A TOP-level delegation of Tees Valley business chiefs is calling for a hugely successful apprenticeship scheme to be extended.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright is among the campaigners demanding the Tees Valley Apprenticeship Programme (TVAP) should continue.
It is currently due to finish at the end of March after already either creating or safeguarding almost 300 apprenticeships in less than two years.
TVAP cost just £1.8m but led to 134 Tees Valley employers being persuaded to take on an apprentice.
That included 80 small and medium sized businesses, 43 of them having never taken on an apprentice before.
Now, Skills Minister John Hayes has heard how – with a further injection of a similar amount of public money – the scheme has the potential to be extended to benefit the wider North East and be self sustaining in two years time.
TVAP Chairman George Ritchie, senior vice president for human resources with Sembcorp Industries and chair of the North-East regional ambassadors of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), led the delegation to London.
The party included Stan Higgins, chief executive of the North East Process Industry Cluster.
They were supported at the meeting in the Minister’s office in the Houses of Parliament by an all-party delegation of local MPs, including Mr Wright.
After the meeting Mr Hayes said: “I was delighted to meet the delegation led by my friend Iain Wright MP. The North-East has seen record growth in apprenticeship numbers in the past year and I listened carefully to the case made by MPs and local businessmen.”
Mr Ritchie said: “The Minister was very gracious with his time and he and his team listened intently to what we had to say. He was clearly extremely impressed with the success of the scheme in an area where jobs creation is absolutely vital and we showed him how this fits the Government’s agenda on apprenticeships perfectly.
“The thrust of our case was that there is a real opportunity to build on TVAP’s success and firmly cement the idea into employers’ minds that apprenticeships like this, which give young people fantastic skills, are producing people who have the ability to grow their businesses.”
The delegation was told it should hear within the next five weeks whether their bid for additional funding has been successful.