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Article for the News & Crier: Apprenticeships and the EU Referendum

8th March 2013

To keep ahead in the global economy that the UK operates in, a skilled adaptable workforce is ever more vital.

New statistics released recently show a record number of people in Huntingdonshire started an apprenticeship in 2011/12. The data also has provisional results for the number of apprenticeships starting in the first quarter of 2012/13 – in August to October 2012, 270 local people started apprenticeships. However, in the last financial year, 800 people started an apprenticeship in Huntingdonshire – an increase of 116% per cent compared to the year before!

Apprenticeships form a vital part of the Government’s plans for economic growth and education reforms to give opportunities to more young people and I am proud of this Government’s record in delivering the biggest boost ever to apprenticeships showing how we value the vocational and academic routes equally.

Of course, apprenticeships must be of a high quality, rigorous and focused on what employers need. That is why apprenticeships must now last at least 12 months and through the Employer Ownership Pilot, employers are getting a greater say over vocational training and the opportunity to take ownership of the skills agenda for their industry or sector. The Government also encourages businesses to take on apprentices by providing incentive payments of up to £1,500 for small firms to take them on.

Many of the local employers that I speak to who have taken on an apprentice highly praise the experience (as do the young people), and I would urge local businesses that have not explored the possibilities of apprenticeships to do so. If an apprenticeship has been considered as a route to employment in the past but discounted, now is the time to reconsider as never before has there been a better opportunity to utilise the support and guidance on offer as part of this national scheme.

If there is one issue that has been growing more contentious across the country it is the UK’s membership of the EU. Many constituents will be aware that last year I called for an in/out referendum on our membership and I am therefore delighted that this is exactly what the Prime Minister has recently announced.

The EU is in the grip of change. Internally, the single currency is driving a major shift in its structure. Externally, the global race that is underway is showing up Europe’s lack of competitiveness against leaner, more dynamic economies. These changes are set against increasing unease amongst the people of Europe about the direction the EU is going in; the powers it is taking on and what this means for them.

I believe the Government therefore needs to negotiate a better settlement for Britain in the EU. The best way to achieve this would be in a new Treaty that makes the changes needed to resolve the crisis in the Eurozone, while at the same time protecting the interests of those outside the Eurozone like the UK, and driving forward reform for all.

I am in favour of seeking fresh consent from the British people for this new settlement in a referendum. To this end, I am pleased that the Prime Minister has announced that the next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate, by 2017, a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament. I hope that this will be a relationship with the single market at its heart; it is trade that we want to share, not our currency, our employment laws or our military. The British people will then have a very simple in or out choice – stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out of it altogether.


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