Clause 6 - Functions of the Institute: oversight etc

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 2nd December 2021.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 12:00 pm, 2nd December 2021

I beg to move amendment 32, in clause 6, page 7, line 23, at end insert—

“(2A) The Institute shall perform a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy, paying particular regard to ensuring that sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available.”.

This amendment would require the Institute to perform a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy, and would require the Institute to pay particular regard to ensuring that sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available.

The debate on this amendment is the only opportunity that the Committee will get to talk about apprenticeships in the skills Bill, and that is pretty remarkable. The amendment would require the institute to perform a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy and to pay particular regard to ensuring that sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available. Apprenticeships are the gold standard in vocational opportunity. Every single one of us is aware of apprenticeship providers and employers that have excellent apprenticeship programmes in our constituencies, and we have met people whose lives have been changed by their apprenticeships. However, we also know that for many of our constituents—particularly our younger constituents—apprenticeships remain elusive. There are far fewer apprenticeship opportunities than there should be.

A Labour Government will be committed to increasing the number of apprenticeship opportunities and addressing the calamitous collapse in new apprenticeship starts at levels 2 and 3. We will promote apprenticeships as the No. 1 vocational opportunity for young people who are not attending university, and we will seek funding for them ahead of schemes such as kickstart, which is more costly and less well defined, demands less commitment from employers and makes less impact on learners. It is a vivid demonstration of the Government’s complete failure to address key issues that while they preside over their failure on apprenticeships, they introduce a skills Bill that almost entirely fails to touch on the reform needed to salvage these crucial career opportunities.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point, because it is, quite frankly, flabbergasting that in a skills Bill there is very little mention—in fact, almost none—of apprenticeships. For so many, apprenticeships could be the route to developing the skills for the jobs of the future. When I talk to local employers, they now appear to be using the apprenticeship levy funding to upskill their own workforces, rather than using the money to skill up the next generation.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Absolutely, and that speaks to the heart of the amendment. The apprenticeship levy has, remarkably, led to a steep decline in those aged under 25 taking on entry-level apprenticeships. In fact, it must be the first policy—well, that is probably not true, but certainly it is one policy—that set out with a particular objective, only to achieve the polar opposite. We have an apprenticeship policy that has drastically reduced the number of apprenticeship opportunities, and it is worth reflecting for a moment on the scale of that failure.

In 2016-17, 494,000—almost half a million—people were doing apprenticeships. By 2019-20, before we even take into account the collapse in apprenticeship starts during the covid crisis, that number had gone down to 322,500. That is a 35% reduction in the number of apprenticeships. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish about the number of apprenticeships going to under-19s, the number fell from 122,800 in 2016-17 right down to 76,300 in 2019-20—that is a 38% reduction in the number of apprenticeships for people under the age of 19.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside 12:15 pm, 2nd December 2021

My hon. Friend makes some important points about apprenticeships and the fact that the number of them has reduced. Does he agree that some of that is down to the lack of information and career guidance available in schools for many of our young people?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I absolutely agree. There are a huge number of causes, but my hon. Friend is right that one is the abandonment of careers guidance that happened in 2010, when this Government came to power and scrapped Connexions—got rid of many of those—and the statutory responsibility for careers guidance.

To give a scintilla of credit to the Government, they have at least realised to an extent that the decision made back in 2010 was catastrophic and made an attempt to rebuild some kind of careers service. We have many criticisms of their approach, but at least there is a recognition that simply getting rid of face-to-face careers guidance and going towards a purely online service was disastrous. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside is absolutely right about the number of people not doing apprenticeships. We will have an opportunity later in proceedings to discuss careers guidance in more detail—it is a priority for the Labour party.

Without in any way undermining what my hon. Friend said, it is also important to make the point that there is a real shortage of opportunities out there; it is not purely that people do not want apprenticeships. I went to a training academy for construction on the south coast and I was told, interestingly, that there were about 100 applicants for every one of its apprenticeship opportunities. In an area with relatively low levels of unemployment, kids are still fighting to get hold of those opportunities. They recognise the value of apprenticeships. The importance of promoting apprenticeships is a strong point to make, but there is also a huge amount more to be done on supply.

