We have fundamentally changed what apprenticeships involve. We have new high-quality standards developed by industry for industry. Apprentices are now getting more off-the-job training, while endpoint assessment ensures they are fully competent. Our new quality strategy will ensure that all apprenticeships are of the highest quality both in design and delivery.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have already increased the amount of the levy being directed in that way from 10% to 25%. We will very much look at working closely across the whole region of East Anglia on how best we can support this important initiative that makes sure that young people who want the training and people who are retraining have the right skills to be competitive in the jobs market.
Last Friday, I met graduates of the Forging Futures scheme at Kirkstall Forge in my constituency. Those young people, who were previously not in education, employment or training, now have a bright future to look forward to, but because that is a pre-apprenticeship scheme it gets no Government funding. Will the Government look again at funding such schemes to give young people, such as those I met on Friday, a better future to look forward to?
I would be very happy to look at the details of the scheme that the hon. Lady outlines. It is important for everyone on both sides of the House that we do everything so that those who need the maximum amount of support always get it.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the apprenticeship programme has the year-on-year cash that it needs to continue to deliver the life-changing opportunities that it does to people of all ages, without restriction?
I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for all the work that she has done for this sector. Much of the work that we have inherited is down to her close attention to detail in delivering for a sector that she is so passionate about. I also thank her for the work that she did as a Deputy Chief Whip, when she was slightly less friendly, but equally effective.
I will certainly look at how we ensure that we have the right funding for apprenticeships. Apprenticeships have been one of the greatest successes of the Government. We have achieved so much over the last nine years, encouraging so many young people to take up the opportunity to train in an apprenticeship and have the skills that they need to succeed in future. We will be determined to build on that success.
I think the Secretary of State is rehearsing for his conference oration. That has to be what it is—we are grateful to him.
This Government are making a complete hash of the apprenticeship levy in quality and quantity. It is running out of money, so the trainers who provide 70% of all apprenticeships cannot meet the demand from small businesses, such as the two I met recently in Blackpool that have had no money from the Department for Education. There was nothing new in the spending review for providers or for small businesses for apprentices. Starts for 16 to 18-year-olds are down 23% on the pre-levy numbers. There was nothing for the 800,000 young people who are stagnating in the NEET category, as my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves pointed out. There is not even a dedicated day-to-day Skills Minister to tell them, or us, why they are in this mess. Has anyone in this disappearing Government left the lights on?
We have seen a change in attitudes as to what apprenticeships are able to deliver. After a decade and more under the Labour party, when we saw apprenticeships devalued and reduced, we have seen a seismic change in what we are doing, driving up the quality and status of apprenticeships. I know that Government colleagues take great pride in what has been achieved, but we are always conscious that so much more needs to be done.