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Apprenticeship Levy — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:21 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 3:21 pm, 11th February 2020

I shall do my best, Ms Nokes.

I want to draw Members’ attention to a new apprenticeship training centre in my constituency at the Culham science centre, to illustrate some of the points that have been raised and to make the point that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The apprenticeship centre is in a new purpose-built building that has been paid for by the Government. It is a partnership between the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Manufacturing Technology Centre as the training provider. It offers very good apprenticeships in engineering for many high-tech industries—high-tech individual businesses in the Thames valley.

The reason that the levy comes into it is that it pays for the entire running of the centre. It also, particularly, goes to try to achieve what I think the levy was initially designed to achieve, which is social mobility. A key part of the levy has been the attempt to allow individuals to achieve the best, and to be the best that they can be. I was therefore disappointed when the Social Mobility Commission warned that we were pretty close to a two-tier system that was emerging, based on background. That is not the case in the centre in my constituency, which takes a lot of people from varied backgrounds.

It appears that since its introduction, the levy has shifted provision away from the lower-level apprenticeships that can serve as a ladder of opportunity for young people, and towards the rebadging of existing training for already highly skilled, highly paid employees. That has been described as the gaming of the system. At the same time, people from deprived communities are being squeezed out of higher-level apprenticeships. In 2015-16, before the introduction of the levy, the most deprived 20% of the population accounted for 21.9% of apprenticeship starts at level 4 or higher. By 2018-19 that figure had dropped to 16.4%. We need people who have the confidence to navigate the system and the ability to lead, so apprenticeships lead on to good jobs with progression opportunities. I think that the science centre at Culham provides that.

We have talked about a number of issues, in relation to flexibility and such things, but I will leave it at that with my remarks on social mobility. I was taught, “If you have a good point, make it and sit down,” and that is precisely what I am going to do.