17:48 Thursday 31st January 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: The Labour Leader Ed Miliband says HS2, which is the high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham to Manchester and to Leeds presents a major opportunity to offer apprenticeships, to help young people who can’t find work benefit from this massive civil engineering project. Labour’s plan is to say that every big firm that gets a contract with the Government must make a clear commitment to training young people for higher skilled jobs as part of the overall project. The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg joined me earlier to explain the idea. (TAPE)
STEPHEN TWIGG: We want to see more high quality apprenticeships for young people as they leave school or college. And what Ed Miliband has said today is the High Speed Rail project is an extraordinary opportunity to create thousands of high quality apprenticeships for young people in the future.
CHRIS MANN: Well how’s that going to work?
STEPHEN TWIGG: It’s been valued that the programme for High Speed Rail will be something like £33 billion. What experts tell us is that if you have a big project like that, for every million that you spend, you can create an apprenticeship. So we’re looking at 33,000 apprenticeship opportunities. This could be engineering apprenticeships. It could be construction apprenticeships. It could be administration apprenticeships. Lots of different areas of work. In a time when we have nearly a million young people unemployed, this is a very exciting opportunity for the future.
CHRIS MANN: Bit simplistic, isn’t it? Surely what the firms are going to do is just stick it on your bills. You’ll end up paying more at the end of it.
STEPHEN TWIGG: Well I think we pay more if we allow a generation of young people to be unemployed. Obviously we’re not saying the only way that we’re going to create new apprenticeships is through High Speed Rail, which doesn’t even start for a number of years, and we have a youth unemployment crisis today. I want to see similar apprenticeship guarantees in house building programmes, in school building programmes, and in other areas. I go round the country all the time, and see fantastic examples of local authorities, local businesses, that are workinbg hard now to create those additional apprenticeships.
CHRIS MANN: I repeat my question. My point is that if you say to a firm, you’ve got to have a certain number of apprenticeships if you want a Government contract, they’re just going to stick it on your bill.
STEPHEN TWIGG: But the bill is there. Those young people are there. If they’re not doing apprenticeships, they’re unemployed, they’re getting benefit. It’s surely much better that we invest both through Government and through employers in apprentices, so that they gain the skills and the experience to be the workforce of the future. Other countries with frankly far more successful economies than ours, like Germany and Switzerland, have been doing this for decades. We’ve got to play catch up on this.
CHRIS MANN: It’s a bit random. I mean over here in the East we’re not too happy with HS2. We’re waiting for investment into our roads and our rails here, and you’re talking about helping out a project which is nothing to do with us. So the apprenticeships would go elsewhere as well. It’s a double whammy against us isn’t it?
STEPHEN TWIGG: There is a huge national benefit from HS2, both those along the route but also I think for our wider economy. We are illustrating a point about apprenticeships with the HS2 example, but we want to see all public contracts of a significant amount having apprenticeships. So if there are new schools or colleges being created in Cambridge, absolutely right that apprenticeships should be part of that. It’s not just about HS2.
CHRIS MANN: Well we have apprenticeships here. What’s wrong with them?
STEPHEN TWIGG: Well most apprenticeships are fine. Unfortunately what we’ve seen happen over recent years is some very short training courses being described as apprenticeships. I want us to be in a position where apprenticeships have very high status. The Government commissioned a report, the Richard Review, that published before Christmas, and that proposed that apprenticeships should be of a minimum of a year. I think those sorts of changes need to be made. And in my experience, most business organisations think that’s a very good argument.
CHRIS MANN: Isn’t that a bit rich coming from you? After all, you had the Government for ten, eleven years. What did you do about apprenticeships then? It’s been sorted since you left power.
STEPHEN TWIGG: We did a lot to expand the number of apprenticeships. But I think ..
CHRIS MANN: But more’s been done since, hasn’t it?
STEPHEN TWIGG: I think what we’ve seen is an increase in the number of apprenticeships that started before 2010 and has continued since. Though actually today the Government’s new apprenticeship figures show a fall over the last twelve months in the total number of apprenticeships. And the biggest fall os amongst young people. So I think there is a lot more to be done on numbers, but I’m concerned, as well as numbers, that we get the quality of apprenticeships right. And I absolutely accept we didn’t do enough on the quality of spprenticeships when we were in Government.
CHRIS MANN: So it’s a bit rich to hear this from you know, when the Government is trying to build apprenticeship schemes as we speak.
STEPHEN TWIGG: Well we’ve seen today figures that show a fall in the number of apprenticeships over the last year. The biggest fall is amongst young people. We have almost a million young people unemployed. I would like a cross-party consensus on apprenticeships if we can get it. That’s what they have in countries like Germany and Switzerland.
CHRIS MANN: But if you’re proposing a scheme as you’re talking about with HS2, which is a bit random, and is not really focused on those ..
STEPHEN TWIGG: Why do you think it’s random? Why is it random?
CHRIS MANN: Because you picked on ..
STEPHEN TWIGG: It’s a massive programme, a massive programme that can create lots of apprenticeships.
CHRIS MANN: You picked on a subject that was just raised earlier in the week, and tried to tag your policy on to it. It seems random to me frankly. And what people really need surely is meaningful apprenticeships, not ones that are just attached to a project which, as you admitted yourself, is 20 years in the future.
STEPHEN TWIGG: Well I don’t think it’s going to start twenty years in the future. I think it would be very meaningful to have apprenticeships attached to such an enormous programme. But we’re absolutely not saying that these apprenticeships would only be to do with HS2. We want them now. A lot of Labour councils around the country including Liverpool where I’m a Member of Parliament are taking the lead on apprenticeships already at a local level. What I want is for an apprenticeship to have a goal standard value. Many apprenticeships at the moment do, but some others don’t. And we want to ensure that all of them have that high standard. That’s right for employers ..
CHRIS MANN: But what we need is meaningful ones, that are actually going to get somewhere .. jobs.
STEPHEN TWIGG: That’s exactly what I mean. Yes. When I say gold standard, I mean meaningful. And you’re absolutely right. The jobs have got to be there at the end of it. So getting the training and the education, the apprenticeships right is half of the equation. Getting jobs and growth back into our economy is the other half of the equation. You’ve got to do both. And of course the Government isn’t doing the second of those things.
CHRIS MANN: Stephen Twigg, thank you for joining me.