Over the last few weeks I have received literature from both the Conservative and LibDem candidates claiming that more than 2 million new apprenticeships have been created since 2010. This is dishonest politics and I have written to both of them raising both a general and a specific objection over the use of this figure.
The general objection runs as follows. The popular conception of an apprenticeship is an intensive and extended vocational training that provides career opportunities for the less academically gifted. However, today’s apprenticeships are a framework for work-based learning, used as the basis for paying training providers. What we are describing as apprenticeships would not be recognised as such elsewhere in Europe.
The specific objection concerns the inclusion of the Morrison supermarket apprenticeships in this total. In 2012 the House of Commons Select Committee reported on the activities of Elmfield Training, a private training provider, for Wm Morrison, the retailer. At the time Morrisons were far and way the largest provider of apprenticeship training in the UK. The Select Committee noted that in 2010-11, Elmfield Training received £41m from the Skills Funding Agency; apparently half of that sum resulted from its contract with Morrison. Subsequently a BBC Newsnight programme claimed that four out of ten Morrison staff were classified as apprentices; most were over 25 and most were already working for the company. Very little off-the-job training involved and some of those classified as ‘apprentices’ had formally indicated an unwillingness to participate.
Accordingly I have written to the two candidates inviting them to consider this objection and moderate the claim accordingly. I don’t expect them to reply.