Bradford South MP Judith Cummins called for a “radical overhaul” of the country’s skills policy to rebalance the economy and boost prosperity in Bradford.
Judith secured a debate on apprenticeships and skills policy in Westminster Hall and laid out the challenges facing places like Bradford and how government action was needed to support disadvantaged young people, train workers for the economy of the future, and to close the productivity gap with London.
“If we get the skills policy right, we can give young people the tools they need to secure high quality jobs, we can boost productivity, and we can rebalance the economy so that it works for all places and people in our country,” Judith said. “This must be our absolute priority.”
The MP praised Bradford’s proud heritage and strong current manufacturing sector, but highlighted the “interconnected problems of low skills and low wages” holding the city back and preventing people from accessing good quality, well-paid and secure jobs.
Bradford businesses and education providers have raised concerns with Judith about the operation of the Apprenticeship Levy, which was introduced in May 2017, regarding its complexity and cost.
Nationally total apprenticeship starts were 25,200 in July 2018 - a 43 per cent drop from July 2016. In Bradford South apprenticeship starts have fallen from 1,370 in 2015/2016 to 680 in 2017/2018 - a drop of almost 50 per cent.
Judith also explained how the levy was contributing to further regional imbalances, as more funding is raised in London, despite it having the lowest skill need in the country - and said more needed to be done to build up strong sector skills bodies, as in much of Europe, to forecast skills needs, rather than relying on under-informed individual learners making choices.
“So if we are to rebalance our economy we urgently need to see reforms to the apprenticeship levy to ensure that it benefits the needs of the most disadvantaged areas and those with a legacy of underinvestment such as my constituency of Bradford South,” Judith said.
She backed the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2017 report, which said unused levy funds could be targeted at regions that have fewer high-level apprenticeships.
Judith said: “We need a more radical overhaul of our skills policy to help places like Bradford get the growth in prosperity we deserve. We have the situation whereby public policy, whether it be intentional or unintentional has turbo-charged the London economy, to the detriment of other towns and cities outside London.
“Government needs to address the failure, over decades, to tackle persistent regional skills imbalances. We need to have a mechanism to support industries and individuals in areas that are facing economic decline and that need help to adapt to the demands of the global economy.
“The jobs of the future will require workers to work more closely with advanced technologies. Workers will need support to adapt and to retrain in order to secure decent and sustainable work. Otherwise we will be facing a lasting legacy of low qualifications, low productivity and low pay in many places across the UK.”