The ECA’s south-east regional office is based in Sevenoaks and Michael met ECA staff and representatives from member companies today to discuss their concerns over proposed changes to apprenticeship funding.
The ECA has some 2,800 members ranging from local electricians to national companies with several branches employing thousands of contractors. Around 80% of the membership is made up of SMEs.
Potential solutions to help small businesses to continue to employ and train apprentices by reducing extra bureaucracy and red tape were covered. Michael agreed to report back to Nick Boles MP, the Government’s Skills Minister with the very useful points that were raised at the meeting.
Michael has welcomed new figures showing 490 new apprenticeships were started by people in Sevenoaks last year. In total 1,910 new apprenticeships have been started in the Sevenoaks constituency since 2010.
Across England more than 1.9 million apprenticeships have been started since 2010 – with the number of apprenticeships having more than doubled in this parliament.
As the Prime Minister announced on Monday a future Conservative government would go even further: making a £1 billion commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and end youth unemployment.
Michael said: “These figures are great news. 1,910 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in Sevenoaks getting the skills for they’ll need for the future.”
“By making sure, as part of our long-term economic plan, we deliver the best schools and skills for young people the Conservatives are ensuring the next generation have the skills and opportunities they’ll need to get a good job – so they can have a brighter, more secure future ahead of them.”
Michael’s speech at this event highlighted the importance of vibrant SMEs in West Kent to the national economy. Representing a constituency in West Kent, he said could see first-hand the entrepreneurial zeal of our local business owners and discussed how the Government is backing them.
It is no secret: small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. SMEs are the responsible for nearly half the job creation in the UK. And it is job creation which is a central part of this Government’s economic and welfare plans. I am sure you will all join with me in welcoming last week’s employment figures which showed that there are now more people in work than ever before. In the constituency of Sevenoaks we saw the claimant count fall by 225 from August 2013 – August 2014.
It is thanks to the risk takers, the thinkers and the doers who run our SMEs that more people than ever before have the security of a pay package and the Government is backing you wholeheartedly. But to be able to create the jobs for our economic recovery, SMEs have to do business in an economy which is business-friendly. That’s is why he was so pleased that the Government is backing them in a number of ways: Michael said: 1. Tax cuts
“I am a low-tax Conservative so I am pleased that small businesses will now feel the impact of several important tax cuts. Corporation tax has fallen to 21 per cent; help on business rates has come in; and the landmark Employment Allowance will take up to £2,000 off employers’ National Insurance bills.” 2. Apprenticeships
“Everyone attending this event will know the value of helping our young onto the career ladder. To help small businesses take on apprentices the Government is providing an extra £85 million for over 100,000 grants to employers, and from April 2015 employer’s national insurance contributions for those under-21 will be abolished, making it easier for businesses to take on more young people.” 3. Red Tape
“I am perhaps most pleased by the needless red tape which has been cut and the net burden of regulation on business which has fallen by almost £1.5 billion since January 2011. Speaking to businesses in my constituency, they all say the same thing, red tape and regulation has held them back in the past and we must continue to elevate this burden from them.” 4. Energy Costs
“I know from my time as Minister for Business and Energy that small businesses are struggling with energy costs. To help them get a fairer deal, the Government has secured an agreement from the major energy firms to end auto-rollovers for business customers, limit back-billing, increase transparency of contract terms and make switching easier.” 5. Regional Growth Fund/Escalate Programme
“It is essential to give local communities more autonomy to help rebalance our economy towards private-sector growth. Ministers are improving economic development at the regional level through Enterprise Zones and the £3.2 billion Regional Growth Fund. Significant funding is also being devolved to Local Enterprise Partnerships to enable them to tackle barriers to growth in the private sector in their area. Here in West Kent, we have already heard this morning of three success stories from the Escalate programme which is a £5.5 million scheme, funded by the Regional Growth Fund. Offering loans on an interest‐free basis to businesses has led to sustained job creation and business expansion. Also, availability of business rate discounts and Enhanced Capital Allowance will each be extended by three years as an incentive for new and expanding businesses to locate in Enterprise Zones.”
“All over the country and especially here in West Kent, SME’s are driving forward economic growth through innovation and sheer hard work. It is fantastic that there are now over two million new private sector jobs and 400,000 more businesses than in 2010. So I encourage you all to continue to be part of the economic success story I look forward to watching you all go from strength to strength in the years to come.”
Michael visited a UK Power Networks training centre near Sevenoaks recently. He was there to learn about the company from Murdo Allan, director of health, safety, sustainability and technical training, as well as hear about the company’s business plan for 2015 to 2023.
Other senior managers were on hand during the hour-long guided tour, showing Mr Fallon the variety of the 120 courses available at the centre, which plays an important part in training 60 apprentices each year how to maintain and repair underground cables and overhead lines.
As Minister of State in the Departments of Energy & Climate Change as well as Business, Innovation & Skills Michael, who has responsibility for security of electricity supply as well as smart grids, said: “It has been very interesting to learn more about UK Power Networks’ training centre at Sundridge and the vital work it does for my Sevenoaks constituents and the wider community.
“Training and safety are obviously top priorities for the company, helping to fill important roles within the organisation for the benefit of customers.
“Having met and spoken with apprentices, I am pleased to see that a leading energy company is taking training seriously, creating a large number of new apprenticeships each year, and investing in the future.”