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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:57 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 2:57 pm, 8th January 2019

There has been a slightly unpleasant anti-London undercurrent to the debate, with talk about this proud metropolis sucking in all the apprenticeship levies and doing better than other parts of the country. I want to talk about one sector that is reflective of the whole United Kingdom, from Northern Ireland to every other part of the nation, which is the ornamental horticulture and landscaping sector. In our modern workforce, we have this extraordinary problem of a skills shortage. Lest anyone think that ornamental horticulture and landscaping is a minor add-on to the economy, it contributed £24.2 billion to GDP in 2017 and supports 568,000 jobs. It is a crucial sector, but we have a terrible skills shortage. In the absence of Rebecca Pow, I pay credit to her work on the all-party parliamentary gardening and horticulture group, particularly the report it produced last year. I know the Minister is familiar with it and received several copies. I am sure she has many a spare hour in the lonely garret of the Ministry when she is looking for some exciting reading, and the APPG’s report will provide that.

The great joy of horticulture, particularly in the fields of ornamental horticulture and landscaping, is that it offers a route into a skilled profession. Someone who has an aptitude for ornamental horticulture and landscaping—they do not necessarily have to have an enormous amount of academic qualifications, although they help—can access that strand and grow within it and become virtually anything. There is no limit to what someone can achieve. Capability Brown started somewhere. I am not entirely sure where, but it was probably in London, judging from comments today.

We would like to see the Government doing a few things. The Minister will be aware of the modest Christmas wish list, which we have already sent her copies of, but we need to better promote roles in ornamental horticulture and landscaping. People do not understand what the roles are, and we can do much better. There is a lack of horticulture education in UK schools. Current careers advice—I cast no aspersions against present or former careers advisers; they are without a doubt a fine body of women and men—is not giving students knowledge about the sector, which is crying out for entry-level people to work in it. Many would love the idea of an outdoor, creative job that brings about some product at the end of the day—something that they can show and be proud of. We as Members of Parliament are often denied that pleasure, but people who work in horticulture and landscaping certainly have it. The severe skills gap has a knock-on effect for the economy and the environment. When it comes to managing the environment, we need people with knowledge, particularly in landscaping. There is so much that can be done.

I draw the Minister’s attention to a mere two of the recommendations in the APPG report issued in October last year. One is to ask the Government to

“work with sector leaders to promote horticulture as a highly skilled and desirable industry to enter, through encouraging the inclusion of horticulture within the national curriculum…and providing more high-quality horticulture advice through the National Careers Service.”

Recommendation 8 was for the Government to adequately fund FE training, and I think we are as one in this room on that demand. We all call for that. That recommendation also calls on the Government

“to adequately fund FE training in horticulture to ensure the consistent delivery of high-quality training…the Government should ensure the Apprenticeship Levy is more flexible…to fund the work experience requirement of the T Levels and short-term traineeships.”

I am acutely aware of the strictures of time, Sir David, and I am grateful for your typical generosity, so I will conclude. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South has raised a crucial issue. If we do not get things right, we will fail a future generation and a future workforce. I am probably one of the older people in the room. The days when people could leave school at 15, work for the same company for 50 years, have 10 years of retirement and then drop dead are long gone. My son and daughter will probably have 15 or 20 different jobs in their lifetime. People dip in and dip out of different jobs, but they have to have the skills and training. They no longer have a job they can do simply out of sheer muscle. Those days of mass employment are gone.

Nowadays, we are a highly skilled, specialised economy, and highly skilled, specialised workers will not grow on trees. They have to be nurtured, encouraged, supported and financed and their worth has to be recognised. Today’s debate fires the starting gun on that process. It shows how, with a growing GDP and a more skilled, more flexible workforce with areas of expertise growing from FE and careers advice in schools, we can make not only the workforce happier and more productive, but the country a better place. It is not a bad ambition.