Gavin Williamson – 2020 Statement on Lifetime Skills Guarantee

The statement made by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 1 October 2020.

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the lifetime skills guarantee and post-16 education. Ever since I was appointed Education Secretary, I have been determined to raise the status of further, technical and vocational education. In a speech in July, I set out that, for decades, this sector has been overlooked and underserved, playing second fiddle to higher education. All too often, it has not given the young people and adults of this country the skills that businesses are crying out for, or enabled them to pursue the careers they dreamed of.

What we are determined to do, and what we must do, is give people the opportunity to retrain and upskill, so that if one door closes, they will have the key to open others. This Government stand for empowering everyone in this country, wherever they live. We stand for the forgotten 50% who do not go to university. We stand for those who find that their jobs no longer exist because technology has redefined industries overnight. We stand for young and old alike. Talent exists everywhere in this country. We have to ensure that we give it every opportunity to flourish, wherever people come from.

Two days ago, the Prime Minister outlined plans to bring closer alignment between further and higher education, to end the outdated distinction that one is better than the other and to offer world-class education after the age of 16 that is fit for the 21st century. We want every student who has the ability and the desire to go to university to do so, but we also want all young people to be given a real choice in what route they take.

We will introduce a lifetime skills guarantee that will help people to retrain and upskill. This will be the backbone of our covid recovery and will enable us to come back stronger and build back better. The measures will embed greater flexibility in the technical and vocational system to support not just young people but adults who need to retrain and upskill at any point in their working lives.

This is not merely a response to the pandemic. It is a continuation of our whole-hearted commitment to level up every inch of the country. Our reformed apprenticeships programme already provides a vital route for employers to meet their skills needs and for apprentices to learn and earn through high-quality training programmes and on-the-job experience. We are going to expand apprenticeships, making it easier for people to get a high-quality apprenticeship, and connect them to local employers who know what jobs their industry or community will need in the future.

We know that some employers will be nervous of taking on apprentices in the current climate. We are therefore making sure that we address some of the barriers that employers, especially small and medium-sized businesses, face in taking on apprentices—for example, by making it easier for larger employers to transfer their unused levy funds to smaller employers. Where apprentices have been made redundant as a result of the pandemic, we will ensure that more of them have the opportunity to continue their training. We have just begun the roll-out of T-levels, our new high-quality technical and ​vocational qualifications, and we have just welcomed the first intake of students, who are taking them in digital, education and childcare, and construction. One T-level is the equivalent of three A-levels, and these qualifications will open up further routes of study or employment for those who take them.

For those who have not achieved the equivalent of A-levels by the age of 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications are, as Philip Augar’s report put it, “virtually non-existent”. The lifetime skills guarantee will therefore fund technical courses equivalent to A-levels for adults, all of which teach skills that are in high demand in our economy. These will give anyone who left school without an A-level or its equivalent the qualifications they need to upskill or to change jobs, and give them a much better chance of finding work, achieving their dreams and doing what they want in life. We have already announced plans to sharpen the job focus and the quality of higher technical education. The process of getting employers to review and approve the best digital higher technical qualifications began last month. We want to invest in, and increase take-up of, these courses as they are developed to meet the skills needs of the economy.

Another key element of the lifetime skills guarantee is to open up funding and alternatives to degrees for students. We are going to transform the funding system so that people can get a loan just as easily for a higher technical course as they can for a university degree, and we will ensure that further education colleges have access to funding on the same terms as universities do. Everyone will be able to call on a flexible lifelong loan entitlement for four years of post-18 education, so any adult who wants or needs to retrain with high-level technical courses can do so, instead of being trapped in unemployment.

Our flexible lifelong learning allowance is going to enable people to study high-quality courses across further and higher education at a level and time that best suits their life. This will make it easier for people of all ages to do courses locally and to study and train part time to acquire the skills that can transform their lives. This new arrangement will provide finance for shorter-term studies, rather than people having to study in one, three or four-year blocks. People will be able to break up their study into segments, transfer credits between colleges and universities, and take on more part-time study. We will consult on this matter next year and bring forward legislation as necessary later in this Parliament.

