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Give half of young people apprenticeships to level up the country, says MP

Ex-minister Jake Berry said the promise would replicate Tony Blair’s ‘game changing’ pledge to send 50% of young people to university.

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Jake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs, has said 50% of young people should be offered apprenticeships to help them stay in their communities (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Jake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs, has said 50% of young people should be offered apprenticeships to help them stay in their communities (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Jake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs, has said 50% of young people should be offered apprenticeships to help them stay in their communities (David Mirzoeff/PA)

The Government should promise vocational apprenticeships for half of all young people as part of its plans to “level up” deprived areas, a senior Conservative MP has said.

Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, said the pledge would echo Tony Blair’s “game changing” 1999 promise that half of young people would go to university and ensure talented people would choose to remain in their communities rather than moving to London.

Speaking on Wednesday at an event held by centre-right think tank Bright Blue, Mr Berry said: “I think we need that sort of game changing moment for vocational qualifications.

“I have the privilege of representing a constituency where 30% of the population still work in manufacturing, which is hugely high. When I go talk to parents they say ‘Well, actually, we’d like our kids to go to university because that’s the thing clever children do and apprenticeships are things that those who can’t go to university do’, and it’s complete and utter nonsense.

“If you want a decent job in Lancashire, you do an apprenticeship at BAE Systems in Samlesbury, or you go to WEC Engineering in Darwen. It’s just a really powerful thing we can do to make that statement and say, actually, vocational education and apprenticeships are for everyone.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak speak with apprentices during a visit to a construction site in Manchester last October (Phil Noble/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak speak with apprentices during a visit to a construction site in Manchester last October (Phil Noble/PA)

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak speak with apprentices during a visit to a construction site in Manchester last October (Phil Noble/PA)

He added that getting more young people into vocational education would “stop the university ponzi scheme” that saw students take on large amounts of debt but get no further ahead in the job market.

A former Northern Powerhouse minister under both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, Mr Berry now chairs the Northern Research Group of around 50 Conservative MPs that aims to ensure the Government delivers on its promises to “level up” the north of England.

But he warned the Government’s flagship levelling up policy is at risk of failure unless the delayed White Paper setting out the plans convinces voters that the whole country will benefit.

Mr Berry said: “Without an economic rationale, it is hard to sell the idea of levelling up to the rest of the country.

“So if you live in Buckinghamshire, you may think ‘Why do I want levelling up in Darlington or Doncaster or Darwen?’”

He added that the Government has to emphasise that levelling up will involve “turning large areas of our country from a net drain on the Exchequer to net contributors, which means that we all have more”.

He said: “Unless we spell out the rationale, I think we are in great danger of levelling up not being a success.”

The Levelling Up White Paper has been repeatedly delayed and is now not expected to be published until February, while it has been suggested that Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has been given no new money to implement the proposals.

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