To return to what I was saying a moment ago, it is important to understand the scale of the collapse in the number of apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships going to 19 to 24-year-olds declined from 142,200 in 2016-17 right down to 95,500 in 2019-20, so there was a fall of almost 33% over that period. The levy was supposed to boost employer investment in training—my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish was in this place when the apprenticeship levy was announced, and he will remember that we were all told it would boost the amount that employers would invest in training—but that has declined, with £2.3 billion less spent in 2019 than in 2017.

The current funding arrangement particularly fails small businesses, which are a real priority for the Labour party. Especially in communities such as Chesterfield, small businesses are the prevalent providers of employment, and the fact that they have been shut out of the apprenticeship regime so dramatically with the introduction of the levy has had a massive impact. In 2016, 11% of businesses with less than 50 employees had apprentices in their organisation. I think 11% was probably not enough, but it was something. By 2019, there had been a 20% reduction in the number of small businesses with apprenticeships.

It is no wonder that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development described the apprenticeship levy as having “failed on every measure”. It says that the levy will continue to

“undermine investment in skills and economic recovery without significant reform”.

Where is the opportunity to provide significant reform to apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy, if not through a skills Bill? Yet the Government have chosen to leave apprenticeships out of it. Where is the reform? What are the Government doing about this failure, and do they even acknowledge that it exists? The starting point for addressing a problem is to accept that there is one. We have been forced to shoehorn an amendment into this skills Bill in order to even talk about apprenticeships.

Let us take construction as an example. The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that we need 217,000 new entrants to construction by 2025 to prevent growth from being slowed. The Government have for 11 years presided over a low-growth, high-taxation economy. Without an increase in the construction workforce, that growth will continue to be stilted.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that up to 2019, this country had the highest level of employment in history. He is being very selective with the information he is providing.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

The hon. Member talks about high levels of employment, but I have people in my constituency who are doing three jobs at once and still cannot pay their bills. The truth is that under this Government, we have a low-wage, low-growth economy. People are paying the highest level of taxes since the 1950s. He might not think it makes much sense, but to people in my constituency it absolutely does.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Order. The interventions are straying a little bit away from the amendment. I would be grateful if we could return to the subject of the amendment, exciting though that exchange was.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Compare high unemployment with the youth unemployment in core cities. The opportunities and pathways available to those young people are almost non-existent. Where local authorities, such as Birmingham, have worked tremendously hard to bring down youth unemployment, it has been reversed as a direct result of the actions taken by Government. In Birmingham, for example—

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Order. Interventions should be a lot shorter than that. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we must keep to the point. I will allow him one sentence to finish his intervention, then we will go back to Toby Perkins.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Does my hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done to address youth unemployment and apprenticeships?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Absolutely, and I thank my hon. Friend for that point. It is precisely the motivation behind the amendment, which we will get the opportunity to vote on. I think his point is incredibly important. Many young people in cities such as Birmingham look at the future and find that jobs are very thin on the ground. Even thinner on the ground are careers, rather than jobs. I am talking about opportunities to develop skills and get involved in a long-term career, as opposed to a casual job where they go to work, come home and are still living in poverty. That is why skills are so important, and why this investment is so important.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous with his time. To go back to a point that has been made in previous interventions, does he recognise that although getting younger people into employment will always be an issue, the fact that this country’s rates are so low compared with those of many of our neighbours on the continent, such as Spain and Italy, represents a roaring success story?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Order. I will not allow you to answer that, Mr Perkins, because it takes us wide of the issue, which is the review of the levy and ensuring that there are sufficient apprenticeships. Can we get back to the amendment?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I appreciate your iron grip on the debate, Mr Efford. I will confine my contribution to the amendment, as I was doing before I was so rudely interrupted. There is a link between youth unemployment and apprenticeships, and it is precisely that link that the amendment, which I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington, seeks to address. The current funding arrangements are failing small organisations. It is important that the Government acknowledge that and take steps to recognise that problems exist. We are not seeing anything that suggests that they realise that there is a problem with the apprenticeship levy.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

Does the hon. Gentleman not see some irony in his speech? The reason why the Bill introduces LSIPs, and so on, is that we want employers to take control and understand more about apprenticeships, because there are lots of jobs and apprenticeships available, unlike when Labour was last in Government and we had 25% youth unemployment.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I do not see a lot of irony in my speech, but I saw quite a bit in the hon. Lady’s intervention. The truth is that we have had 11 years of a Government that told us that every single reform that they took was about putting employers in charge, and yet, at the same time, apprenticeships have fallen. I will not repeat the figures.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Let me destroy the intervention that we have just had before I take another. If we accept that there is real value in apprenticeships, surely—given the fall in the number of apprenticeships, and the 11 years of reforms intended to put employers in the driving seat—anyone would think that continuing to do something that keeps failing is the definition of insanity. That is why we have tabled amendments to address that.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

