How Labour councils are boosting apprenticeships

Labour authorities have responded to Ed Miliband’s call last year to enhance and advance the vocational route for young people.

Labour has a proud record on apprenticeships - we championed them throughout our time in office, establishing National Apprenticeship Week and boosting the number of starts, which quadrupled over the period.

Last year in his speech to party conference, Ed Miliband put apprenticeships centre stage in his vision of supporting the forgotten 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university. That’s why we have set up our One Nation Skills Taskforce, comprised of leading representatives from business, education and trade unions, who have been looking at how best to take this agenda forward.

Apprenticeships are front and centre of our agenda for office and we’ve put forward plans to use the money which government already spends through procurement to create more apprenticeship opportunities. This builds on the approach we brought forward in government where major public sector contracts such as Building Schools for the Future and the Kickstart housing scheme all created significant numbers of new apprenticeship places. We even brought our plans to a vote in Parliament urging ministers to adopt this proactive approach but the Tory-led government voted them down.

We recognise that local government is key to delivering the step change we need. That’s why I, together with shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, worked closely with The Smith Institute on a recent report which brings together best practice examples from 17 Labour local authorities leading the way on apprenticeships. 

All the councils featured are pushing forward this agenda in bold and innovative ways. For example, my own local authority in Blackpool have put apprenticeships at the heart of their youth employment programme. The council has been working closely with Blackpool and the Fylde College to reach out to local businesses and explain the range of incentives and support on offer if they take on apprentices.

A number of authorities are using their procurement spend to create new apprenticeship places. Manchester City Council is actively encouraging businesses within its supply chain to take on young apprentices with 66 young people being taken on as apprentices working on the Town Hall extension. Sandwell Council is using section 106 planning agreements in major public contracts to create new apprenticeships, with a target of 198 places over the next three years. Both Sheffield and Leeds City Councils have put obligations of offer apprenticeships for firms winning procurement contracts worth over £100,000.

Working closely with businesses is key to create new opportunities. Camden Council has been using the King’s Cross Construction Centre, which it set up in 2004, to work closely with large contractors to ensure apprenticeships are created on the major King’s Cross Central development – 58 young people started apprenticeships there between January and March this year.

Encouraging smaller firms to take on apprentices is key to improving the number of places available - Wakefield Council worked with 64 local small firms to create 197 apprenticeship placements, while Kirklees Council has dedicated significant resources into giving businesses a clear and easy to access apprenticeship offer.

Labour local authorities are also taking on new apprentices directly themselves. Newcastle City Council has over a hundred working across a wide range of disciplines. Plymouth City Council have doubled the number of apprentices at the council to 70 over the last year. Lewisham Council have taken on 74 apprentices this year and have developed structured career paths for them all.

The case studies detailed above are just a small sample of the submissions that have come in from the seventeen Labour local authorities we heard from. This report is an excellent showcase of the action which Labour authorities are already taking to address Ed Miliband’s call last year to enhance and advance the vocational route for young people.

The report also shows very real success that can be achieved working across the board at local level with councils engaging with colleges, LEPs, businesses and existing union learning initiatives - this is precisely the approach Labour would adopt in government.

Gordon Marsden is shadow minister for further education, skills and regional growth and MP for Blackpool South

A delegate waves a flag at the Labour Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 1, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

Gordon Marsden is shadow minister for further education, skills and regional growth and MP for Blackpool South

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.