A Yorkshire MP has called for a “radical overhaul” of the country’s skills policy to rebalance the economy and boost prosperity in disadvantaged towns and cities across the North.
Bradford South MP Judith Cummins told a Westminster debate that “interconnected problems of low skills and low wages” were holding the city back and preventing people from accessing good quality, well-paid and secure jobs.
After securing a Westminster Hall debate on apprenticeships and skills policy, the Labour MP criticised the complexity and cost of the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy, a tax on employers which can be used to fund apprenticeship training.
She said local firms and education providers had raised concerns about the way the scheme was run, with the number of apprenticeships in her constituency falling from 1,370 in 2015/2016 to 680 in 2017/2018.
And she claimed the levy was contributing to regional imbalances, with more funding raised in London despite it having the lowest requirement for skills in the country.
She said: “We need a more radical overhaul of our skills policy to help places like Bradford get the growth in prosperity we deserve. We have the situation whereby public policy, whether it be intentional or unintentional has turbo-charged the London economy, to the detriment of other towns and cities outside London.
“Government needs to address the failure, over decades, to tackle persistent regional skills imbalances. We need to have a mechanism to support industries and individuals in areas that are facing economic decline and that need help to adapt to the demands of the global economy.”
Education Minister Anne Milton said the debate about apprenticeships was “not just about numbers, it is about quality”.
She added: “Before the reforms, a lot of people doing apprenticeships did not even know that they were on them. It was a way of bringing in cheap labour, and we wanted to change that. “It is not surprising that the starts went down to begin with, because it was a very big change, but they are now
rising, and that rise has been significant at level 4, level 5 and above.”