Urgent reforms are needed to the Government’s £1.2 billion apprenticeship programme to help cut youth unemployment and give employers the skilled workforce they need, Midland MPs have warned.

An 11-month inquiry led by Black Country MP Adrian Bailey (Lab West Bromwich West) found that Ministers had focused on increasing the number of apprenticeship places available - without focusing on the quality of the training offered.

Mr Bailey is chair of the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which also includes MPs Margot James (Con Stourbridge) and Nadhim Zahawi (Con Stratford-upon-Avon).

They spoke to employers, training providers and apprentices across the country.

In a report published today [TUES] they warned that private firms providing training had been allowed to make “excessive profits” at taxpayers’ expense, because Ministers and the Skills Funding Agency, a Government agency, had simply failed to look carefully at how much they were charging.

The MPs said: “We are deeply concerned that both the Minister and the Skills Funding Agency have adopted a hands-off approach in respect of the profit levels and value for money of training providers.”

They also called on the Government to order schools to publish the number of pupils who begin apprenticeships every year.

And they urged Ministers to ensure funding was available for older people who wanted to begin apprenticeships but are currently ignored.

Mr Bailey said: “Apprenticeships are a viable and attractive route to a career and should be seen as equal to the university route.

“It is the responsibility of the Government, our schools and the National Apprenticeship Service to make sure they are presented in this way at an early stage in the curriculum.

“Our workforce must be encouraged to be as skilled as possible. Progression through the apprenticeship programme is key to achieving this.”

He added: “This is a time of austerity for Government, individuals, for families and for businesses. But it is important that we continue to invest in skills.

“We heard evidence of excessive profits at the public’s expense, of a Government paying out too much money far too easily and of a lack of genuine value for money being provided by apprenticeship schemes. This is unacceptable.”