I extend an open welcome to the hon. Gentleman to join a meeting of the apprenticeship diversity champions network, where we have more than 100 employers—more are joining—who are doing fantastic things with apprenticeships. I assure him that he will be able to hear lots of positive stories from them.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I would be delighted to attend that, and I look forward to receiving the invitation. I have already seen many examples of great apprenticeship programmes. I do not for a second decry those that exist, and I always enjoy seeing employers, in my constituency and elsewhere, who offer good apprenticeship programmes. It is because I recognise their value that I am so angry that apprenticeship starts have fallen from 494,000 in 2016 to 322,000.

One of the things that really concern me about the Government is that they operate by anecdote. They see something great, and it convinces them that everything is all right with the world. Actually, although there are superb apprenticeship programmes around and a lot of employers are committed to them, overall the numbers are going down. The number of them at levels 2 and 3 is going down. The number of small businesses offering apprenticeships is going down. The availability of apprenticeships in crucial sectors such as construction is going down, and so is the availability of people to get on to them, particularly in smaller towns that do not have major employers. That is what we are trying to address with amendment 32.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is making, as ever, some very important and powerful points. The wording of the amendment is very simple and, I would have thought, pretty honest and straightforward. It is about better governance and better operation of any attempt to improve skills delivery in education and across our economy. The amendment simply says:

The Institute shall perform a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy”.

I have spoken to many businesses in my constituency and elsewhere, and they are really concerned. They see the apprenticeship levy as having simply become a tax on business, with £250 million returned to the Treasury in 2020-21 and £330 million in 2019-20. Does my hon. Friend share my concerns?

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 12:30 pm, 2nd December 2021

I absolutely do, which is probably why I teamed up with my hon. Friend to table the amendment. He is absolutely right. We do not oppose the apprenticeship levy, but it is really important that we explore the point he has made. The apprenticeship levy is a significant tax and it falls on 2% of all businesses, as the former Chancellor George Osborne told us when he announced it. At the same time, he completely withdrew the Government’s own funding for apprenticeships and replaced it with this funding.

George Osborne did something unique: he created a tax that businesses get to decide how to spend. When we send a cheque or BACS payment for road tax, as all drivers do, we do not do so with an accompanying list of the potholes that we want to be repaired. When we pay our overall road tax, we get to drive and the Government and councils decide which potholes will be fixed and which road improvement programmes will be carried out. What happened here, however, is that the Government isolated a tiny fraction of all employers and said, “You’re paying this tax. This is the only contribution to apprenticeships that is going to be made and you get to decide what it is spent on.” All the other 98% of businesses, which are not levy payers, therefore have no funding for apprenticeships.

It is hardly surprising that we have seen a dramatic collapse in the number of small businesses that are able to offer apprenticeships, because they have been excluded from the system. They heard a very powerful message back in 2015: apprenticeships are something that big businesses do, and they are not for small businesses any more. All kinds of measures were put in place, in terms of the bureaucracy around apprenticeships, and that really reduced the opportunities available. Many small businesses that had up until then been successfully involved in apprenticeships got the message and got out of that environment.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

That is the point. I am sure it was not by design that the money got lost in the Treasury, but it is a real tragedy that the money intended for delivering apprenticeships to small businesses has been lost. Therefore, the really important parts of our economy—the small businesses that might be working in our supply chains, our service sectors or whatever—are not getting the money they need in order to train the next generation.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Regardless of whether it was by design or not, it was absolutely foreseeable that that was what would happen, and many such criticisms were made at the time. The reality is that the Government set up the apprenticeship regime on the basis of successful programmes at organisations such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. They thought, “That is what we want for everyone,” so they created an apprenticeship regime that was designed around major businesses, without recognising that those major businesses are simply not available in many of our constituencies. If young people in my constituency wanted to do an apprenticeship, they were doing it at their local hairdressers, construction firms or other small businesses. A successful regime would support small businesses in accessing apprenticeships in the same way as large businesses. The Government need to recognise that the scheme’s bureaucracy is simply pushing businesses away and preventing them from taking part unless they have large training, HR and personnel departments.

