We are working with colleagues across Government and put employers at the heart of local skills systems, with the roll-out of 38 local skills improvement plans. These employer-led plans will help ensure that skills provision better meets the needs of employers, and we are also ensuring that apprenticeships, T-levels and higher technical qualifications are all employer-led qualifications.
At a schools and skills meeting that I hosted a few weeks ago in my constituency, bringing together businesses and school leaders to enhance opportunities, a representative from a special educational needs school reminded us of the importance of these opportunities for all children. Does my right hon. Friend agree that work and training opportunities are essential for those of all abilities and all ages, including those with special educational needs or living with disabilities?
My hon. Friend is a champion of schools and skills in his constituency. He is absolutely right to have a passion for making sure that children with disabilities or special educational needs have a chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity. We are investing £18 million to try to help those SEND students with employment opportunities, as well as ensuring that careers guidance helps them at every step of the way to get the career chances that they deserve.
This Friday, pupils from Carr Hill school in my constituency will attend an event celebrating BAE Systems and CREATE Education’s Inspiring Lancashire programme. More than 2,000 pupils have participated in the programme over the past year. It has introduced them to the digital skills that are vital to Lancashire’s continued success as a hub for high skilled, well-paid technical jobs. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to encourage businesses to get involved in education and skills?
My hon. Friend is a champion of skills as well. It is very good news that that school is promoting careers and working with BAE, which does so much for apprenticeships. Some 90% of schools and colleges are now part of our careers hub. I am very pleased that Lancashire has had 10,000 apprenticeship starts since last year and was an early adopter of T-levels.
Some 740 people from Hull West and Hessle have had their university applications accepted, and 35 of them will attend higher education in the constituency, which will help us meet our local skills needs. The Department for Education’s own equality impact assessment, published in February, stated that the rise in student loans and grants
“will overall have a negative impact for students”.
I believe in equality of opportunity, as does the Labour party, but it is impossible when students face insurmountable financial barriers to learning. When will the Government ensure that all students have the financial resources that they need to succeed?
We have to be fair to students and fair to the taxpayer. Many people do not go to university but pay their taxes. We have increased to £276 million—a £15 million increase—the money given to the Office for Students from which universities can draw down to help students who face financial difficulties. We have frozen the loan—in 2025, it will not have had an increase for seven years. Students who face difficulties can also get bursaries from universities.
I, too, am mourning Betty’s death today. We were friends even before I got into Parliament. What a feisty woman, right to the end. Were it not for her, you would probably still be wearing a wig, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] I know that is your own hair, Mr Speaker.
I think the Minister is being entirely complacent. A huge number of young people in our country, when little children, are identified as clever, bright and really intelligent at primary school, up to the age of 11, but when they get to big school they disappear and do not achieve very much. Why is that, and why have this Government done so little to rectify it since 2011?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s narrative. In my area of skills, more than 5 million apprenticeships have started since 2010. Over the past decade we have invested in skills in a way that we never had before—over £3.8 billion. We have massively improved our schools, and I think 88% are now rated good or outstanding. We have a narrative in which we are delivering on education and skills. I completely reject what he said.