We also want to transform our left-behind towns and regions, but we are not doing this just by investing more money in universities. We are going to do it by investing in local colleges. In the spring Budget, we announced an additional £1.5 billion to upgrade the further education college estate. The largest capital investment in the sector in a generation, it will enable colleges everywhere in England to have buildings and facilities that can deliver world-class tuition.

We are setting up 20 employer-led institutes of technology with capital funding for state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. They will be specialist institutions that are a unique collaboration between employers, colleges and universities. They will give businesses the skilled workforce that they need to drive growth and productivity and get more people into rewarding jobs. We have already committed £170 million to establishing the first 12 institutes and are making a further £120 million available for ​another eight in areas of the country currently without access to one. The competition for the next wave will open shortly.

We are going to inject £111 million in the largest ever expansion of traineeships, as well as an extra £32 million for recruiting extra careers advisers and £17 million for work academies in England. We are also providing £101 million to support school and college leavers to take high-value level 2 and level 3 courses.

Even before covid, the country faced a challenge in terms of providing the skills that the country needed. We are desperate for more skills in digital, and more electricians and technicians, right across the board, from healthcare to construction. Our productivity continues to lag behind that of our neighbours and competitors—Germany, France and the United States all produce more than 25% more per hour than we do. If we were to match German productivity, it would enable us to recoup billions of pounds that we need to recover from the economic effects of covid. Put another way, our productivity levels are only 4% higher than they were in 2008.

To bounce back from the pandemic, we will need a lot more people with the vital skills to drive productivity in our economy. Technology is one area with an ever-growing need for skills. This week, the Prime Minister announced that £8 million would support boot camps for digital skills in the west midlands, Liverpool, Lancashire, Leeds, the south-west, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Manchester. The boot camps will be led by local employers, and from next year we hope to extend the delivery model to other areas and other sectors.

Greater productivity will drive our economy as we seek to build back better after covid. Businesses will be able to hire more, people will earn more and the quality of life will be much greater for more of our citizens. We will publish a White Paper later this year to take a holistic look at post-16 education and training. It will set out how we will continue to rebalance higher and further education, making sure that people understand the benefits of a greater technical education that offers them flexible ways to get the skills needed to progress and for our economy to prosper.

This is not a subject that just Conservative Members feel passionately about; it is something all Members feel incredibly passionately about. It is something that I think we all recognise is an area that has maybe been neglected a little bit too much in the past, and I hope that there is a sense of will across both sides to work together to make changes and to make improvements for the life chances of all.

I believe this dynamic programme of measures is not just about weathering the covid storm; these reforms will lay down a marker for the age. They will bring an end to the post-16 career lottery and decades of indifference to further education, and they will set up each and every member of society with the means to get a satisfying and well-paid job. I commend this statement to the House.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and particularly for ensuring that I had early advance sight of it.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, on the Labour side of the House, we, too, passionately believe in the value of further and adult education for individuals, for their communities and for our shared prosperity. I do think ​that many of the announcements the Secretary of State has made are a step in the right direction. Indeed, I have no doubt that he does believe we need more investment in further education, so I can only imagine that he was appalled to discover which party has been in office for the past 10 years and which party has spent those years slashing funding for further education, cutting maintenance support for learners and building barriers to further study. Will the Secretary of State now admit to the House that it was a mistake to cut billions of pounds from further and adult education and that the advanced learner loan system, which has deterred so many adult learners from studying, has had a devastating impact on their life chances?

I turn to the specific proposals outlined by the Secretary of State and, first, the lifetime skills guarantee. I am glad that he has acknowledged, as Labour has long argued, that more people need access to further education and retraining, particularly given the challenges our economy now faces, but many learners who could benefit from these new funded courses will not be eligible. For those training beyond level 3, he appears to be offering only a flexible loan system, but his own Department’s research shows that the introduction of loans caused participation in adult education to plummet. Why is he repeating this failed approach? What about those who do not hold level 2 qualifications? What funding will be available for them to study for level 2, so they can then progress to level 3 and further? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree that he cannot credibly say that he wants equality between further and higher education if only one route brings maintenance support, so will the learners who study for these new funded courses be eligible for that support?

