Ed Miliband pledges 80,000 extra apprenticeships a year in England

16.02.2015 14:58

Ed Miliband has pledged that Labour
would create an extra 80,000 high-quality
apprenticeships a year in England, as he
spelled out the party’s business policy.
Labour proposed an apprenticeship
guarantee, by which every school leaver
who gets the grades would be able to begin
a high-quality apprenticeship.
The offer is part of a wider productivity
plan, which would also require large firms
hiring skilled workers from outside the EU
to create 100,000 apprenticeships over the
parliament, a move that would inevitably
increase the cost of hiring foreign workers.
Labour claimed that it would develop an
extra 80,000 apprenticeships a year in
England by the end of the next parliament,
and says the offer should be seen as a
parallel to the way in which students who
get good academic grades can go to
university. A new civil service
apprenticeship scheme would be
introduced, and companies bidding for
large government contracts would be
required to offer apprenticeships. Some
estimates suggest that the investment in
HS2 rail infrastructure could alone create
33,000 apprenticeships.
Labour promised that all apprenticeships
would be level 3 qualifications or above,
last for at least two years and focus on new
job entrants.
Miliband, speaking at Jaguar Land Rover
in Wolverhampton, also offered employers
more control over how the government
spends the near-£1bn-a-year
apprenticeship budget, in return for
guaranteeing more high-quality training
places in their sectors and supply chains.
A Conservative spokesman said 2.1 million
apprenticeships had been created since
the coalition came to power, and the
majority of people had been under 25, with
an average of 87,000 more young people a
year taking this route into work than under
the last Labour government.
A majority Conservative government has
already promised to create 3 million more
apprenticeships by 2020.
Miliband complained that at present just
one in 10 employers in England offers an
apprenticeship, saying this is six times
fewer high-quality apprenticeships than
Germany. His commitment is part of a new
industrial strategy designed to underline
the party’s commitment to improving
growth and UK productivity. It represents
Labour’s response to the long-term
economic plan, the centrepiece of the
Conservative campaign.
It came as parts of the media tried to detail
differences within the party over whether
it is necessary to ask for receipts from
traders to reduce the size of the black
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said it
was advisable to keep receipts, but other
shadow cabinet members tried to play
down his remarks, which were condemned
as absurd by Iain Duncan Smith, the work
and pensions secretary. Chuka Umunna,
the shadow business secretary, said there
was no right answer to the question on tax
receipts and described the whole issue as a
storm in a teacup.
Miliband said he would strengthen
Britain’s training infrastructure by
introducing a universal gold standard for
apprenticeships and ring-fencing the
further education budget to support
reform of colleges into new institutes of
technical education.
He said: “Our plan is based on the idea
that it is only when Britain’s working
families succeed that Britain succeeds. Not
the old idea that it is only from the top
down that wealth flows. And it is only our
plan that recognises that every person in
every sector of the economy is a wealth
The plan in outline has the support of Lord
Mandelson, the former business secretary,
who sees the bulk of the policy similar to
the industrial activism he championed in
the last years of the Brown government.
Miliband will not recoil from the debate
about the tax avoidance, despite the recent
criticism of the tax arrangements of some
Labour donors. He said: “There has been
lots of debate about tax avoidance in the
last few weeks. And nothing more
symbolises their failing plan than seeing
the tax gap – between what should be paid
and the revenue received – widening while
the number of apprenticeships available
for young people fell in the last year.
“We need a better plan to replace an
economy where tens of billions are lost in
tax avoidance, with an economy where tens
of thousands more of our young people are
doing apprenticeships and we help more
businesses grow, succeed and create
The plan claims it can fund the additional
places by reversing the Tories’ rebadging
of in-work training schemes for existing
employees. Labour said research by the
business department confirms that two-
thirds of employers recruiting apprentices
from existing staff do not consider their
qualifications to be apprenticeships at all,
and this number is increasing.
It adds that the proportion of
apprenticeship starts made by 16-to-24-
year-olds has fallen significantly, from
82.3% when the last Labour government
left office to 63.2% last year. 93% of
apprentices over 25 years old already
worked for their employer before starting
their apprenticeship. This raises concerns
that existing in-work training programmes
have simply been rebadged as