It is always concerning when an MP submits a written question and the Minister that responds with the answer includes an element that simply makes no sense. This is very different to a face to face debate as we are all capable of making a bad response in a dynamic situation. That said, one of the challenges for the Education Department which includes Gillian Keegan who is the MP for Chichester, is that they are understandably involved in apprenticeships. However these aspects of the DfE are also strongly connected to businesses that then provide the apprenticeship settings. Gillian is someone who knows far more about historic apprenticeships than any other current minister or indeed than most historic ministers. However what she has no current direct knowledge of is business and her own experience of business was primarily based on large businesses. So the question was raised by Margaret Greenwood, the MP for Wirral West and her question was clearly genuine and not at all party political. So this is the question which can be seen here.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate he has made of the number of apprentices employed by companies in which the director has been ineligible for covid-19-related financial support during the outbreak in (a) England, (b) the North West and (c) Wirral.
I am personally very aware that the Government has reached out to many of us over the COVID-19 situation and so the problems that do clearly exist are not ones that impact all of us. However they do impact a major number of SME business owners in our nation. So the starting point of the response was clearly correct if a bit disappointing.
We do not have data on the number of apprentices employed by companies in which the director has been ineligible for financial support following the COVID-19 outbreak.
So the second sentence was then set out and this is where it appears to make no sense in the light of both the first sentence and certainly not in terms of what the Government has achieved for SME business directors and indeed self employed people. Indeed it is here in two parts because the first half is where the lack of consistency is for businesses.
The government has introduced a wide range of support to help businesses of all sizes to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak…..
and then the second part which is 100% correct makes no sense in the context of the question which is asking about “companies in which the director has been ineligible for covid-19-related financial support“. Of course the director can furlough the employers but that does not provide support for the director themselves.
….. and to allow employers to furlough employees who have been unable to continue working, including apprentices, through the Job Retention Scheme.
So perhaps the DfE and BEIS could both take some of their team including Gillian and Paul Scully over to some of the businesses that are currently struggling very badly because of the lack of provision and find out what it would take to change things now.