Next, I turn to funding. Additional investment in further and adult education is obviously welcome, which is why we on the Labour Benches have spent years advocating it, while year after year the Conservative party cut it. The funding that the Secretary of State has announced today will not even reverse the damage, let alone mean increased investment. Funding is supposed to be available for every adult who is not qualified to A-level or equivalent. There are 9 million of those people in the country. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that every single adult not qualified to level 3 who wants to access this support will be able to do so? His £2.5 billion amounts to less than £280 for each of these learners.

Does he really think that is sufficient for an adult learner to get the necessary skills and qualifications? He has stated that a full level 3 qualification would be made available for adults aged over 23 for courses that are shown to be valued by employers. How are the Government determining that? Will he commit to a date to publish these details? I think that he said that T-levels will be included. Will he confirm that?

What conversations has the right hon. Gentleman had with the devolved authorities and Metro mayors about these proposals? Will metropolitan combined authorities that have their adult education budget devolved be able to set the eligibility criteria for this spending, and is the £8 million for the boot camps genuinely new money? He talks about increasing apprenticeship opportunities, but since the Government introduced the apprenticeship levy, numbers have been consistently down, especially at lower levels. Can he provide more detail on the support available for small and medium-sized enterprises and non-levy payers?​

Finally, I want to emphasise the scale and urgency of what is needed. The Government rightly found billions of pounds for the job retention scheme, but when it comes to retraining, their ambitions do not stretch further than last year’s manifesto, as though the global pandemic has had no impact on the need for workers to get new skills and new jobs. Labour called for the Government to integrate training into the job support scheme to allow workers on reduced hours to improve their skills. Why have the Government failed to do that?

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s central projection is for unemployment to reach 12% before the end of the year. That is when the need for skills and retraining will be most acute, so why is this package available only from April next year? Will courses starting under the new guarantee begin in April or follow the usual academic calendar? Why has the procurement of the contract for the 30,000 traineeships announced in July not yet even begun?

Labour has spent years calling for investment in the skills of working people and those seeking work. They are, and always have been, the greatest asset in our economy. It is only by making the most of all their potential that we can truly recover from the effects of this terrible pandemic and achieve a lasting and shared prosperity. We now face a crisis of unemployment that could be the worst in my lifetime. It is vital that the Government support those at risk of losing their jobs and that they support them in finding new careers and opportunities. The Government must get this right, and they have one chance to do so. I implore Ministers to listen to our concerns. The task is urgent, and it is essential.

Gavin Williamson

We have a proud record on the Government side of the House: what we saw in the last year for those who are studying, the 16 to 19 budget, and the rate that was made available to 16 to 19 education was one of the largest increases in this year. We made available £1.5 billion-worth of capital funding to transform the estate of our further education colleges. We launched the national skills fund, announced in our manifesto. We recognise the value of that.

When Labour was in power, what did it do? It talked about one thing—“Universities, universities, universities”. That was the answer to the problems of a nation. Government Members recognise the need to make sure that young people have true opportunities. It is about not just the 50% of youngsters who go to university, but the other 50% of youngsters and making sure that they have the opportunities and qualifications that they deserve. They should have an entitlement and the opportunity to take those up.

We have launched the skills toolkit, which has had a transformational impact on so many people who have taken furlough. The hon. Lady talks about numbers over time in terms of apprenticeships. On the Government side of the House, we talk about quality. We recognise that it is important to drive up the quality of apprenticeships, as against simply numbers. When we talk to employers, they say that they want to see quality driven up in terms of apprenticeships and that is what we are doing.

We will have the roll-out of T-levels. Labour is always ambiguous on whether or not it supports T-levels. It supported them at the launch, but then it seemed to ​change its policy. With a new shadow Education Secretary, it has probably changed its mind again. As we roll these out, we would very much like to see them as part of this.

