I welcome the emphasis in the King’s Speech on improving the life chances of young people through the provision of academic and technical education, which is key to securing high and sustained economic growth in every part of the country, including beautiful Hastings and Rye.
Ensuring that young people have the knowledge and skills to succeed is especially important in Hastings and Rye—a coastal community that, like many others, is struggling with higher levels of educational and vocational deprivation, resulting in a local workforce whose skills do not adequately meet the local need, especially in our wonderful engineering and manufacturing businesses, such as Focus SB, Technoturn, General Dynamics, Marshall-Tufflex and Torr Scientific, to name but a few.
Academic education is not the only path for our young people and it is right to have equal focus and funding for technical and vocational skills. Skills are key to economic growth. They are a form of currency in the working world. In today’s ever-changing job market, employers are often more interested in hiring employees with a specific skillset rather than those who simply have a university degree. Therefore, the focus on apprenticeships is fantastic, but in coastal communities such as Hastings, these must centre on young people and SMEs.
We have an increasing number of NEETs—those not in education, employment or training. According to the Youth Futures Foundation, if we match the lowest NEET rate in the OECD, which is in the Netherlands, we could see a £69 billion boost in GDP. A focus on revenue funding for youth services, rather than on capital funding, is needed so that organisations, such as Xtrax and the Y Centre in my constituency, can do their thing.
Coastal communities have huge potential to become a resource—a coastal powerhouse—to the UK, rather than a problem to solve. It is fantastic that Hastings received £24 million in the town deal. Hastings and Rother both have levelling-up partnerships, and Hastings will receive an additional £20 million over the next 10 years, but our coastal communities also need a policy focus to unleash their potential and become a valuable powerhouse for the UK.
Our coastline and coastal communities should be at the forefront of nature-based solutions to climate change and renewable energy industries, including offshore wind developments, green hydrogen production and wave and tidal-stream energy. The Government should be ramping up investment in those areas, leveraging in private investment and boosting coastal communities.
Skills must evolve with the needs of the modern labour market and specific action is needed to generate new skills, to encourage more diversity of employment and to meet the needs of local employment opportunities. We have in Hastings and Rye, besides wonderful career opportunities in tourism and hospitality, an incredible engineering and manufacturing sector that wants to grow but that needs a skilled workforce. Through the towns fund, East Sussex Coast College has developed an important regional-scale project at its Ore campus that will improve skills provision in the new green and low-carbon technologies.
As regards recent announcements about education, the new advanced British standard will take the best of A-levels and T-levels and replace them, bringing together the technical and academic routes into a single qualification, which will widen the breadth of British school education. The proposed qualification will require a sea change in education thinking and will rely on the Treasury funding a new qualification for thousands of young people. The standard’s success will rely on Ministers encouraging the delivery of technical subjects at pre-16 levels, and the Government have cited the education models of many European countries as proof that we need the standard. However, a key feature of those countries’ models is technical education from the ages of 13 or 14, which has become a rarity in the UK.
That is why I am an advocate of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust’s university technical college sleeves. A decision by Ministers on the proposal for UTC sleeves within existing secondary schools is anticipated soon. Baker Dearing is aware of a significant number of large, highly regarded multi-academy trusts that wish to introduce the UTC sleeve model into at least one of their secondary schools, because they can see the benefit of that approach in improving student engagement, attendance and outcomes among certain pupil cohorts, and have witnessed the increasing interest in high-quality apprenticeships for leavers aged 18. All of that will contribute to economic growth.
Affordable housing is also key to economic growth for many reasons, not least that children and young people can access education and employment opportunities only if they have safe and secure homes.
Finally, improving transport connections and roads, and providing faster rail and bus services, is essential for Hastings and Rye and East Sussex as a whole to encourage and facilitate economic growth. Poor transport connectivity continues to blight Hastings and Rye, and it would help if Transport for the South East were made a statutory body.