Apprenticeship training ‘will bring net migration down’ – Yvette Cooper

Labour will reform the apprenticeship levy to “tackle the skills gap” and decrease migration, members of the shadow cabinet have said.

On Sunday, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson met apprentices from gas distribution company SGN to discuss their plans to create a “golden age of lifelong learning”.

They met and chatted at the site of a gas pipe repair in a residential street in East Putney, south-west London.

Ms Cooper refused to be drawn in to specifying a migration target Labour wants to hit, but she said the party would aim to fix the “broken” migration system by enabling skills at home to fill the gap of overseas recruitment.

She told reporters: “Net migration has trebled over the last five years under the Conservatives – that’s been particularly driven by the big increase in work migration and in work visas.

“And we’ve just been talking to engineering apprentices – engineering apprenticeships have halved at the same time as visas have doubled. That shows you’ve got a system that’s broken.

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Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper meets apprentices working on an SGN project in south-west London (Lucy North/PA)

“That’s why Labour’s setting out a practical plan to make sure that overseas recruitment is actually linked instead to the kind of training and the workforce plans that are needed; that will bring net migration down.”

She added: “We say that overseas recruitment needs to be linked to training and action of workforce plans to tackle the skill shortages here at home.”

Meanwhile Ms Phillipson said Labour wants to create a “golden age of lifelong learning”.

She told Channel 4: “What we’re talking about today are our plans to reform the apprenticeship levy, turn it into a growth and skills levy, give more training opportunities for young people through that levy, but also provide opportunities for adult learners too, so that we do usher in this golden age of lifelong learning.”

Ms Phillipson said the reforms to apprenticeships would help to decrease migration numbers by filling the “skills gap” in the UK.

She told reporters: “It’s precisely because we want to make sure that by providing skills and training opportunities for young people, for workers in our country, that we’re talking about these changes today.

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Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson set out their plans to create a ‘golden age of lifelong learning’ (Lucy North/PA)

“Because we can’t be so dependent on immigration as the means of tackling the skills gaps that we see in the economy. As education secretary in the Labour government, it will be an immediate priority to bring together the different parts of our skill system.

“We will create Skills England, that will bring a new focus on skills and will provide those routes and those opportunities for young people, to more traineeships. If we had just 3% of flexibility within the levy, we could use that to create 150,000 training opportunities for young people. That would make an enormous difference to our economy.”

She added: “Businesses are very much on board with what we’re saying and they’re increasingly frustrated about the limitations that are placed on them by the current system.”

Ms Phillipson defended the party’s choice not to set a target for reducing migration.

She said: “Tory governments have made targets and have failed to meet those targets; we’re not going to make those mistakes.

“What we are clear about is that we will bring down net migration and we will do that by giving people more security at work and providing more opportunities for our young people, more opportunities for adults to upskill and to retrain. And that will be an immediate priority for an incoming Labour government.”