In terms of the eligibility, this is a national guarantee. It will be determined nationally—that is where the decision will be taken. It will not be devolved to the mayoral authorities, but we will continue to work with employers, organisations and the mayoral authorities to make sure that we get the right skills mix so that the qualifications that are on offer ensure that young people and people of all ages have the opportunity to progress into work.

Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)

I welcome the lifetime skills guarantee, which, if done properly, could be a game changer in the life chances for a huge number of people across the country. May I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that his policies announced today are targeted in a way that makes sure that we have the skills needed in vital areas such as construction, engineering, quarrying, telecommunications and broadband roll-out, so that we can get on and deliver the infrastructure investment that is so badly needed in places such as High Peak?

Gavin Williamson

My hon. Friend is right: this investment must be properly targeted to ensure that the money that we are spending and the time that is invested by people as they take this training and opportunity leads them into employment and to work. That is why we have to take a targeted approach. That is why we have to take a different approach in terms of further education, an approach we have not always taken, looking at the skills needs in a local area and making sure that we are matching that and delivering those skills for employers and for the young people who are doing the training, to ensure that leads them into work.

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP) [V]

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. On the face of it, this move towards skills education is positive, and I certainly welcome the recognition that further education in England finally seems to be receiving, and I am delighted that, once again, he is following Scotland’s lead when he talks of closer alignment between further and higher education, because I have said many times in this place that Scotland does not draw a distinction between FE and HE and that we concentrate on positive destinations, and with good reason. We have the highest percentage of positive destinations for young people in the UK.

Many times, however, I have been lectured by Government Members about university numbers. They cannot have it both ways. If further education in England has been playing second fiddle to higher education, it is because the Secretary of State’s Government have treated it as such. As Scotland has invested in the entire tertiary education landscape, FE in England has suffered a decade of neglect. So can the Secretary of State confirm whether this lifetime loan entitlement means that FE students in England will now be saddled with the same massive debts as their HE counterparts, and since his Government seem to be open to new ideas, when will he be readdressing the issue of their outrageous tuition fees?​

I welcome the long-overdue investment in FE infrastructure in England, but will the Secretary of State acknowledge that if he were to match Scotland’s facilities funding, the figure he would be announcing today would be not £1.5 billion, but £8 billion?

Finally, the Scottish Government have committed to a lifelong learning strategy and are investing £25 million to support adults retraining. However, similar courses will not be available in England until April 2021. Those whose jobs have been affected by covid cannot wait seven months, so will the Secretary of State work with colleagues to ensure this funding is brought forward and people can start training immediately?

Gavin Williamson

Of course we always look right across the United Kingdom, as one United Kingdom, to see how we can learn best and work well together, and I am sure that the hon. Lady is as much an advocate of that as I am—or maybe not quite as much—and she will no doubt be delighted to hear that over £1.5 billion has been spent in terms of capital in the FE estate, and that has approximately £300 million of Barnett consequentials for the devolved nations. So that is even more good news that we are delivering for Scotland as a result of having a Conservative Government for the United Kingdom—extra investment into FE in Scotland, and I hope the hon. Lady ensures that that is delivered into Scottish further education colleges.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con)

I particularly welcome the reform progress my right hon. Friend outlined on higher-level technicals, as well as on T-levels and apprenticeship reform. I welcome, too, the lifetime schools guarantee, and will he say a word about how that fits with the national retraining scheme? Can he confirm that work coaches and the National Careers Service will be fully engaged in making sure that they do not just signpost but actively encourage people who could benefit from this great upskilling opportunity to do so?

