Lammy and Hayes clash over NEETS and apprenticeships for young people

July 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm 2 comments

The Minister for Higher Education and his Tory shadow have clashed over which party has the best policies to help young people in the recession.

David Lammy told MPs during an opposition day debate on the issue that John Hayes had shown “a great deal of audacity by calling this debate in order to slash Train to Gain numbers to fund his half-proposals.”

Mr Hayes, Shadow Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, had opended the debate by asking Ministers “to refocus Train to Gain provision to provide 100,000 extra training places and support the thousands of apprentices who risk losing their training places during this recession.”

“I hope that Ministers will not go into denial today,” he said.

“I hope for a refreshing bout of honesty when they speak in the debate.

“If that happens, it will be clear that the number of those not in education, employment or training has grown by approximately 50,000 under Labour.

“The Government themselves class one in six 18-year-olds as NEETs (not in education, employment or training), the highest figure since records kept under the current method began in 1994.

“We are failing those youngsters—failing to give them hope, opportunity and a chance to be the best they can.

“Failing them means failing us all; it is not right that Britain’s hopes should be dashed in that way. The Government know that it is not right, and we know that they are not right for Britain.”

He quoted figures from think-thank Centre for Cities that between now and 2011, long-term youth unemployment will almost treble.

Figures for short-term unemployment show that 900,000 young people are currently unemployed, but youth unemployment is expected to exceed 1 million in 2010.

16,835 graduates—roughly 8 per cent.—were unemployed six months after finishing their degrees, compared with around 6 per cent. in the previous year.

“It is certainly time that we rejuvenated the apprenticeship system, valued practical learning and invested in vocation training,” he said.

“For too long, we have assumed that the only form of accomplishment is academic. That is not good enough; it is failing Britain and many Britons.

“We will tackle the NEETs problem head-on with a £100 million-a-year package building on best practice, which is often in the charitable, voluntary and community sectors.

“We will provide bite-sized chunks of learning so that people can engage in the education that they need in the way that is most suitable for them.

“We will provide an independent advice and guidance service with a presence in every school and college, and a high-street presence as well, to give young people the best possible advice.

“We will make apprenticeships easier by encouraging companies to run them, cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, instituting direct payments to employers, creating financial incentives for them to take on apprentices, and making more Government funding available upfront.

“We will inject £775 million in support through lifelong learning accounts to provide a careers service of the kind that I mentioned and an apprenticeship programme of which we can be proud.

“We will also put an additional fund in place: a further £100 million a year so that we can rebuild the infrastructure of adult and community learning, which has been so eroded under this Government.

“The Minister knows very well that we intend to fund that through dismantling the Government’s Train to Gain scheme.

“Although it does some good work, it is cost-ineffective, has an immensely inefficient brokerage service, and has a dead-weight cost.”

Mr Lammy attacked Mr Hayes’ speech when he replied for the government.

“We have heard nothing from the hon. Gentleman about the central issues that are important to young people in this recession,” he said.

“I thought that the Conservatives might finally be up front about the £610 million of cuts to our universities and skills budgets announced by the Leader of the Opposition in a flurry on 5 January—those cuts would have a particularly catastrophic impact on young people—but of course we heard nothing about them.

“I thought that we might hear whether the Conservatives now support our ambition to enable 50 per cent. of young people to go to university, but of course we heard nothing about that.

“I thought that we might hear whether the Conservatives now support our policy to raise the participation age in education and training to 18, but we heard nothing about that.

“I thought that we might hear whether the Conservative party will match our September guarantee of a paid-for place in education or training for every 16 and 17-year-old, but we heard nothing about that from the hon. Gentleman.”

Mr Lammy said the government has increased the number of young people going to university.

“Last year, 330,000 people from England were accepted to a university, compared with 250,000 in 1997, with the percentage of young people from the poorest backgrounds up 80 per cent. last year.

“We should never forget that the Conservative party tried to abolish apprenticeships, but now it has the brass neck to call for more apprenticeship places to be funded.

“I remember 18 months ago reminding the hon. Gentleman, across this Chamber, of the completion rates when the Conservatives were last in office, and let me remind him again: in 1997, just one quarter of apprentices completed their courses.”

For the Liberal Democrats, Stephen Williams, raised NEETs and graduate employment prospects – his Bristol West seat has a high proportion of students.

“The number of 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training has now hit 935,000—and the rise has largely been concentrated among the over-18s,” he said.

“It is important to note that only a negligible proportion of NEETs are children of graduates.

“Only 1 per cent. of the children of professional parents become NEETs, but the proportion is 7 per cent., rising to 11 per cent., among the children of those with a routine occupation.

“After 12 years of a Labour Government, we still have a fairly immobile society.”

Mr Williams said the recession was a particular blow to graduates entering the job market.

“We should remember that this cohort of new graduates are from the top-up fees generation—the first people to leave the higher education funding regime with £9,000 of fee-related debt that they will have to pay off during their working career,” he said.

“What a total change from the prospects that they thought must have been opening up in front of them back in the autumn of 2006 when they commenced their studies.”


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