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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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.