Gavin Williamson

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance not just of encouraging but really taking people through that journey. There has sometimes been a slight prejudice in our education system to steer people away from those really great-quality higher technical qualifications, which are a great way for young people—and people of all ages—to transform their careers. May I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for so much of the work that has already been done on higher technical qualifications? I would love to lay claim to having started it all myself, but I was very much driven by his work as Secretary of State for Education, which recognised the need to broaden out the range of opportunities for young people; this revolution that we are driving through in the sector is built on the work that he did at the Department for Education.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab) [V]

I am very worried because unemployment in east Hull is already at 10%—and it is rising. We cannot possibly wait for vital opportunities to retrain and reskill. Having left school with few qualifications myself before returning to education, I know the value of the last Labour Government’s lifelong learning agenda. If the Secretary of State really understands the urgency of the situation, ​why is he waiting seven months, until April next year, for any of that new money to come through? It is too little, too late.

Gavin Williamson

It is always nice to see the generosity of the hon. Gentleman regarding the important programme that we have announced. If he had been paying attention to the Chancellor before the summer, he would have heard the announcement of a whole set of programmes, including a kickstart initiative, giving people the opportunity to be in the workplace and get jobs, and ensuring that they are not left behind as result of the pandemic. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome, as so many Conservative Members have, the opportunities that we are driving forward. We always want to do more, which is why we have made this announcement today.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

The lifetime skills guarantee is extremely welcome, as it should help to boost the covid recovery. In order that those adults who will take up the guarantee can realise their full potential, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new gold standard of T-levels will be available to them?

Gavin Williamson

I can absolutely guarantee that. I had the great opportunity to see many youngsters in colleges taking on T-levels. These qualifications have been incredibly warmly welcomed. The real difference compared with so many past attempts at reform of qualifications in this sector is that this has very much been based on the needs of employers. T-levels have been developed to ensure that they actually take young people into work, further education or apprenticeships.

Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab) [V]

Lewisham and Southwark Colleges, which serve my constituency, do fantastic work, but have faced severe cuts over the last 10 years. Staff have had a significant real-terms pay cut and funding per pupil has reduced by over a third. They are already stretched to the bone. If further education is to help lead our recovery from the pandemic, it needs not just restoration of funds but substantial new investment. Will the Secretary of State give the sector the real-terms funding to match the ambition?

Gavin Williamson

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady noticed, but we have been announcing substantial extra funding into the FE sector. Part of this announcement is ensuring that we are not just talking about it, but doing it and delivering on it.

Matt Vickers (Stockton South) (Con)

Further education colleges can play a vital role in transforming lives and communities. Will my right hon. Friend set out what the Government will do to ensure that world-class education and training is available to all students, no matter where they come from or which college they go to?

Gavin Williamson

Absolutely so. That is what the Prime Minister was doing when he was down at Exeter College the other Tuesday—making sure that people understand that there is a whole range of different options at different stages of their lives. It is brilliant that so many youngsters in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Stockton South benefit from going to great universities, not just locally but nationally, but many youngsters will not make that choice, and this is about recognising that and ensuring that they have really exciting options ​ahead of them in terms of high-quality technical qualifications. That is what we are delivering on; that is what we are working towards. It is a problem that this nation has had for many, many generations. This Government—this party—will address that and put it right.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) [V]

I welcome much of what the Secretary of State has said today. We do not have a proud record, in any party, on the more practical side of education in our country—in schools or colleges. It is a neglected area, by comparison with Germany, France and many other countries, so we must do better. I welcome the fact that we are to have a really serious look at post-16 education. I remind him, though, that a lot of training in our country is delivered by independent training providers, such as in engineering and textiles—in my constituency we have the Textile Centre of Excellence. We have some really good trainers in this country and we will need the industry trainers to be with us, but we need well paid, highly motivated staff in our FE colleges, such as Kirklees College in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that pay and conditions for staff in the training sector must be improved?

Gavin Williamson

I know that the hon. Gentleman has long been an advocate of high-quality technical training. We see in his constituency the important role that those who provide such training play in the vibrancy and success of business, enabling it to continue to provide employment. He is right to highlight the importance, not just of colleges, but of independent learning providers and the many businesses that work hand-in-glove with industry. We want to work with them to ensure the highest-quality delivery. A key element of high-quality delivery is to have high-quality individuals with experience and expertise, and pay is of course an important part of that.

Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

This morning I spoke with Anna Morrison, founder of Amazing Apprenticeships, based in Hitchin, which does fantastic work in schools and colleges, and especially with employers, to support and strengthen social mobility. What more will the Government do to ensure that we can provide more opportunities to disadvantaged and vulnerable people who are taking advantage of the lifetime skills guarantee?

Gavin Williamson

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the work that is done in his constituency by Amazing Apprenticeships and many other organisations and colleges that are going out there, working with employers and providing opportunities not just for young people but for people of all ages. That is why, in Philip Augar’s report, he made the powerful point that if people do not get a level 3 qualification—an A-level equivalent qualification—they are hampered throughout the rest of their life; it really holds them back. That is why this announcement is so important: it gives those people who maybe missed out on that opportunity in those early stages of their life, the opportunity to create the chance to succeed, to progress, whether that is through apprenticeships, or through university, or through extra college qualifications—but, most importantly, to ​get jobs and employment. This will be transformative, not just for them, but for their families and their community. That is why the announcement is so important—it will change the lives of so many.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) [V]

I welcome many of the measures that the Secretary of State announced, but they cannot be implemented in isolation from the wider skills and employment support system in places such as Greater Manchester. We need to deliver flexible, responsive support to drive recovery in the months and years ahead. Does he recognise the real risk of the new measures duplicating and competing with existing adult skills policy and failing to act as a springboard into the devolved employment support offer? Will he continue to work closely with the combined authority to ensure that we get the joined-up approach we want to see in Greater Manchester?

Gavin Williamson

Of course, we will always work with all devolved authorities. The hint is in the title—this is a national guarantee, which means that we must have parity in every part of the country. We must ensure that, whether it is in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, my constituency or any other part of England, there is a set national standard, because it is a national guarantee.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) [V]

I very much welcome what the Secretary of State has announced. What measures is he putting in place to support final year GCSE and A-level students who are still having their studies disrupted by the pandemic? When will he make an announcement about his plans for the exams next year?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

I will give the Secretary of State some latitude, but that question really was not on the statement.

Gavin Williamson

It was a tad opportunistic, it has to be said, but my hon. Friend is always an opportunist. Many of our further education colleges up and down the land are doing brilliant work, with the covid catch-up funding and support we are offering, in supporting students as they approach their qualifications next year and ensuring that they do incredibly well. We will make further announcements about qualifications in due course.

Mr Deputy Speaker

I am sure that this one will be a question about the statement—I call Richard Graham.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)

I welcome this smorgasbord of new skills pathways. I look forward to more detail on how flexible loans, segments, transfer credits and so on will work in practice and to confirmation that work coaches will be trained on how to guide universal credit claimants on making the best decisions. The Secretary of State will know that one of the key asks of our Gloucestershire jobs, skills and apprenticeships lift-off—which the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), kindly came to launch—was to enable large employers to use an uncapped percentage of their apprenticeship levy for their contractors and suppliers. Does he agree that that would mean a real lift-off in terms of SME apprenticeship recruitment? When might we expect to hear more about this vital reform?

Gavin Williamson

We are looking at how to increase flexibility. I would be happy to organise a meeting between my hon. Friend and the Minister for skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, to discuss his thoughts about how to unlock more employment in Gloucester.

Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)

I welcome the ambition of the Government’s plan for skills, but we need to see a bit more detail. The Secretary of State will be familiar with the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning, convened by former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable. That commission called for the apprenticeship levy to be expanded into a skills and training levy, for a quarter of those funds to be channelled into a social mobility fund, for new national colleges to become centres of expertise, and for a skills wallet that would give everybody £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives. There is a plan that exists and is ready to go. Will he meet me and members of the independent commission to discuss those very precise ideas?

Gavin Williamson

It is good to see that the former Member for Twickenham is keeping busy in his retirement. I am sure that my hon. Friend the skills Minister would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and other colleagues to discuss that. As I said, I think there is a strong will on both sides of the House to make real change in this area, and with that collective will and determination, we can make a positive impact on the lives of so many people.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)

I am one of the people the Secretary of State has been targeting with the measures announced today. I left school without qualifications, applied later in life to go to university and was rejected three times. I even went back to secondary school for a year when I was 25 to get the qualifications to get in to university, and then was rejected again. I had to beat down the door to get the education that I needed, but once I got into the University of Sussex, I found an educational institution that for the first time ever saw potential in me that I did not see in myself.

