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Yes, everyone has a wider responsibility to train and retain. Lifelong learning is, in fact, a mantra going back some decades.
“The Government should consider broadening the apprenticeship levy into a wider training levy. The training levy could be reconfigured to cover a much broader range of organisations…whereby all businesses with more than 50 employees would contribute, with larger businesses contributing more to the pot.”
That would allow levy funds to be used to fund people with low qualifications to access pre-apprenticeship training.
A wider problem that has affected this country for decades is overreliance on individual learners to make informed choices about their training in an environment that is not well structured and where independent advice is not freely available. Unlike much of Europe, we do not have a strong industrial sectoral voice to drive collective action from employers. To pursue the high-skills route to business success, more effort must be made to develop that voice. The Government must no longer rely on responding to individual employers and instead work to build up strong sector skills bodies, which will be more able to forecast skills needs and encourage the collective commitment to skills that we have heard about in the debate.
Sectoral institutions should include a range of key stakeholders able to build a wider commitment through an entire industry. That model is found in other western European countries, such as Germany and France, where it is common practice for employers, civil society groups and trade unions to co-operate to achieve mutually agreed goals. Achieving that requires the Government to take both a more active and a more supportive role and to devolve greater power and responsibility to key sectoral bodies. Places such as Bradford need more tools and resource to close the productivity gap with London. Investing more in skills and devolving more to our cities would be a significant step forward in building an economy that works for everyone.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to answer my questions about apprenticeships and skills. In particular, will the Government reduce the administrative burden and the costs of operating the apprenticeship system to the pre-May 2017 levels? What will she do to address the regional imbalances that are built into the apprenticeship levy? Does she intend to develop a strong sectoral voice to articulate and stimulate the demand for skills?
If we get the skills policy right, we can give young people the tools they need to secure high-quality jobs, and we can boost productivity and rebalance the economy so that it works for all places and all people in our country. That must be our absolute priority, and I hope that today’s debate and the Minister’s responses will contribute to getting that right. Finally, I would like to place on record my thanks to the Minister for her welcome interventions in helping to secure a future for Bradford College. I very much look forward to working with her.