Modern apprenticeships are a vital resource for employers to invest in their workforce and for people to develop their skills. Investing in skills across people’s lifetimes is critical to our future productivity and success. My priority and that of the Government is for high quality apprenticeships that provide sustainable jobs and careers, supporting our transition to net zero. Skills Development Scotland has already issued contracts for the 39,000 modern apprentices who are currently in training. We are working closely and intensely with Skills Development Scotland to respond effectively to the expectations of learners and employers, and I expect it to finalise contracts for new modern apprenticeship starts imminently.
Here is what the Scottish Training Federation has said in the past hour:
“Three thousand apprentices due to start a Modern Apprenticeship this month have been left in limbo due to the current freeze on funding for new apprenticeship places. And around 1,000 employers who had planned to hire these apprentices have had to put their recruitment plans on hold.”
That is after it surveyed 1,000 employers who were planning to take on apprentices.
I know that the Scottish National Party is consumed by its internal wars, but why should thousands of young people be paying a price for the party’s incompetence and distraction? For months, the SNP has been denying that there is a freeze on apprenticeships. There is a freeze—there was a freeze last summer and there is one now.
Due to the very significant budget challenges that we face—which have much to do with the UK Government’s mismanagement of the economy—and the change of ministers, it was entirely reasonable to temporarily pause the issuing of contracts for new starts while we looked at the bigger picture. However, I am pleased to tell the chamber that we are about to green light that process. Despite the huge budgetary challenges that we face, I anticipate that the number involved will be in line with the number in 2022-23.