British business is struggling to recruit skilled staff while more than half a million young people are stuck without training, education or employment, a senior Midlands business leader has warned.
David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, claimed the Government was failing British youth and industry.
The Sutton Coldfield businessman, who heads the national industry body, said: “The Government is failing our youth by not providing them with the essential skills and attitude required to become productive members of society, as well as British business, who struggle to find a skilled and engaged workforce.”
He was speaking as the Conservatives launched proposals to create 100,000 new places for apprenticeships, with the promise of a £2,000 grant to small and medium-sized businesses for every apprentice who completes a scheme.
But Labour insisted the number of apprenticeships had already more than doubled since it came to power, from 75,000 in 1997 to 180,000 last year.
Official figures show that 12 per cent of young people aged 16 to 18 in the West Midlands, almost one in eight, is not in education, employment or training.
It means 26,000 young people are doing nothing, according to figures from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.And the problem has got worse over the past ten years. In 1997, there were 20,000 youngsters aged 16 to 18 doing nothing in the West Midlands, or 10 per cent of the total.
But the Government has made improving the region’s skills base a priority, partly because the region needs to adapt to the decline of traditional manufacturing industries.
Liam Byrne, the Minister for the West Midlands, is promoting plans to attract more companies in sectors such as environmental technology and medical technology to the region. Tories yesterday said their apprenticeship proposals would help tackle social breakdown by giving young men something constructive to do. As well as introducing £2,000 bonuses, Conservatives would tear away red tape and restrictions which add to the costs of apprenticeships and make employers reluctant to offer them, he said.
Other measures included scrapping a scheme which offers advice to employers about training and using the money to help pay for apprenticeship schemes.
A Conservative Government would also find £100 million specifically to target young people who are not in education, employment or training, known as “NEETs”, they said.
Conservative Party leader David Cameron said: “This is a particularly important policy paper as it is one of the areas where the social agenda and the economic agenda come together.
“Getting skills right is about strengthening society and strengthening the economy.”
But Treasury minister Kitty Usher said: “This is just the latest in a long list of Tory unfunded spending commitments and a bit rich coming from them. Under Labour the number of apprenticeships has more than doubled.
“They want more borrowing, more spending and less tax – all at once. The sums just don’t add up.”
The West Midlands branch of the Engineering Employers Federation welcomed the proposals. Peter O’Grady, Head of Representation for EEF West Midlands, said: “The recognition by all parties that adult apprenticeships have an important role to play in improving skills is good news.”