MP calls on the Government to make it easier for small firms to take on apprentices

Neil Parish welcomes the increase in the number of apprenticeships and calls on the Government to make it easier for small and micro-businesses to take on apprentices by reducing red-tape and bureaucracy.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), who rightly pointed out that although we are all supposed to be on holiday, attendance among hon. Members has been very good this evening because we realise how important this issue is. I thank the Minister very much for his earlier statement about apprenticeships and the fact that we are nearly doubling them. I shall give some figures from my constituency, although I cannot quite beat the percentage increase that my hon. Friend has seen in Burton. We had 580 apprenticeships last year, which is going up this year to 780—nearly 800—so we are going in completely the right direction.I want to make a plea to the Minister. It is good that larger businesses are taking on apprentices, but some 50% of the private sector economy comprises small companies and micro-businesses, and they take on only about 2% of the apprentices throughout the country. It is important that we get that figure up. We must ensure that apprenticeship schemes are worth while, but we must also ensure that they are not so burdensome or beset by red tape and bureaucracy that small companies will not use them. Small companies and micro-businesses are personal concerns that someone has built up, and if a young person can work every day with the person running the company, that will be important not only for building the business but for building up a relationship that could lead to the business taking on an extra employee. It would therefore help tremendously if more small businesses could be persuaded to take on apprentices.Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): One of the biggest challenges that micro-businesses face is that of accessing information on providing an apprenticeship. In previous debates, I have called on the Minister to provide such information in the annual business rates mail-out, setting out just how easy it is to offer those opportunities, which are good for the business and good for the apprentice.Neil Parish: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Individuals in small and micro-businesses usually work very hard and do not have much time to look through such information, and they certainly do not have anyone else to deal with that side of the administration. I am sure that the Minister will take that point on board, to ensure that such businesses have greater access to apprenticeship schemes.In my constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, both those towns contain many little manufacturing and engineering businesses that are taking on apprentices, as do Axminster, Seaton and Cullompton. I was an unofficial apprentice; I was milking cows at 13. My father—God rest his soul—did not believe in paying anybody, and certainly not his own son. Seriously, though, agriculture nowadays has changed. Anyone who drives tractors will know that they light up like a Christmas tree. They are full of computers, and probably cost between £50,000 and £60,000. People need really good skills to be able to drive them. Similarly, the machinery used in engineering businesses is all computerised. Apprentices need greater skills now than ever before, and this is linked to education and to colleges. Petroc college in Tiverton, for example, is creating more and more links to apprenticeships. That needs to be done; colleges need to link into businesses in that way. Constituencies such as mine have a lot of agriculture and a lot of tourism. They also contain many eating establishments and other businesses that can build in apprenticeships to provide real skills and meaningful jobs.I want to echo the comment from other Members. Bringing young people and older people—especially those who are not used to working—into apprenticeships and retraining can give them valuable experience of work. That is where small companies and micro-businesses can be useful, because one-to-one interaction between the employer and the apprentice will give the apprentice the confidence to carry on and build a career. It is a matter of giving people confidence and the ability to work.My final point is on the youth schemes designed to help young people. There are 40,000 places on those schemes, and I hope that we will be able to find a bit more money, even in these difficult times, to fund a few more places. I think we all agree that we want to see all our young people in jobs. It is rather rich of the Labour party to knock what we are doing when we have doubled the number of apprenticeship schemes, and are now adding the youth schemes to help young people. We saw a rise in youth unemployment during Labour’s time in office. The Labour Government created a huge boom in the economy, only to create a huge bust afterwards. Youth unemployment rose during that time, and we are going to have to fight hard to get those people back into work and to get the apprenticeship schemes running so that we can give young people a great future.| Hansard