Final polls of the campaign point to a hung parliament

Final pre-election polls show the Tories around 30 seats short of a majority.

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1273093737947

Latest poll (ComRes/Independent) Conservatives 27 seats short of a majority.

22:05 UPDATE: The final poll of the night, a ComRes survey for the Independent, has the Tories unchanged on 37 per cent, Labour down one to 28 per cent and the Lib Dems up two to 28 per cent.

So, assuming a uniform swing, all of the polls published tonight point to a hung parliament. There's no sign of a late Tory surge but I expect the Conservatives will be fairly satisfied. They are confident that their strength in the marginals will give them more seats than national polls suggest.

The Tories are all but certain to emerge as the single largest party on Friday but unless, against expectations, they perform well in the Lib Dem marginals, I can't see them winning an overall majority.

If Cameron ends up around 20 seats short of a majority, I expect him to attempt to lead a minority government with the support of the DUP and other minority parties. If the shortfall is more like 30-40 then he will have no choice but to negotiate with the Lib Dems.

21:50 UPDATE: ICM for the Guardian has the Tories up three to 36 per cent, Labour unchanged on 28 per cent and the Lib Dems down two to 26 per cent.

20:06 UPDATE: It looks as if last night's YouGov poll, which had the Lib Dems way down on 24 per cent, was an outlier. Tonight's has them back up fourpoints to 28 per cent, with Labour down two to 28 per cent and the Tories unchanged on 35 per cent.

There's no sign of a late Conservative surge tonight but these polls are far from encouraging for Labour. Most show them level-pegging with the Lib Dems and two put Nick Clegg's party in front.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1273093992405

Hung parliament, Conservatives 27 seats short of a majority.

UPDATE: The latest Angus Reid/PoliticalBetting poll has the Tories up 1 to 36 per cent, the Lib Dems unchanged on 29 per cent and Labour up 1 to just 24 per cent. As ever, Gordon Brown will be hoping that Mike Smithson's golden rule -- that the poll with Labour in the worst position is normally the most accurate -- does not hold this time.

UPDATE: Populus for the Times has topline figures of Con 37 per cent (+1), Lab 28 per cent (+1) and Lib Dems 27 per cent (-1). On a uniform swing, that result would leave Cameron 24 seats short, a legislative handicap he would hope to overcome with the help of the DUP and others.

The first two polls of the night are out and both point to a hung parliament. An Opinium poll for the Daily Express has the Tories on 35 per cent (+2), Labour on 27 per cent (+1) and the Lib Dems on 26 per cent (-1). If repeated at the election on a uniform swing, that result would leave David Cameron 38 seats short of a majority.

Meanwhile, a new TNS BRMB poll puts the Tories down one to 33 per cent, with the Lib Dems also down one to 29 per cent and Labour unchanged on 27 per cent. On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Cameron 57 seats short of a majority.

So, like other recent polls, both suggest that the yellow tide is receding. That said, it's worth remembering how few expected to see any poll put the Lib Dems ahead of Labour the day before the election.

I'm expecting a glut of polls tonight, so stay tuned for updates throughout the evening.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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A good apprenticeship is about more than box-ticking

The political apprenticeships arms race, promising ever increasing numbers of apprenticeships but with little focus on quality, is helping nobody. 

The political apprenticeships arms race, promising ever increasing numbers of apprenticeships but with little focus on quality, is helping nobody. Playing a numbers game often means the quality and the personal touch that turns a placement into a career opportunity can be lost. The government has set a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020. In London Boris Johnson set a target for 250,000 apprentice starts, but fell short by over 100,000. Both targets miss the point; any target should focus on outcomes, not just numbers through the door.

Policy makers need to step back from the rigid frameworks and see what works on the ground.  For me this involved eating a bacon sandwich, which is arguably a risky exercise for politicians.  I was seeing how the owner of the Bermondsey Community Kitchen and Café, Mike, has transformed the space above his café into a training kitchen teaching young unemployed people the skills they need to gain qualifications to work in restaurants.

The posters on the wall spell out the choices available to the young people. They make it explicitly clear that there is an alternative to a life in prison, which some of the trainee chefs have already experienced, with pictures of celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith and Gordon Ramsay outlining how they worked their way to where they are now. None of the young people have had an easy start in life. Barriers they face include autism, lack of literacy skills, insufficient funds to pay the fare to the café and criminal records. But Mike and the team running the kitchen are determined to give them the chances every young person deserves. From City & Guilds qualifications, work placements and ensuring they have a job at the end of the process, this is the type of grass roots project that the government could learn from. With two groups of eight students over three half days, this is skills training that is about as personal as it gets. The young people are enthusiastic about the course, the practical skills they are learning and optimistic about the future.

The project is funded partly through the café, but mainly through grants and donations (including pots and pans from Raymond Blanc and funding from trusts as well as the local council). Mike has plans to expand. He wants premises with space for a nursery so young mothers who might otherwise struggle to complete a course can attend, he has a vision for two or three more similar enterprises across Southwark. I have no doubt he will achieve this but the challenge for policy makers is making it easier for people like Mike who are delivering flexible qualifications and delivering better results. Bureaucratic processes, lengthy forms and refusals would have put less determined people off. As the funding for skills is devolved, there is both an opportunity and a challenge to look at how innovative models can be supported. Unless more is done to ensure groups that might be defined as ‘hard to reach’ get opportunities, there will always be significant numbers falling through the gaps in a sometimes impersonal system.

Over 60 per cent of the apprenticeships in London focus on low level qualifications with little prospect of employment upon completion. Many skills based apprenticeships fail to match demand, the booming construction industry for example is crying out for skilled workers and with all parties agreeing new homes are a priority its surprising to learn that in London only 3 per cent of apprenticeships are in construction.

Apprenticeships need to focus on leading to work, and work that is skilled and pays enough to live on. They should be about opportunity not opportunistic employers. In a report published in October 2015, Ofsted was critical of apprenticeships saying too many of them ‘do not provide sufficient training that stretches the apprentices and improves their capabilities. Instead they frequently are being used as a means of accrediting existing low-level skills, like making coffee and cleaning floors.’

The new apprenticeship levy charged to businesses with a wage bill over a certain amount could be a useful way of enhancing opportunities but the definition of apprenticeship needs to be refined. On a recent visit to the iconic Brompton Bikes factory, the London Assembly Economy Committee was told that although the firm has to pay the new levy as a result of its size, they have a bespoke way of training their apprenticeships so they have the skills to get jobs with Brompton Bikes at the end of the process. Because this tailored training doesn’t meet the narrow government criteria they aren’t formally accredited apprenticeships and thus Brompton are unable to claim any funding back from government despite their excellent work.

I am increasingly frustrated that the most exciting and inspiring projects I visit don’t always meet the criteria for funding. We are doing something wrong if people are asked to fit something that works into a form that meets criteria rather than rewarding their successes. Instead huge amounts of public money are being put into funding low quality low skilled apprenticeships that sometimes appear to be more about avoiding the minimum wage. This is not just a waste of money; it is a waste of the lives of the young people. As the Bermondsey fishmonger we bumped in to on the way out of the café told us, sometimes what works is smashing the box, not ticking the box.