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I thank my hon. Friend Judith Cummins for securing this important and timely debate.
The future of our country depends on how well we are able to equip younger generations to face the challenges ahead. An effective apprenticeships and skills policy is crucial to closing the productivity gap and boosting our competitiveness globally. As we face critical questions about our trading relationships with the rest of the world post Brexit, it is important now more than ever to reflect on the skills we want the workforce of tomorrow to have. Sadly, eight years of Tory Government have been eight long years of failing to invest properly in young people. Members need not just take my word for it: at the last election, the Tories lagged 40 percentage points behind Labour among voters aged 18 to 24. That says it all. Young people know that they are being poorly prepared for a jobs market that is increasingly fragmented and insecure.
Small businesses also suffer as a result of inadequate education and training policy. Anyone with a background in business will know that having a skilled, well-trained workforce is indispensable to long-term success. However, research published by the Federation of Small Businesses suggests that too many small businesses are struggling to fill skilled jobs, with almost a third of recruiting firms facing skills shortages. In a report on England’s qualifications gap last year, the London School of Economics revealed that skilled trades comprise nearly half—43%—of all occupations reporting skill-shortage vacancies.
The apprenticeship levy is a welcome measure, but it only begins to address the scale of the problem. Measures must be taken to ensure that the levy funds apprenticeships of a high quality. Labour has proposed achieving that by requiring the Institute for Apprenticeships to report annually to the Secretary of State on the quality of outcomes of completed apprenticeships. In that way we can ensure that it delivers skilled workers for employers and real jobs for apprentices at the end of their training. Does the Minister support the proposals and, if not, will she clarify what measures the Government are taking to oversee the delivery of high-quality apprenticeships?