That is a very interesting and pertinent point. I know that some apprenticeships are paid so poorly and offer so little training—apprenticeships are supposed to be jobs with training—that they are not really worth the paper that they are written on. In my view, they should not be called apprenticeships.
At a local level, a significant amount of work is under way to meet the challenges that I have spoken about, with the Bradford Economic Partnership setting out a local economic strategy with a focus on increasing the number of productive businesses in the district through investing in skills provision.
We recently had Bradford manufacturing week, which I was delighted to support. It aimed to show the young people in Bradford the many exciting opportunities in manufacturing that are right on their doorstep to get them thinking about the skills that they will need for the future. Over half of our secondary schools took part. In just one week more than 3,000 children crossed the doors to get that first-hand manufacturing experience in workplaces.
Another exciting area of work that is being developed locally in Bradford involves the industrial centres of excellence—or ICE—approach to post-14 careers and technical education. ICE gives business a partnership vehicle with local schools, colleges and the University of Bradford to ensure that education and learning in Bradford meet the skills demands of businesses in the local and regional economy within given sector footprints, which opens up opportunities for our young people and improves social mobility.
Those centres are good examples of how schemes that are locally led can deliver for businesses and encourage social mobility. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss them further with the Minister, but Government policy is making it more difficult for places such as Bradford to bring about a transformative change in their labour markets. I will start with the specific issues that Bradford businesses and education providers have raised with me about the operation of the apprenticeship levy.
I fully support the principles behind the levy, but its implementation has compounded the problems of underinvestment in training rather than improving the situation. As the Minister will be aware, the apprenticeship levy aims to encourage employers to invest in apprenticeship programmes, but apprenticeship starts have been significantly down since the introduction of the levy in May 2017. In July 2018, the total number of apprenticeship starts nationally was 25,200.