BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable said the Coalition Government was committed to reducing the North-South economic divide, as he visited Yorkshire to bang the drum for a new apprenticeship programme.
His visit took him to the unlikely setting of the Woolpack, the pub which is the mainstay of the fictional village of Emmerdale. During his tour of the ITV studios in Leeds, Mr Cable discovered how apprentices are helping to produce one of Britain’s most popular soaps.
The visit was in support of the Government’s new campaign calling on more young people to choose an apprenticeship.
The campaign coincides with the introduction of 40 new employer-designed apprenticeships in sectors including engineering, hospitality and the legal profession. Mr Cable said that apprenticeships were “part of the solution” to youth unemployment.
He added: “The unemployment position in the UK is improving a lot. We’ve now got one of the lowest levels of unemployment in the developed world. But there are still too many people out of work.
“All the evidence shows that people who do a good apprenticeship scheme prosper in life. It’s this combination of a job and training which is particularly valuable.”
Mr Cable said that the UK needed to crack its “slightly snobbish view” about apprenticeships.
He added: “I think we really have to start in the schools, because far too many schools just assume that if you’re clever you go on and do A-levels and you go to university. But actually, there are some very able young people who have chosen an apprenticeship route and found it works better for them. We want to make sure that the two options are considered on an equal basis.”
When asked if there was a case for an interest rate rise before the end of the year, Mr Cable said: “That’s not for me to decide, it’s the Bank of England; they are an independent body. The point that the Bank of England itself has been making is that, if interest rates go up, particularly with this massive boom we’ve had in house prices - that’s not necessarily true throughout Yorkshire, but it’s certainly true in London and the South East of England - a lot of people are going to be struggling to pay their mortgages. It’s also pushing up the pound which makes it difficult for exporters to compete, so I think the arguments against the interest rate rise have been well argued, though we’re in very abnormal conditions. In most times in the post-war era, interest rates have been four to five per cent..at some point we’re going to have to move to normality.”
Mr Cable said a lot of lessons had been learned since the financial crash of 2008.
“One of the big reforms I helped to push through with the Chancellor was splitting the banks into their so-called casinos and retail operations. They are now ring-fenced within the same institution. That makes them less risky. I grew up in York and we used to talk about the North-South divide then, it’s a very persistent problem.. We are trying in Government to offset that. The Regional Growth Fund has played a major role in it. Some of the City Deals that cities like Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield have been developing are helping to act as a powerful magnet in the North of England.”
Apart from visiting Emmerdale, Mr Cable toured Siemens Mechanical Drives and Arla Foods before rounding off the trip with a visit to translating company thebigword’s HQ in Leeds. At Siemens, Mr Cable was able to meet some of the apprentices working in the company’s Leeds factory. Siemens employs 200 apprentices on its scheme.
Mr Cable said: “Engineering is central to Britain’s economic future and as the economy recovers the need for more skilled engineers across all the regions of the UK will continue to grow.”