Page last updated at 21:14 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Brown boost for apprenticeships

Brown: "We will do everything we can"

Gordon Brown has announced a scheme to create an extra 35,000 apprenticeships, which he says will prepare the economy for a future recovery.

The PM made the announcement at Rolls-Royce in Derby, while on a three-day tour of England and Wales.

McDonalds is to offer apprenticeships to 6,000 staff, making it the biggest apprenticeship provider in the UK.

Meanwhile the Tories have challenged the chancellor over his borrowing forecasts in the pre-Budget report.

It follows a Financial Times interview with Chancellor Alistair Darling, who in November, predicted that output would fall in the UK for the first two quarters of 2009, then start to recover.

'Optimistic' forecasts

He told the paper that projection was "based on the evidence we had at the time", adding: "In the current climate, no responsible finance minister could say that's the job done, far from it."

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said recent forecasts suggested borrowing could be up to 18bn higher next year than Mr Darling had forecast.

He said: "It appears Alistair Darling is already trying to wriggle out of the economic forecasts he made just weeks ago, which as we pointed out at the time, were more optimistic than most commentators believed."

I want to hear what people have to say, to explain what we are doing and to explain what we are going to do next
Gordon Brown

Parts of the government's plan to deal with the economic downturn, particularly its decision to temporarily reduce VAT at a cost of 12bn have been attacked by the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

And Simon Wolfson, chief executive of fashion retailer Next, told the BBC the 2.5% reduction had "no effect whatsoever" in getting people to buy more and it had been a "missed opportunity".

But speaking on the train as he set off on Wednesday, Mr Brown said: "We are doing everything to deal with what is a global financial crisis that is hitting Britain."

Election calls

Tory leader David Cameron has called for a 2009 general election but Mr Brown said: "I've got no intention of even thinking about an election."

He added: "The first thing on my mind is that I'm here to help the families and businesses in this country come through this global problem."

The government hasn't shown any fresh thinking
David Willetts

"I want to hear what people have to say, to explain what we are doing and to explain what we are going to do next."

The prime minister visited jet engine maker Rolls Royce in Derby, one of the companies that has agreed to offer extra apprenticeships in 2009 and 2010 as part of a 140m government scheme to create new jobs.

The company plans to take on an extra 50 apprentices, whose training will be paid for by the government, on top of the 170 it had already planned to recruit in the UK.

Meanwhile fast food giant McDonalds is to offer 6,000 apprenticeships in "multi-skilled hospitality", accredited by City and Guilds, this year and up to 10,000 each year from 2010.

'Huge concern'

It will include technical skills, leadership, team working, handling money and figures, communication and nutrition skills, says the company.

Shadow skills secretary David Willetts told the BBC Mr Brown had been talking about apprenticeships "for years" and "in fact every few months he announces more apprenticeships".

But he said apprenticeships of A-level standard, "linked to a real employer", had fallen under the government.

He said the Tories would help firms which had trouble setting up apprenticeships by reducing red tape and redirecting inefficient parts of the training budget.

"The government hasn't shown any fresh thinking," he said.

"Within the public sector, within central government, the number of apprenticeships is still shockingly low."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said he was concerned firms would be forced to scrap apprenticeship schemes because of the downturn and the government may have to step in to help companies continue to fund them.

"My huge concern is that the recession will jeopardise not only this generation of workers but the next generation of workers," he told the BBC.

The cabinet will meet in north-west England on Thursday and the trip will culminate in a "jobs summit" in Downing Street next week.

Since September the cabinet has met twice outside London, in Birmingham and Leeds.

West Yorkshire Police have revealed they spent 138,000 on security for the cabinet meeting in Leeds.

Mr Brown has previously said the first cabinet meeting in Birmingham cost 62,000, excluding security costs.

Downing Street said it worked hard to keep costs down and the aim was for the whole cabinet to hear people's views in different areas of the country, which they believed was "a worthwhile investment".

Robert Goodwill, shadow minister for Leeds, said it had been "a bit of a gimmick".

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