I have had several meetings with college leaders, often represented by hon. Members, and will continue to do so as the area review process unfolds.
The Minister will be aware of the area review of colleges in the Tees valley, which could lead to one or more mergers. The banks will be big winners in this, and I am told that if colleges become liable for penalties for breaking loan contracts that could run into millions of pounds. How much will the banks benefit from these mergers?
This is absolutely the first I have heard about that, and it is certainly not my intention that a single pound of taxpayers’ money should go to benefit banks. The whole point of the area review process is to strengthen institutions so that, like Middlesbrough College in the Tees area, they can offer an excellent service by providing high-quality technical and professional education to local people.
It is fairly amazing to hear an Opposition Member attack the apprenticeship levy, which is something that the Opposition thought was so extraordinarily left-wing that they were not willing to propose it in their manifesto. I should have thought that the modern Labour party would consider it a thoroughly mainstream suggestion. As for the hon. Gentleman’s other comments, he will have observed that his party organised an Opposition debate to attack the 25% to 40% slashing of further education budgets, which did not happen when the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box and confirmed that we were going to maintain adult skills funding and 16 to 19 funding.
Returning to the subject at hand, does the Minister agree that it is really important to focus on technical and professional training, and that the best way to do so is to provide apprenticeships that have quality as a hallmark, and attract people who know that that will lead to a job, and know the value of being an apprentice?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. It is particularly welcome to see that the number of apprenticeship starts have, yet again, gone up in the latest quarter. That is true not just for apprenticeships generally but for higher and degree apprenticeships, which give young people the reassurance that an apprenticeship can take them to whatever level they aspire to reach.
The National Design Academy, Stafford University and GMP Design are jointly seeking to locate a 737 aeroplane in Rugely, which would be converted into a design studio to house their new experiential design course. Does my hon. Friend agree that such innovative thinking could inject new energy into post-16 education and training?
I was not aware of that example, but it sounds fantastic. It is exactly what the most innovative colleges are doing, and we want, through the area review process, to enable more colleges to become as innovative as that.
I have the privilege of representing the best people in the country, but they have been failed by the Government. My constituents awoke today to learn that the people of Stoke-on-Trent are less likely than people in any other city to leave school with the formal qualifications that they need. A report by the Centre for Cities revealed that 39,700 people in Stoke-on-Trent have no formal qualifications, putting us at the bottom of the league table. Will the Minister meet us to discuss how post-16 education and training providers can best be used to help my city?
First, I should be delighted to meet the hon. Lady, but I would gently point out to her that those constituents who were failed went to school under a Labour Government.