I understand the impact that these measures will have for some people, but I must say that they do not show the kind of ambition that we need, the kind of ambition that will match the scale of the opportunity that we face. We should be awash as a country; every community should be burgeoning with educational opportunities right now, and we are not going to do that on the back of these announcements.

Will the Secretary of State say what contact he has had with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that every aspect of Government is extending educational opportunity to every part of our communities? What conversations is he having with other Departments, such as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to ensure that we are proactively putting educational opportunities into every community up and down our country? Right now, these measures are fine, but it does not match the scale of opportunity that our country needs and faces.

Gavin Williamson

I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman on how closely we have been working, not just with the Department for Work and Pensions, but with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial ​Strategy, to ensure that the actions we take match up with the needs of the whole economy and the whole country. We will continue to take that approach.

Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that by offering free, fully-funded courses to adults without A-level or equivalent qualifications, this Conservative Government are promoting social mobility while helping to provide the skilled workforce we need in our businesses and throughout the country? Educational establishments such as Loughborough College and Loughborough University are integral to our local community. That is why it is fantastic that last week MHCLG awarded £750,000 to the Loughborough towns fund to set up a careers and enterprise hub in the town centre, to attract those who are not traditional participants in learning and development. This week, Loughborough College, with Charnwood Borough Council, Loughborough business improvement district and Loughborough jobcentre, launched the Kickstart scheme in the town. Now, that is partnership working and joined-up Government.

Gavin Williamson

That is a brilliant example of higher education, further education and local government all working together with a laser-like focus on creating opportunities not only for young people, but for people of all ages. I pay tribute to all those involved, including my hon. Friend, who I know is such a passionate advocate of that and of ensuring that we drive opportunity in every part of the country.

Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

While I broadly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement, I want to draw his attention to problems with existing post-16 students. My constituent Linus has just completed his first year of a diploma in arboriculture, tree management and forestry at a local college, and he was able to do that because his fees were waived as a result of his receiving less than the limit of £330 per calendar month on universal credit. However, a top-up to his universal credit this year has increased Linus’s monthly benefit to £342, taking him above the fee waiver limit. Now he must either pay the full fee or leave his course, because the Government’s fee waiver rules have not been updated. Will the Secretary of State help students such as Linus by fixing this anomaly?

Gavin Williamson

If the hon. Gentleman would write with the details on that case, I would be happy to look into it.

Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con) [V]

I really welcome the lifetime skills guarantee from the Government and firmly believe it will increase access to and flexibility of learning in both further and higher education for learners young and old. As my right hon. Friend knows, Newton Rigg College in my constituency is currently the subject of a strategic review by the Further Education Commissioner. As we look to secure a new organisation to take over the college, does my right hon. Friend agree that, if this review is successful in securing the future of the college, fantastic colleges such as Newton Rigg will play a key role in delivering the Government’s lifetime skills agenda, offering training, upskilling and levelling up across Cumbria and the wider United Kingdom?

​Gavin Williamson

I thank my hon. Friend for the time he took to talk to me and make representations on some of his concerns about what Newton Rigg College was facing at the time, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on the future of that college. He is right to highlight that not only Newton Rigg college, but colleges up and down the land, in all our constituencies, play a vital role in the delivery of these qualifications and opportunities. The college system is something that we must put at the forefront of this nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) [V]

I very much welcome any improvement in access and flexibility and lower costs for learning. Will the Secretary of State consider the condition of first-year students, who are just leaving childhood and often have never left home before, but are now going into self-isolation in individual rooms, sometimes with collective provision for bathrooms and kitchens, which makes them both isolated and vulnerable? Therefore, their physical and mental health are at risk. Then they have online learning that they could actually do at home. I wonder what consideration he has given, with the Chancellor, to ensuring that they do not end up running into debt for a diminished education. Perhaps they should be going home and the universities should be supported through these difficult periods, so our universities and students can be—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Geraint, I am sorry to interrupt you. Is there any chance you can ask a question about the statement that has just been given, please?