I have a level 3 apprentice in my office. MPs’ offices are effectively small businesses, with very small numbers of people working in them, and that apprenticeship involves significant bureaucratic requirements. A very helpful independent training provider is supporting me on that apprenticeship programme and has worked through the paperwork with me, but high-quality apprenticeships should not have to be linked to bureaucracy and funding arrangements that drive small businesses away.

There is one legitimate question that has not yet been asked by the Government, but I will save them from having to do so by asking it myself. They talk about reform, but what should that reform look like? We want an apprenticeship regime that supports access for small businesses, ensures quality, and recognises that the majority of the apprenticeship levy should be spent on level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships. There is absolutely a role for degree apprenticeships—for people who aspire to get level 6 qualifications—but that should be about a journey, not organisations doing what they are currently doing in many cases, which is saying, “We’ve got this levy. What are we going to spend it on? Well, we’ll let the finance director do his MBA—he’s always fancied that.” That is what apprenticeship funding is currently being used for in so many cases. I am never going to advocate against continuous professional development—of course it is important—but it is also really important to recognise that that is what is happening, and that it needs to be addressed.

The amount of money going back to the Treasury is actually worse than the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington. During the back end of this year, we got an answer to a parliamentary question showing that last year a total of £2 billion of apprenticeship levy funding had been sent back to the Treasury unspent. A huge amount of this funding is not being spent, which to me is the very definition of a failing system.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being very generous with his time. Regarding that £2 billion figure he has just cited and his earlier point about the construction industry, surely the amendment’s proposed review could give direction for the delivery of courses. For example, the construction sector needs to undertake recladding exercises up and down the country, and ensure that they are delivered on time.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Absolutely: construction is a great example. As I have said, there are 217,000 too few construction workers. Anyone who has tried to get serious construction work done at their house—an extension or similar—will know how tough it is to find a builder who has time to do it. Our country is losing huge amounts of growth and we are also facing a housing and homelessness crisis, because we simply do not have enough workers in the construction industry. It is incredibly important that these issues are addressed.

We would have liked to propose more specific reforms to the apprenticeship levy. More specific amendments would have sought to rectify years of neglect by this Government, particularly of SMEs and sectors that are crying out for a pipeline of apprenticeships. However, we were told that such reforms were outside the scope of the Bill. Nevertheless, we are proposing that the IATE introduces a review of the current operation of the levy, particularly in relation to ensuring that sufficient opportunities are available at level 3 and below. That is essential to ensuring that opportunities exist for young people who are seeking to step on to the first rung on the ladder, as well as adults who are seeking to retrain, particularly in sectors such as care and others that I have referred to. It is vital that levy funds are used to train up the next generation.

Within the scope of what already exists, the Government are attempting to do things that I think are positive, supporting businesses that pay the levy to allow their supply chain to use those funds, thereby benefiting more small businesses. However, this is still about trying to correct a wrong that was there in the first place: a better apprenticeship reform would be about making sure that more of that funding actually goes to small businesses and is used in every single community in the land. It would be about more people doing level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships, more opportunities for 16 to 19-year-olds, and the careers regime that my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to, which would give young people opportunities early in their school career to follow the apprenticeship path. It would allow young people to go into a level 2 apprenticeship at the age of 16 and to work their way through to a degree at 25 or 26, after having been paid all the way there. That is the kind of future that a Labour Government would get us to.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I rise to support the Opposition amendment—a modest amendment that simply asks for a review of the apprenticeship levy, paying particular regard to ensuring that sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available. This is really important. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has set out in great detail why we believe the apprenticeship levy is not working in the way in which the Government promised. The intention of the apprenticeship levy is a good one, but the practice of it in our constituencies is not working. We can see that in all the data and all the facts that my hon. Friend has laid out. The professional bodies responsible for training also support that view.

If the Minister has not already read the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee report, I encourage him to do so because it is very clear about the failings of the levy and the negative impact it has had on apprenticeship opportunities for younger people. It acknowledges that there has been an increase in higher-level apprenticeships, which is good, but drilling down into the data we see what the Opposition have already outlined—employers ensuring that their existing workforce are trained up to higher levels. That is good, and continuous improvement in the workplace is something we should support, but I do not believe the apprenticeship levy should pay for something that has always been paid for by employers. It goes against the ethos of the apprenticeship levy. Why do I speak so passionately about apprenticeships? I want to take the Committee back to 1990 when we had a Tory Government. We were in the 11th year of Baroness Thatcher’s premiership.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

I know how to warm up a Committee. It was also the year that 16-year-old Andrew Gwynne left Egerton Park High School in Denton with a clutch of good GCSEs, but I did not know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I did not want to go to college, so I took the rather unusual decision, given how it was painted at the time, of applying to go on youth training, the successor to the old YTS—the youth training scheme. I was very fortunate in the opportunity that youth training gave me. As I say, I had a clutch of good GCSEs and could have gone on to study A-levels, but I did not want to do that. I wanted to go down the vocational route.

