Last week in Parliament two very important themes were raised in the House of Lords by Sussex Peers. Sadly, the first of them which related to apprenticeships, raised by Ralph Palmer had some deeply negative comments that I don’t recognise. Where we both agree is that the Government needs to improve apprenticeships arrangements by asking businesses in regions like Sussex to participate and indeed, I am booked in. Interestingly Ralph or Lord Lucas is a Conservative and was a Minister. The second theme was a brief question from Steve Bassam who is a Labour Peer. He asked
it is now three years since their consultation ended…. what plans they have to tackle our high-risk score, stop money laundering and protect the UK against terrorist financing?
and the response was
We intend to legislate … and will do so as soon as parliamentary time allows.
This is deeply concerning as so many activities can be achieved during the hours that Parliament is open which for MPs it open ups again today. Let us hope that the Government will find some time very soon to resolve this.
On the theme of Apprenticeships, despite many claims from the Government, there have been gaps in training opportunities for small businesses that sit outside of the historic courses. However, I and many other people have been aware of this for a long time. This appears to be because Governmental plans have focused on large Companies and ignored small businesses in local settings where training takes place. If this current arrangement is successful, we will see a number of changes in the way in which the colleges can operate which will emerge from individual companies in our communities. The first few words from Ralph, many of which I agreed with included
the engineering kit that the FE college has is 20 years out of date, and graduates have to be completely retrained if they enter engineering…The need for local employers to be involved in local skills provision is very clear to me.
I have been involved in discussions with colleges and business networks and the challenge is that the Government has set out criteria for colleges which have prevented local ideas to be adopted. Our business has signed up for the apprenticeship discussions which seem very positive if a bit late in the cycle of Conservative apprenticeship intentions. We now need the end results to be treated positively by the Government in due course. Sadly, after his first few comments, Ralph stated negatively
the Sussex Chamber of Commerce knows very little about what happens down at the town level. There is almost no relationship between the Sussex chamber and Eastbourne; Eastbourne is dealt with by the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce. There is also very little relationship between the Sussex Chamber of Commerce and that huge employer of people in Sussex: London
It is certainly true that every Chamber works differently and they are individual. I am involved in the Uckfield Chamber of Commerce (CoC), I have previously attended Brighton Chamber events and I am also involved in the Sussex CoC. None of these organisations are identical and perhaps some could strengthen their roles but there is a great deal of connection between them and the numerous small businesses in Sussex. The Sussex CoC is due to hold initial conversations on this theme in Brighton, Eastbourne, Crawley and Arundel in the next few weeks. Any local companies in Sussex can go to these events and we have been assured we will be very welcome in our call from Sussex CoC.
As it happens one of my contacts is Dan Shelley, the Executive Director at East Sussex College and a Board member of Sussex CoC. He stated
The success of our Local Skills Plan will be built on the partnership between a range of employer representative groups and organisations, from local town chambers to the Institute of Directors and Federation of Small Businesses, all feeding in their short, medium and long terms skills needs into the process.
He also commented
we are working very closely with Eastbourne Chamber and a wide number of town and local chambers as well as other business organisations to capture the voices of local employers.
Another contact I have is with Ana Christie the Chief Executive of Sussex Chamber of Commerce who has commented
Chambers are rooted in local business communities with strong and genuine collaborative links already in place…. Sussex Chamber works closely with all business groups and area town Chambers and has had a strong relationship for many years with many, including Eastbourne Chamber who is affiliated to Sussex.
I wonder if Ralph Palmer would be willing to connect with some of these groups before he makes any more critical statements in Parliament? Indeed, perhaps our Sussex MPs could participate too!