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Row over Tory apprenticeship claims

The Conservatives have come under fire from a construction union after proposing a shake up of apprenticeships and industry training.

Shadow skills secretary David Willetts said he wants to move £100million from the Train to Gain initiative to adult learning, increase the number of apprenticeships and establish 1,200 annual skills scholarships for apprentices who want to study at university.

But, Alan Ritchie, General Secretary at UCATT, questioned the Conservative Party’s commitment.

He said: “Successive Conservative Governments nearly destroyed the apprenticeship system during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

“They had total disdain in investing in skills for the future. To now claim that apprenticeships are the way forward is the grossest of hypocrisy and should be taken with a large spoonful of salt.”

Mr Willetts told this week’s Conservative Party conference: “At the heart of our approach is the revival of apprenticeships.

“We know what real apprenticeships are – it is when a skilled worker passes on their knowledge to the next generation with some  academic study as well.

“But the number of these real apprenticeships is actually down since 1997.  Instead youth training schemes have been renamed as apprenticeships. These days you can be called an apprentice without setting foot on the shop floor.”

 “This party will back real training – apprenticeships worthy of the name. Let me spell out our practical policy commitments. Funds for 100,000 more apprenticeship places. £2,000 for each small business that takes on an apprentice. And fully funded apprenticeships for the over 19s.

'We will achieve this not just by shifting resources to real training but also by cutting the burdens on companies that take on apprentices.

On skills scholarships he said: “We are going to introduce proper support for apprentices who wish to study at a higher level.

“I can announce that we are committing to fund 1,200 new Skills Scholarships for apprentices who want to study at university. Let me be clear: while they are studying part-time and working part-time, they will have all their education costs covered.

“Our Skills Scholarships will send a clear message about the quality and the quantity of the opportunities available to people who choose the vocational route.”

Companies and industry bodies will be waiting to see exactly what will happen to Train to Gain especially as the Government has indicated in the past month it wants to refocus the flagship scheme on higher level training.

Mr Willetts criticised the bureaucracy of Train to Gain and said its funding would be better used to help adult learning: “We’re going to give lifelong learning a new lease of life. That means £100 million of wasted Train to Gain spending redirected to adult learning.

'Adult learning has economic, as well as social, value. The more that people reskill and upskill, the more the whole country benefits.”

See also: Tories urge action on energy efficiency