As this is the first Westminster Week since the festive period, I hope you had a very happy Christmas and New Year. The days are getting longer and it’s thankfully not long now until spring.
I have been thinking a lot about apprenticeships recently and the importance of them to Burnley. Apprenticeships have been around for centuries and are more widely recognised in the craft trades but over the past decade they have changed significantly so they are now more relevant to today’s business needs and cover the majority of roles. There are 200 different apprenticeship programmes available in 80 different sectors and around 240,000 apprentices in England.
I recently met the National Apprenticeship Service – a government organisation that helps fund apprenticeship training and provides support as well as managing a recruitment website for employers wanting to recruit apprentices.
I was extremely pleased to learn apprenticeships in Burnley are going from strength to strength and many local businesses are enjoying the benefits. Provisional data for the first three months of this academic year shows there is a 25% increase overall on the number starting apprenticeships and a 52% increase in the number of adult starts.
With large companies such as Aircelle, Burnley Healthcare Trust and Calico Housing already on board, there is huge potential. Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes, most of which is done on the job, leading to nationally recognised qualifications. They are good for business as they enable firm to recruit and train new employees or train existing staff. They are proven to increase productivity, improve the bottom line and lead to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.
The Coalition Government has recently announced an extra £250m. to increase the availability of programmes for adults creating a minimum of 75,000 extra opportunities. If you are interested in apprenticeship I would encourage you to have a look at the National Apprenticeship Service website at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
For the past few weeks I have also been trying to organise a visit from the Higher Education Minister David Willetts to Burnley College. He has been highly impressed by the advanced engineering facilities available at the college, including a wide range of specialist industry standard machinery and is due to come along to see the fantastic work being done.
Finally, I would like to update you on the progress of our campaign to save Deerplay Children’s Ward. The process to decide whether the children’s ward should come back is a long one, however, I am hopeful it will result in the correct decision. You may recall Lancashire County Council decided the decision made by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust to move the ward was flawed and referred the decision to this panel.
The preliminary findings of the Interim Reconfiguration Panel, a small group of independent people who are looking into whether the decision was made in the correct way, were due to be announced yesterday.
I was due to meet Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley on Wednesday for a progress update. If Mr Lansley accepts the panel’s findings, it will then go to a larger panel of independent people, to study the whole decision. This will be a big hearing lasting six weeks. Witnesses will be called. I will give evidence, along with Coun. Darren Reynolds, the chairman of the county council’s Health Overview Committee and other local MPs. Evidence from all interested parties will be heard and a final decision made.
I am hopeful the correct decision will be made and I will update you.