Apprenticeships and Skills Policy — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 2:30 pm, 8th January 2019

I beg to move that,

This House has considered apprenticeships and skills policy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir David. The title of the debate is as broad as possible so that colleagues may join in and give their own perspective. I will address the problems in the apprenticeship levy and regional skills imbalances in our country; the mismatch between the skills system and the needs of the economy; and the need to give tools to places such as Bradford to help us to close the productivity gap between us and London.

In June last year, I held a business and jobs roundtable in my constituency. Business leaders and representatives of trade unions, the Bradford Economic Partnership, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Bradford University and Bradford College all attended, as well as my hon. Friend Peter Dowd. The overall theme for the roundtable was how we could boost economic opportunity for all in Bradford South. Although the discussion ranged over a number of issues, a significant amount of time was spent discussing schools, training and apprenticeships. Later in my speech, I will address the specific issue of the apprenticeship levy, but first I will briefly outline the challenges and opportunities facing Bradford.

Bradford is a great northern city with a proud industrial heritage. That heritage was created by successful businesses, which used new technologies and the city’s pioneering drive to build a world-leading economy. We are still home to many successful and enterprising businesses. In my constituency of Bradford South, we have a strong manufacturing sector. Bradford has 1,200 manufacturing businesses, employing more than 25,000 people in the district, which accounts for 13% of all employees locally compared with 8.3% for Great Britain as a whole.

We face a significant challenge with the interconnected problems of low skills and low wages, and I will give a few figures relating to my constituency to illustrate that. In Bradford South, 15% of the working-age population have no qualifications compared with the UK average of 8%; 14% of our working-age population are qualified to degree level and above, compared with 31% nationally; Bradford South has 600 jobs per 1,000 people in the working-age population, compared with 840 nationally; average weekly workplace earnings stood at £480 in April 2018, compared with a UK average of £570; and Bradford South ranks 520th out of 533 constituencies in England in the social mobility index from the House of Commons Library. Many people in my constituency do not have the skills they would need to access good-quality, well-paid and secure jobs.