Ministers boost London'sbid to host Skills Olympics
Government ministers were out in force to welcome the delegation which will decide where the 2011 competition, dubbed the Skills Olympics, will be held.
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, financial secretary John Healey, and skills minister Phil Hope all attended a champagne reception at 11 Downing Street on Monday to boost the bid's prospects.
The Welsh education secretary Jane Davidson also attended, as did Scotland's deputy minister for lifelong learning, Allan Wilson.
The reception followed a lunch and presentation at City Hall, hosted by London's Mayor Ken Livingstone, as Britain attempts to outflank France to host the event. Sweden and Australia are also in the running.
Chris Humphries, the chair of UK Skills, which is behind the bid, said:
"The level of support from ministers is a further indication of the emphasis the Government is placing on skills.
"On Sunday, the Prime Minister was asked what is the most important item on his agenda and he said skills. I have been fighting 25 years for this."
Paris lost out to London last July when the venue for the 2012 Olympic Games was decided. Ministers are hoping for a similar result when the final decision is announced in Melbourne in May.
The Government has already pledged pound;11 million towards the pound;22m cost of hosting the competition, if businesses agree to provide the rest.
Apprentices from all over the world will descend on the winning city to test their abilities in 40 skills events including hairdressing, bricklaying, catering, car repair and landscape gardening.
The biennial event was last held in the UK in 1989, in Birmingham. The then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, handed out the medals.
UK Skills director Peter McLaren-Kennedy said: "This is a dry run for the Olympics and a chance to showcase what spectators and visitors can expect in 2012.
"The bidding process is similar to that of the Olympics but on a smaller scale."
Delegates from Ireland and Finland spent two days in the capital inspecting the facilities. If London wins, the competition will be held in the Excel Centre in London's Docklands.
The same venue will be used for indoor events such as boxing and table tennis a year later. Other Olympic facilities could also be used if they are ready in time.
In welcoming the delegation Mr Healey, who was the first skills minister to be appointed in 2001 before moving to the Treasury, said: "I hope you see this as a strong sign of Treasury support.
"What has changed since 2001 is that skills has become the central economic issue. Unless young people have the skills we need, we are not going to succeed economically.
"Make no mistake, we want to stage this competition because it will give us the opportunity to enthuse and impress our young people to gain excellent levels of vocational skills."
Ms Kelly added: "I don't think there is anyone in Government who does not take skills seriously. Our entire future and economic prosperity and our ability to achieve social justice are dependent on that."