Top Labour MP calls for focus on skills

By Ian Dipple Monday 17 December 2012 Updated: 18/12 11:22

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Buy photos » NVQ Level 3 professional cookery students David Wooton and Billy Hartley help Rachel Reeves MP prepare a festive feast with Rebecca Blake, Labour Parliamentary Spokeswoman for Redditch and watched by tutor Philip Dowdeswell. Picture by Ian Dipple (s)

THE PRIME Minister has been branded 'complacent' and 'out of touch' with the pressures faced by people in Redditch by a key member of Labour's shadow cabinet.

Rachel Reeves, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, was responding to claims the UK economy was healing made by David Cameron while in Redditch two weeks ago.

Speaking to the Standard during a visit to NEW College in Peakman Street on Monday (December 10) Ms Reeves said people wanted action not 'warm words'.

"The economy has been flatlining for the last two years, the Chancellor has been forced to revise down his forecast for growth not just for this year but next year and the year after that as well. If that's an economy that's healing then I think that just shows how out of touch the Prime Minister is with the concerns of ordinary families, businesses, pensioners and young people in Redditch," she said.

"It is incredibly tough for young people trying to get a job, for small businesses trying to expand and grow and for families who are worried about the increasing cost of living when their wages are standing still and there will be many families in Redditch next April who will see their tax credits cut, putting further pressure on living standards."

During the visit Ms Reeves was shown many of the facilities offered by NEW College, including its construction training centre off Fishing Line Road and spent time talking to students studying a variety of practical courses in health and beauty, hairdressing and catering, including those considering apprenticeships.

Ms Reeves said the UK had done a fantastic job of getting more people in to university over the last ten to 15 years to produce highly skilled workers but there needed to be more of a focus on filling the gap of those people with mid-range practical skills.

"That doesn't mean fewer people going to university, but fewer people leaving school or college without the skills they need to get them a job and if we are going to compete in some of the industries of the future, particularly around engineering, we need more people with those, practical vocational skills," she added.

The MP for Leeds West was also critical of the Government's planned changes to the curriculum which will focus more on academic subjects.

"We've met some young people here who are very inspired by what they are learning at the college but they weren't getting that at school," she said.

"Yes businesses want young people with good communication skills, good Maths and English but they also want people with good practical skills so they can contribute to their businesses and that's the sort of skills people are getting at college here but we need more focus on those vocational routes."

John Callaghan, NEW College Principal, said they were seeing a modest increase in apprentices but there was nervousness from businesses.

"We are offering plumbing and gas for the first time and there are some proposals and developments in engineering. What we are focusing on is the skills employers want not just offering any apprenticeship."

Rebecca Blake, Labour's Parliamentary spokeswoman for Redditch who organised the visit, admitted businesses were hesitant to take on apprentices but added: "If we can show how NEW College are getting them job ready then hopefully they will be more willing to take them on and bring down some of the barriers they face and also make young people think about apprenticeships as well."

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