Geraint Davies

I wanted to ask about how those considerations fitted in with the statement. On the one hand, I welcome what has been announced. On the other, I want investment for young people who are in those conditions. Maybe there is a transfer between the two.

Gavin Williamson

That is not an obvious link, but the hon. Gentleman has made some sort of effort, I think, to try to make it. If he had bothered to turn up at the statement on Tuesday, his question might have been quite valid for that, but he would probably also have heard that £256 million had been made available for universities to support pupils in circumstances such as he has outlined.

Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con) [V]

Can I also welcome the Secretary of State’s statement? This year, from 9 to 13 November, the Bucks Skills Show goes online by live-streaming employers into classrooms across the county. They will bring lessons to life by showing how curriculum subjects can be applied in the workplace. Will my right hon. Friend welcome this initiative and the work of Buckinghamshire Business First, as well as the Bucks careers hub, which was named the top performer in the country? Does he agree that their support for young people facing increasing challenges to kickstart their career post-virus shows what can be achieved by a successful partnership between business, the Bucks local enterprise partnership, the council and the Careers and Enterprise Company?

Gavin Williamson

My right hon. Friend lists a lot of people who I want to thank and congratulate, whether at the Bucks LEP or the skills hub that has been ​created. This shows that we should not see education in isolation from the rest of the economy or the rest of the community, because all those elements, by working together, provide so much more opportunity. That is a brilliant example of how people can inspire children to make them understand that what they are learning in the classroom has a real relevance to the world of work, giving them the enthusiasm to look at different careers and different opportunities that they might not have considered before.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)

Colleges such as Langley College in my constituency play a vital role in helping young people to realise their full potential, but they have been underfunded for too long. The Labour party has repeatedly called for the Government to integrate training into the job support scheme to help those on reduced hours to use the rest of the week to improve their skills. If the Secretary of State feels so passionately about retraining, why did the Government fail to do that?

Gavin Williamson

We always look at every idea, but just because the Labour party has come up with an idea has rarely meant that it is a good one. As for the idea that the hon. Gentleman highlights, we look across the board to try to ensure that we put in place the best possible opportunities for young people. That is what a series of policy announcements that we have made is about doing. It is why we will bring forward a further education White Paper later this year and why we will continue to look at every option to ensure that we deliver the best for every individual in this country.

Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) (Con)

My dad left school with a whole two O-levels and went to Bolton technical college’s night school to get his engineering qualifications while he was earning. That route to social mobility has been closed down gradually over the past 50 years. Will my right hon. Friend confirm for me and the people of South Ribble that the lifetime skills guarantee opens it back up for people—lads and lasses—to do engineering qualifications?

Gavin Williamson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about opening up opportunities and different routes. We have got too stuck in this ethos that going to university is the only real, proper, feasible route for young people. What we are doing as part of this measure is opening up so many more opportunities for so many young people, and we will be absolutely doing what she wants.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab) [V]

The Secretary of State says he is keen to help employees by providing the quality of workforce that they need. I am quite happy to celebrate what is good, but all too many employers are not engaged in training their existing or future workforce in any way. How will he get more employers to engage in that process? Also, how will adults who are looking for an avenue to pursue training or retraining in further or higher education access good-quality, independent and impartial career information, advice and guidance about their options and potential choices? There is a lot of advice available out there, but much of it is mired in vested interests, promoting courses and providers of questionable quality.

Gavin Williamson

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the quality of advice for young people and about ensuring that they have a good understanding of the range of choices open to them. That is why we are investing an extra £32 million in careers advice, making sure that we get the very best. I am sure he very much welcomes that and has been singing the Government’s praises in his constituency—as I am sure he does on a regular basis—for doing it.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and hon. Members for the fact that many of the questions actually related to the statement.