With the government attempting to hide or downplay the scale of their funding cuts, there is a huge gulf between rhetoric and reality on apprenticeships, says David Lammy.
During the course of the parliamentary debate on apprenticeship funding cuts on November 1, I mentioned cuts 30 times. I brought up local figures and evidence from the College of North East London in my own constituency of Tottenham and I quoted national averages and presented figures for worst- and best-case scenarios.
I even referred to calculations that had been presented to the Department for Education a few days previously, showing how nine out of the 10 most popular apprenticeships still face cuts ranging from 14 to 51 per cent – despite the government’s U-turn.
I will not stand by as the government presses ahead with cuts on this scale
But answer came there none. I was stonewalled. The apprenticeships and skills minister did not see fit even to mention “cuts” once in his speech. I accused him of hoodwinking the House – and this is not an accusation I make lightly – but given the nature of what is at stake, I repeat again that the minister is misleading us and the young people of this country deserve better.
The minister told us that “we are moving into a new world”. The fact of the matter is that – according to his government’s own latest statistics – less than one per cent of all apprenticeship starts are on the new standards, with 99 per cent still on the existing apprenticeship frameworks that are being cut. The government has a target of three million apprenticeships starts by 2020, but in 2015/16 only 3,800 of 503,700 starts are on the standards. The new world we are promised is a long way off.
Mr Halfon told us that “huge amounts of money are going into support for disadvantaged apprentices”, yet back in August the government quietly scrapped the “disadvantage uplift” in its entirety. The recent U-turn guaranteed support for only 12 months, and during the minister’s remarks in parliament no guarantees were made about what the government plans to do after this initial grace period has passed.
My message is clear: the fight goes on
I do not doubt the minister’s commitment to apprenticeships, but if we are to believe the government’s rhetoric about “transforming the country into an apprenticeship nation”, why was parliament not given the opportunity to debate and vote on these cuts?
Why did it take a determined backbench campaign by 55 members of parliament for this issue even to be discussed in parliament in the first place?
I acknowledge that the recent U-turn goes some way to mitigating the worst effects of the reductions, but I will not stand by as the government presses ahead with cuts on this scale without even having the guts to come to parliament and come clean about their magnitude.
Across nine out of the 10 most popular apprenticeships, we are now staring down the barrel of average cuts of between 27 per cent and 43 per cent. These cuts won’t affect young people lucky enough to have been born into wealthy families, or those who are lucky enough to be educated at our best schools.
They will hit young people in constituencies like mine, where youth unemployment is high, skilled jobs are hard to come by and buzzwords like “life chances” and “social mobility” couldn’t be further removed from the reality of everyday life.
The government publishes statements saying that “apprenticeships transform lives and are vital in making this a country that works for everyone” while simultaneously dismantling apprenticeships funding.
There is a huge gulf between rhetoric and reality, and it is always working class young people who lose out. My message is clear: the fight goes on.
David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham