I hope that the Minister will take it on himself today to deliver a level of consensus, agreement and support for the motion. I hope that generations to come will look back on days like today and say, “That was the moment when partisan differences were put aside, and the parties decided to come together to rise to the challenge of the future.” I commend the motion to the House.
This has been an excellent debate. We have heard a series of remarkable maiden speeches telling the story of what we all want to see: a nation of opportunity and aspiration, and a nation in which people of every background in every part of the country are able to achieve professional success and, in the case of those hon. Members making their maiden speeches, the ultimate accolade of election to Parliament.
We heard from John Nicolson, with whom I have not exchanged words for about 25 years. We met once, many years ago.
Sadly, there were other people present.
We heard from the hon. Gentleman that he had been the first person from his family to go to university, and here he is now. He is going to do his constituents proud in this Chamber. I should like to add a note of thanks for his generous tribute to his predecessor, Jo Swinson, who was probably the Conservatives’ favourite Liberal Democrat.
We also heard from my hon. Friend Amanda Solloway, who will be relieved to hear that I am not going to recall a meeting of 20 years ago with her. She spoke of the idea of a nation of aspiration that had given her the opportunity, despite having had an education that had not given her great qualifications or a degree, to succeed in retail and manufacturing and then to find her way on to these green Benches. Having heard her fantastic speech, I can assure her that she will do much more than double her majority in five years’ time.
We heard from the new broom in Bradford East, Imran Hussain. His grandfather found opportunity in Bradford’s mills. How proud he would be today to see that his grandson had not only qualified as a barrister in the courts of the United Kingdom but now been elected to Parliament.
My hon. Friend David Mackintosh spoke eloquently and with the experience of a local government leader on the role of education in regeneration and, in particular, on the project that he has spearheaded—the Northampton Alive regeneration scheme. I have no doubt that he will never give any of his constituents reason to follow the example of the assassin of one of his predecessors.
Alison Thewliss spoke very well of the work of the Scottish Government on improving skills training. I have heard good reports about the Scottish apprenticeship programme from employers who provide apprenticeships in all parts of our country. I believe in learning from anyone and everyone, and I would be keen to learn from Scottish Ministers what they have found to be successful. I am planning to visit the hon. Lady’s fair city this summer, and I shall be sure to visit the area of Toryglen, even if I am the only Tory in it.
Following this debate, I wish I could report that Her Majesty’s Opposition were reflecting on the result of the election and on the messages sent to them, ever so politely, by the British public. I wish I could say that they were approaching that subject with humility and an open mind, asking themselves whether there was anything in their presentation before early May that they should perhaps revise. Sadly, however, that was not to be. We heard groundhog day of the Labour story. All we heard from Opposition Members was an endless series of increasingly hysterical attacks on cuts in public spending.
I have a lot of time for my opponent, Liam Byrne. I believe he is a good and thoughtful man, and that he was a good and thoughtful Minister in his time, but he can tell his colleagues why those public spending cuts were necessary.
I will not give way.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spent quite a lot of the past six to eight weeks opening his breast pocket and brandishing a letter from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, in which he said that there was no money left. We never wanted to cut public spending and never wanted to impose those difficult decisions; we have done so because of the legacy that he left us and made fun of in a letter—we are living with those consequences.
We heard barely a word from Labour Members about qualifications reform or about our apprenticeship reforms, which are putting employers in charge of developing standards and controlling Government investment in apprenticeships. [Interruption.]
Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to give way, he will do so. It is not for others to tell him to give way—he is not giving way.
Let me make it clear that I would be happy to give way to a Back Bencher, but I think we can all agree that we have heard quite enough from Tristram Hunt this week, in his not-so-pithy contributions to our debates.
We heard barely a word from Labour Members about our plans to ensure that anyone who has been failed in school and who has failed to achieve sufficient qualifications in English and maths should carry on studying them, through a further education college or whatever other route they take. That is a plan we have invested in and that we are developing.
I am happy to give way to a gentleman who is also always pithy.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that, unlike under the Government he supported, when sixth forms in schools received much more money per pupil than sixth-formers in other institutions, we have an absolutely equal funding system. Whether someone is in a sixth form or school, or a further education college or a sixth-form college, they will receive exactly the same amount of money per pupil, as he should know well.
We do not believe that we have a monopoly on good ideas, and we are not remotely complacent about the state of education for 14 to 19-year-olds, but we will oppose the motion because a review or, God forbid, the royal commission that one Labour Member called for would distract the Government at a time when we are making real progress. We are making progress in ensuring that everybody secures that vital passport to success which is a mastery of English and maths. We are making progress in reforming qualifications so that they are rigorous, respected and backed by employers. We are making progress with apprenticeships, not just by increasing their number to 2.2 million in the last Parliament, but by introducing reforms that got rid of programme-led apprenticeships, which the last Labour Government introduced. Those involved no employer, no job and a few months of training in a college, yet Labour dared to call them apprenticeships. We have got rid of those and our reforms will continue.
We are making progress with the introduction of university technical colleges, and I was glad to hear support for the concept from Opposition Members. We want UTCs, spearheaded by one of the greatest Education Secretaries that any Conservative Government have ever had, to be within reach of every city. But we want them to flourish too, and we will be looking to make sure that every UTC can succeed, both financially and educationally.
We are agreed on one thing at the end of this debate: we have huge ambitions for our education system, and they are not yet met. We have huge aspirations for every young person going through school and going into a further education institution in our country, and those aspirations are not yet guaranteed. We will not rest until everybody in this country, in this one nation—in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland—is able to leave school and college with qualifications that equip them for a life of work; a life that is fulfilling and rewarding and that helps to make this country one of the greatest countries on Earth.