OPINION: People in Northampton want to get on - they need a Government that's on their side

Labour's candidate for Northampton North, Lucy Rigby, outlines how boosting local skills will contribute to economic growth and higher living standards.
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This week is National Apprenticeships Week, an opportunity to celebrate apprentices and the impact they have on our communities and economy. Locally, it’s been great to see the University of Northampton highlighting the professional journeys of some of those undertaking the University’s apprenticeship programmes, including in policing and nursing.

The reality though, is that we need to see far, far more apprenticeships – both locally and nationally. Let me explain why.

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Over recent years we’ve seen dramatic declines in living standards in this country. People tell me every week how they’re struggling with the cost of living, from rents and mortgages to energy bills to the weekly shop. The reason for that is the pursuit of catastrophic economic policies which have resulted in anaemic growth, high national debt and high taxes (not to mention sending the financial markets into turmoil and the pound nose-diving – remember Liz Truss’ Mini Budget?).

Lucy on St Giles Lucy on St Giles
Lucy on St Giles

We desperately need to step off the track of national economic decline. To do that, we need to grow our economy, both locally and nationally. There are lots of aspects to Labour’s plan for growth (if you want to know more, I’m only too happy to tell you…) but core amongst them is skills.

Absent the right skills, people won’t be able to secure the job, or the job progression, they want. The flip side of that of course is that businesses won’t be able to fill their job vacancies - at best preventing or delaying expansion, and at worst meaning businesses have to contract.

Unfortunately, over the last 14 years apprenticeship starts have plummeted. We’ve seen a decline in training opportunities and our public services in particular have growing skills shortages. What’s more, many in our community lack the basic digital skills required in our modern economy - some, especially school leavers, can understandably feel unprepared for their futures.

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That lack of ambition for the country’ skills agenda on the part of the Government is to be contrasted with the serious determination and ambition I see when I meet those seeking new opportunities locally. People I talk to want to get on. They want new skills, secure jobs and everything that comes with that – and they’re willing to work hard. But, too often, the opportunities aren’t there.

We need an approach that harnesses that ambition and creates a skills system that works for businesses and for our country. That’s why I’m so pleased that if we’re lucky enough to form a government, an incoming Labour administration will make boosting the country’s skills a key priority.

We will give businesses the flexibility to train their workforce and deliver growth, with the creation of a “Growth and Skills Levy”. We’ll also set up a new body, Skills England, recruit over a thousand new careers advisors and deliver two weeks’ worth of work experience for every young person, ensuring they leave education ready for work and ready for life. Importantly, we’ll also give power to communities by spreading decision-making on skills spending out to local areas, so each can match up skills training with local businesses’ needs.

Each of these reforms will help boost local skills, allow local people to access better jobs and opportunities and, ultimately, they’ll strengthen our local and national economy. That’s the kind of bold and fresh approach we need to get us out of the Tories’ spiral of decline. It’s high time that the ambition, commitment and determination that I see in people every day was matched by those making the decisions that affect our lives.