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

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle