I am delighted that we will be rolling out the local skills improvement plans from this summer. The LSIPs will put local employers at the heart of developing skills provision to meet the needs of their businesses, ensuring that people get the right skills to get good local jobs. In my own Chichester constituency, the Sussex LSIP is working to meet the needs of many sectors, including our horticultural industry, worth £1 billion a year to the local economy. Other hon. Members in rural seats will understand the recruitment challenges facing agrifood businesses. Our skills plan will bring together providers such as colleges to create more opportunities for people to get the skills businesses need, and that will be going on across the country.
I know my hon. Friend is doing a lot to support businesses in our great seaside towns. We are increasing collaboration with colleges, employers and the chamber of commerce. The plan has been informed by hundreds of local businesses such as Lattimer, Access Point, EFT Construction, Bulldog Products and Stormspell. The visitor economy has been identified as a priority for the city region, with actions being taken to establish a working group to develop basic skills courses and to increase off-season study and training, management apprenticeships and access to work placements for students in and around the area.
The seaside will be grateful for that excellent response. Denise Rossiter, chief executive officer of Essex chambers of commerce, is working with local businesses such as Adventure Island to come together and deliver a local skills improvement plan that will help my seaside town to deliver a pipeline of talent for all sectors, including digitech, engineering and manufacturing. That will drive the local economy. Will the Secretary of State support the funding bid for that great work and the great city of Southend, and may I invite her to Adventure Island?
I hope that’s in Southend.
That sounds like too good an invitation to miss. I thank my hon. Friend for being such a champion for skills development in Rochford and Southend East. I know that many local employers, including Essex & Suffolk Water, Rose Builders, Ground Control, DP World London Gateway, Adventure Island and Constellation Marketing, are working with the Essex chambers of commerce and South Essex College to steer the LSIP. Many businesses up and down the country will benefit from our £165 million local skills improvement fund that providers, including South Essex College, will apply for. I look forward to receiving the proposal for the Essex, Southend and Thurrock area.
The reality is that almost 4 million fewer adults have taken part in learning since 2010, there are 200,000 fewer apprenticeship starts over the last decade, and part-time undergraduate student numbers have fallen by 50%. What is the Secretary of State doing to reverse the decade of decline in skills and training opportunities that is making Britain poorer?
What I am doing is ensuring that the quality is better. It is very easy to chase numbers and targets. The Labour Government did that a lot—some of the things in which they used to invest for skills were not of any value at all, either to the individual or to a single business in this country. We are ensuring that we work closely with employers. We have worked with them to design the T-levels qualification. We have worked with 5,000 of them to build the apprenticeship standards. We have had 5.4 million apprenticeship starts since 2010, and all of them are of a high quality that will give people the skills they need to get the jobs they want.
The hospitality and tourism industry is the biggest employer in Cumbria and is worth £3.5 billion to the economy every year. Yet those businesses are suffering a huge staffing crisis: 63% of them are operating below capacity because they cannot find enough staff. One solution is to recruit and train our own young people into the industry, and a T-level would surely be one way of doing that, but sadly, the Secretary of State’s Government have decided to kick the catering T-level into the long grass. Will she rethink that and bring it back front and centre of her campaign to ensure that young people get into that important industry with the right qualifications?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is a vital industry, not just in areas of tourism but across the country. We have many full-time hospitality and catering courses at various levels and lots of apprenticeships as well. We will bring forward and look at T-levels and at what more we need in that area, and potentially at management in the sector as well; I know that businesses are looking for more skills in that.
The Secretary of State says that she is listening to businesses, but if she were, she would hear that Labour’s plan to devolve adult education budgets to local communities and directly elected Mayors, and to change the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible growth and skills levy, has won widespread support from across the business community. Why is she so determined to stand against what employers say they want, and to hold learners, employers and our economy back?
That is a good question. The hon. Gentleman is right that employers have often asked for that flexibility in the levy. I do not think that anybody in this House doubts my support for apprenticeships—they were my golden ticket and, I am convinced, are a very good way into the workplace. Labour Members have said that they want to build flexibilities into the levy. The problem with their calculations is that, at this moment, we are spending 99.6% of the levy on apprentices. Their policy is based on levy payer spend, not levy payer budget. That means that the biggest losers from the policy would be small and medium-sized businesses and about half of current apprentices.