I had to have a job interview at ICL—International Computers Ltd, now part of Fujitsu—in West Gorton in Manchester. I got my new suit from Burton and got on the 210 bus, nervous as anything. I had my job interview and got the two-year placement. When I think of the real responsibilities that they gave that 16 to 18-year-old, I look back in horror because I am not sure that I would have given 16 to 18-year-old Andrew Gwynne those opportunities—[Interruption.] I can see you staring at me from the Chair, Mr Efford—I do not think you would have given 16 to 18-year-old Andrew Gwynne those responsibilities either.

I had the opportunity to study at level 3—the same as A-levels—and I got a BTEC national certificate in business and finance, along with City and Guilds and Royal Society of Arts qualifications. That gave me a huge start in life, and I will be for ever grateful to those managers at ICL for the experience they gave me in the workplace. I want to ensure that those opportunities exist for the 16-year-olds leaving high school today, which is why I really support the amendment and a review of a system that is clearly not working in the interests of 16 to 18-year-olds. We should keep that system under constant review. I want the Minister to be as passionate about apprenticeships as I am, and I want him to ensure that the data outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield is reversed and becomes a positive trend for 16 to 18-year-olds, so that we get them skilled up to at least level 3.

Let us not belittle level 2 apprenticeships either. As my hon. Friend said, there is a skills shortage for a lot of jobs that require level 2 apprenticeships, so we need to ensure that, through a review, we get the right skills in the right places, and motivate and encourage young people to take those opportunities to develop themselves. Who knows, a 16-year-old leaving high school today might, in 30 years, be the hon. Member for somewhere or other.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 12:45 pm, 2nd December 2021

I could listen to that all day. What a heart-warming story of great education and training achievement under a Conservative Government. Although I do not agree with all the detail given by Opposition Members, I echo their sentiment. We all care deeply about apprenticeships, and the good news is that we will get more of them, because the Chancellor committed to spending a great deal more money on apprenticeships, taking their budget to £2.7 billion a year by the end of the spending review period.

I am pleased that the amendment was tabled because it gives us an opportunity to go over some of this ground and talk about the great work that we have been doing on apprenticeships. Alas, we lack the time to go into all the detail raised by the Opposition, but I remind them that although there have been changes in the numbers of people doing apprenticeships, that has happened for a reason. It has happened because when the coalition came to power, there was a need to review the quality of apprenticeships in our country. The Richard review—a famous and widely respected review—found that apprenticeships were not giving employers the skills that they needed, and that one fifth of apprentices reported receiving no training and one third of apprentices did not know that they were on an apprenticeship. That is why we decided to go for quality, and that quality is now paying off.

I was lucky enough to be at the national apprenticeships awards last night—I was sorry not to see Opposition Members there—and it was a fantastic evening. We saw many people—some young; some not so young—who were doing apprenticeships at all levels, and fantastic employers, from big companies and small schools to the Royal Navy, which is a fantastic provider of apprenticeships at all levels. It was a real celebration of the new landscape of high-quality apprenticeships to provide young people, and not so young people, with the skills that employers need.

I recognise the points made by the Opposition about level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships, of which I also want to see more. However, in 2020 and 2021, those levels made up 69% of apprenticeship starts. The majority of employer-designed standards are still at levels 2 and 3 —345 out of 630.

It has been this Government, during the pandemic, who have paid employers and providers £1,000 when they take on apprenticeships for young people aged 16 to 18.[Official Report, 13 January 2022, Vol. 706, c. 4MC.] More than 80% of 16 to 18-year-olds were participating in education or an apprenticeship at the end of 2020, the highest number on record.

More than one third of apprenticeship employers are still SMEs. We will see that number increase as the excellent levy transfer scheme continues to go great guns. Already millions of pounds are being transferred by large employers to smaller employers in their supply chains and beyond. Some of the case studies I have seen so far are wonderful. I do not know whether they are in the public domain, so I cannot talk about them, but we are seeing providers pass their money on in really creative and interesting ways.

