Everyone’s being forced to chip in to meet the government’s 3 million apprenticeship pledge. From next April, large employers will have to stump up for the levy; bigger public bodies, too, will be required to ensure that a set quota of their new recruits are apprentices.
So why not MPs? It’s no secret that plenty of them manage to find the funds to hire their spouse or child to work for them. Now that they’re all busy talking about how important apprenticeships are, why don’t they put their money where their mouth is and all have one in their constituency or parliamentary office?
This isn’t my idea, of course. Step forward Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow and one of the new ministerial arrivals at the Department for Education. Back in 2010, he became the first MP to hire an apprentice and has had one ever since.
He even teamed up with Westminster Kingsway College and the charity New Deal of the Mind (now known as the Creative Society) to establish the Parliamentary Academy, the first apprentice school for the Palace of Westminster.
Giving more young people a presence in the corridors of power could be a shot in the arm for democracy
About 40 apprentices have been placed with the likes of Ed Miliband and Matthew Hancock, now a culture minister, since the programme started. At present, there are around six or seven MPs with their own apprentices; the project is expected to be relaunched later this year with the aim of driving the number up further.
And rightly so. The fact that barely one in 100 MPs have taken on their own apprentice is nothing short of scandalous. Increasing this number would not only give hundreds of young people who opt not to go to university a massive boost to their CV, but also keep politicians grounded in the communities they serve.
As Baroness Royall, a former Labour leader in the House of Lords, explained to me during an interview in 2013: “The median age of members of the Lords is 68. For members of my group, it’s especially important that they interact on a day-to-day basis with young people.”
And our new apprenticeships and skills minister, Mr Halfon, has consistently been one of the project’s most vocal supporters. We discussed the subject in 2013, when he spoke glowingly about the “great scheme”.
At the time, he told me: “If every MP – and there are 650 – had an apprentice, it would transform lives. I would love that. The culture in Parliament is that people get internships through connections, because they are people with family money. That’s just wrong. This will change the culture of Parliament.”
Since then, progress has been modest. But, with his elevated status within the DfE, Mr Halfon has the potential to extend the project’s reach and transform even more lives.
An apprentice in every MP’s office? Why not? Hundreds more young people would see their ambitions raised and horizons widened. And with the EU referendum highlighting the gulf between the people of the UK and those who are elected to represent them, giving more young people a presence in the corridors of power could prove to be the shot in the arm our democracy needs.
Plus, if nothing else, it would be a few more knocked off the target. Just 2,999,350 to go...