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The week is Scottish apprenticeship week, which is a chance for us collectively to mark the success of Scottish apprentices and our apprenticeship offerings, so the question is timely.
The Scottish Government spent £200,000 on graduate-level apprenticeships in 2015-16, the year in which they were introduced. The projected spend for 2016-17 is £1,372,000 and, in the coming financial year, we estimate that we will spend £4.7 million.
As the minister has just set out, the Government has spent more than £1.5 million on the graduate apprenticeship scheme up to the end of this financial year. However, that scheme has delivered only 27 opportunities. That means that each one of those graduate apprenticeships has cost the Scottish Government £58,222, which is more than the cost of sending someone to Harvard University and more than the Government spends on educating a single young person from first year to sixth year. Does he honestly think that that is good value for money?
Will the minister confirm that the Labour Party has voted against every increase in apprenticeship numbers since the Scottish National Party Government came to office in 2007? Will he also confirm that, under this Government, the number of apprenticeships in North Ayrshire has increased by more than 89 per cent, compared with 63 per cent in Scotland as a whole?
The Government’s apprenticeship offering is inextricably interlinked with its budget process, and it is on the record that the Labour Party voted against our budget this year, along with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats; that would have denied apprentices and potential apprentices across the country that opportunity.
I welcome Scottish apprenticeship week.
After 10 years of this Government, why does Scotland have only half as many apprenticeships per head of population as the rest of the United Kingdom?
It is intriguing that Mr Lockhart has asked that question of me again. We have a high-quality offering here in Scotland—it is different from what exists south of the border. We explored that matter in a debate last week. On the face of it, the ambition that the UK Government has for a rapid expansion of apprenticeship numbers may look attractive, but I cannot see how it will lead to an increase in quality. We have a high-quality offering here and we will continue to progress with that.
Having served an apprenticeship, I know that good tutors and lecturers are required to get people through an apprenticeship programme. Is the minister aware that, on Friday, Heriot-Watt University announced 100 redundancies? How will that redundancy programme, which is being carried out to fill a £14 million gap, help to increase the number of graduate apprentices?
Funding for universities has increased over the period. There are undoubtedly problems associated with Brexit for the position of universities in Scotland—we are not quite sure whether Neil Findlay supports or opposes Brexit. I recognise his fundamental point: that our apprenticeship opportunities rely on good-quality people to deliver them, and I am very grateful that we have good-quality people delivering apprenticeships right across Scotland.