People are often surprised to hear that the first time I set foot in the House of Commons chamber was as a Member of Parliament being sworn in. But the truth is – growing up in South London, Parliament was a place for other people. My bus driver Dad could only have dreamed, as a new arrival to London in the 1960’s from Pakistan, that three decades later his son would be the first ever MP of Islamic faith in London and to attend Cabinet. And as a teenager growing up in Britain in the 1970's and 1980’s – it was beyond my wildest dreams that I could become an MP.
Since I was elected as the MP for Tooting almost nine years ago – the gap between politics and ordinary people from backgrounds like mine has improved. But we still have a long way to go to ensure that Parliament is open and accessible to people from all backgrounds.
One of the ways in which I, and a small but growing number of my fellow MP’s, are working to break down these barriers is through employing apprentices via the ‘Parliamentary Academy’ scheme. My current apprentice Imogen began working for me last October after finishing her A-levels at Graveney sixth form in my constituency. Since then, she has had an opportunity to learn on the job, build up her knowledge and skills, gain qualiﬁcations - and all whilst earning the London Living Wage.
This week marks National Apprenticeship Week – where we celebrate the contribution made by apprentices like Imogen across the country. Here in London, apprenticeships offer a clear path to a successful career for thousands of young people across all sectors, including politics. If we want to continue the success of our capital city, we need more apprenticeships offering a real alternative career path to University. Unfortunately, too many young people just aren’t getting this opportunity under a Government that has completely undermined apprenticeships.
The Government isn’t doing enough to create quality apprenticeships for young people. When we were in office, Labour revitalised the programme – boosting apprenticeship starts from 65,000 when we took office in 1997 to 279,700 in our final year in government. Yet under the Tories more than 900,000 young people are now out of work and there are 25,000 fewer apprentices starting than there were last year. The Tories and Lib Dem aren’t doing enough to create the apprenticeships that Britain and London badly needs.
Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, the next Labour government will put this right. Building on the work of our independent Skills Taskforce, led by Chris Husbands, we will create a new universal standard for apprenticeships so they become qualifications that employers and young people can trust. Having called on this Government to use the billions spent through public procurement to boost apprenticeship opportunities – we would require all companies bidding for contracts worth over £1 million to offer apprenticeships.
Investing in apprenticeships is an integral part of creating a better economy that works for everyone instead of just a few and in tackling the long term causes of the cost of living crisis. Young people in London like Imogen are amongst those who stand to benefit, but only if the Government steps up to provide the quality apprenticeships we need.
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP is Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Minister for London