We must almost remember that 95% of the costs of training and assessment for smaller employers are still covered. The figure is 100% for the smallest employers who are taking on young people.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Someone listening to the hon. Gentleman who did not know about the subject might well think that he was talking about a record of success. The figures that I have referred to, and which the CIPD described as having “failed on every measure”, are the reality of apprenticeships. It is one thing for the Government to say there is a problem here and they are seeking to address it, but the Minister seems to be talking as though everything is going well as the result of this policy. Is there any sense that this Government believe that the levy needs reform or that there is anything they are going to do to increase the number of opportunities for young people?

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We are increasing the number of opportunities. We got an excellent settlement in the spending review. We are going to have more apprentices at every single level. This is a Government who believe in apprenticeships, who back them and who put their money where their mouth is. Listening to Opposition Members, one could be forgiven for thinking that apprenticeships in this country were worthless. That is not a picture I recognise. It is not a picture that providers I meet recognise. It is not a picture that the apprentices I meet recognise.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

No Opposition Member has said that apprenticeships are worthless—quite the opposite. We really value them. I think the frustration is that businesses are saying that the system is not working, whether that is large businesses paying in and not getting any return, or the smaller businesses not getting any gain. The money seems to be being lost to the Treasury, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

If the hon. Gentleman had been at the awards ceremony last night, he would have struggled to find any provider saying that they were not getting any gain from the scheme, which is what he has implied—in fact, not implied; it is what he said explicitly. Equally, the small and medium-sized employers who were there were getting a great deal of gain from it. The people who are on the apprenticeship schemes are getting a great deal of gain. Where we absolutely agree is that there is a need for more apprenticeships. This Government are going to provide more apprenticeships. We have already provided more apprenticeships at a higher quality than we have ever had before. We are going to see that continue.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Just to be clear, I do not think I implied that at all. What I am saying is that, speaking to businesses, including some major businesses in and around my constituency that I talk to regularly, as I do with Warwickshire College, one of the largest colleges in the country, they have been saying that, while the programme is good and the apprenticeship levy had good intent, it is not working. That is why we tabled the amendment. We want to be constructive and help the Government make it work better.

Sadly, I was not invited to the awards last night. I will check my email, but I do not believe I was. I very much look forward to coming next year.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman is invited next year. I look forward to seeing him.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green suggests I take the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington as my guest. I was myself a guest. I am sure those organising will have heard his appeal for a ticket.

We want more apprenticeships. We have a great many fantastic employers in this country, providing wonderful opportunities for people at all levels at the moment. We are going to see that increase under the commitment that the Government have made. It is for the Government to consider when might be the right time for a review of apprenticeship reforms, through consultation with stakeholders. For now, we want to focus on improvements to apprenticeships to make them attractive to employers in more sectors. We want to focus on making apprenticeships relevant in new and changing occupations, and on improving quality.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

That was a very disappointing contribution. To describe the Labour party’s view—that apprenticeships are the gold standard—as that we think apprenticeships are worthless, is beneath the Minister. I hope he will reflect on that. We absolutely do not think they are worthless; we think they should remain the No. 1 opportunity. We think far more young people who are not going to university should be going on to apprenticeships; we think that far more people who are going on to apprenticeships should use those as a vehicle towards university. We see them as one of the most important ways of tackling social mobility—they are a huge priority for us. It is precisely because they are a priority that we are so frustrated with this Government’s failure. I do not recognise the way the Minister represented the Opposition’s opinions on this.

I will return to the point that independent organisations, such as the CIPD, have described the apprenticeship levy as having failed on every measure. Everyone will have heard that we have a Government with no intention to reform the levy. If young people want more opportunities, if they want a Government that will invest more in 2025 than they did in 2015, which this Government will not be doing—even by 2025 they will not reach the amount that was contributed toward apprenticeships in 2015—and if young people want a Government that will change that, they will have to vote Labour. That is the message that is coming out of this debate today. There is one party that believes the apprenticeship levy could be a route to reforming and creating opportunities for young people, and one party that thinks that the apprenticeship levy is working just fine the way it is. That is what this next vote is all about.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 9 Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] — Clause 6 - Functions of the Institute: oversight etc

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Michael Tomlinson.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.