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Jan RoyallJan Royall on why the Labour Lords’ office is embracing a new parliamentary apprentice scheme

With youth unemployment still over 20% and an economy that is still flat-lining, it is no wonder that our young people wonder about the power of politics to transform lives. On the doorsteps of Rotherham a few weeks ago, too many youngsters couldn’t see the point of voting. They spoke of tuition fees, of tens of unacknowledged job applications, of the prospect of having to live at home for longer than either they or their parents would wish. They want hope, they want vision and they want policies that work. Policies like the Future Jobs Fund that actually provided jobs, and was scrapped by this Tory-led Coalition, rather than the Youth Contract which is not delivering either for young people or employers.

Apprenticeships must be part of the practical policy mix that is offered to young people and it’s very good that everyone is now talking about this.  We are at one with the government on the language and we want them to deliver, but still too many of the current apprentices are existing employees who were renamed apprentices because of the government re-badging of the Train to Gain employee scheme.  

Whenever there is a question or debate in the Lords about apprentices, our Shadow Business Minister Tony Young rightly asks the government how many there are in Whitehall departments because it should be national, as well as local government, that is leading the way. Regrettably it is not. But I am glad to say that there are now schemes in Parliament.

Almost nine months ago we started to employ an intern in the Labour Lords’ office and we have had two to date. Naturally we pay the London Living Wage. They are absolutely brilliant young people, following the university route, and with a passion for politics. I have absolutely no doubt that they will go far. 

However, we recently decided that we should also take on an apprentice, with proper training and also paid the London Living Wage. A fortnight ago, we interviewed some young people who came to us from the Parliamentary Academy and I have to say that it was one of the most uplifting mornings I have had for a long time. For various reasons the youngsters (including the two we are taking on) did not wish to go to university, but now wanted to gain new skills to better equip them for future employment and life. They had all been amazed to find a parliamentary scheme which would enable them to get on the job training as well as study for an NVQ Level 3 in Business Administration.

For most of these young people, politics is a whole new world; but I hope that in a short time they will understand that it holds the power to transform the lives of individuals and to shape our society. I am confident that the apprenticeships will help them gain the confidence, skills and knowledge which will enable them to have a better chance of finding employment. It’s good for them, but it’s also good for the economy. According to a report of the ACEVO Commission chaired by David Miliband, the cost to the Exchequer in 2012 of youth unemployment will be £4.8bn, which is more than the further education budget for 16-19 year olds; and it will cost the economy £10.7bn in lost output. Money which, as illustrated by last week’s Autumn Statement, is desperately needed to invest in growth and jobs. 

Our country cannot afford to have a lost generation, and I am proud that in the Labour Lords office we will be doing our bit towards reducing youth unemployment.

Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords

Published 12th December 2012

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