29 NOV 2017

Skills and the budget

This was a budget to recognise two things. First, it set out to recognise that we are on the brink of a technological revolution in which we can either embrace the future or fail in our attempts to take the country forward. Second, it is a budget that recognises that we need to raise our productivity. We have 3 million more people in jobs but we need to make sure that our productivity is equally high. There are several ways in which we can do this. One of them is by the provision of the right skills and training and this is why the budget contained important measures to increase our skills base. But one of them is by the provision of the right skills and training. That is why the budget contained important measures to increase our skills base. The budget for example launched a partnership between three organisations – the Government, the CBI and the TUC – to set out the strategic direction for a National Retraining Scheme which will give people the skills they need – not just now but throughout life – to get on and when changing jobs. This is crucial as over the next 20-40 years the risks of automation are going to hit many jobs. People have a choice here of upskilling for the future or being left behind.

Apprenticeships too have been a success. Within my own constituency a brand new electrical training centre has opened at the site of the Culham Science Centre. This provides a top class training location for learners in the Oxfordshire area. The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) Apprentice Training Scheme has been running successfully for the last 12 years at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. It is now expanding and diversifying to provide apprenticeships in a wide range of other areas to help UKAEA achieve its future talent needs and to support the Government's plans to increase apprenticeships throughout the UK. All of this is a major contribution to productivity and to skills.

This needs to be set in the context of 3.4 million apprenticeships since 2010 and government changes to the apprenticeship scheme. This all about focusing on increasing the quality of apprenticeships and allowing apprentices to develop their talents and progress their careers. That is precisely what is happening in my own constituency at the Culham Science Centre and the budget helps this.

The contribution that digital skills and improved technology can make to productivity is also important. In a question I raised in debate with the Secretary of State for Business it is clear that this is not just about providing our towns and cities with 5G mobile telephony and better broadband. It is also about picking up on the significant opportunities in many of our rural areas. We need to make sure that the progress we make in our towns and cities is shared with our rural areas. That is why the £30 million to test artificial intelligence is important and should be seen alongside the provision of Ed Tech on-line digital skills courses. I do think on-line course are the way forward to provide better access as will the new employer designed courses in construction and digital with the budget promised.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the changes to the education system. Increased investment will help to improve technical education to a level of ambition which matches our industrial strategy and can rival the best systems in the world. That is why the budget introduced the new T-level which will have real currency with employers and in the labour-market. The qualification will be awarded when the pupil has secured the technical qualification, work placement and English and maths. This will secure occupational competence in the relevant field and will address the existing skills gap may employers currently face.

I welcome the Government's investment of an additional £500 million per year in England's technical education system. This will ensure it creates genuine opportunities. Increased investment will help to improve technical education to a level of ambition which matches our strategy and can rival the best systems in the world.

Improving our skills base is one of the best long-term strategies for improving productivity. This is essential to ensuring our economy thrives post-Brexit. I think the budget addresses these problems head-on. It provides real opportunities for skills training right across life and will make a strong contribution to improving productivity and the life chances of individuals The consultation on the industrial strategy set out the education and training, particularly in maths, digital skills and other aspects of our technical education. There are skills shortages around the country, and what we have set out will provide enormous opportunities particularly to young people and to those who are changing career

As the Secretary of State said at the end of the debate: The industrial strategy and this Budget are about prosperity for all..... Our Budget takes us into the future."

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