From Gazette & Herald: Look to youth, MP urges businesses at event

MP Claire Perry urged businesses to look to youth and be optimistic about the future when she spoke at a breakfast event in Devizes today.

More than 150 guests at the Swindon and Wiltshire Growth Hub's day-long event at the Corn Exchange heard the Devizes MP kick start the proceedings with a speech at a breakfast event.

She told guests that the focus should be on bringing the young people of the county into the right kind of career to keep them in the county and make the best use of the education they receive.

She said that companies providing the right kind of opportunity would be rewarded for offering an alternative to going off to university with an injection of talent.

The UK has 50,000 vacancies in science and engineering, she said, yet there are 10,000 more people training to be hairdressers and stylists than there are jobs available.

She reasoned that Crossrail, HS2 and the A303 improvements are all due to begin in the next few years. "These will all need the skills our young people can provide," she said.

"Amanda has turned a laser-like focus on delivering a supply of highly-qualified apprentices to businesses," she said.

She said the government has targeted signing up 3.3 million apprentices by 2020.

She also highlighted the wealth of talent available from ex-military personnel who have been based in Wiltshire and now want to make their home in the county, a topic also taken up by Baroness Jane Scott in her maiden speech to the House of Lords this week.

Mrs Perry said: "Ex-army personnel bring an incredible amount of skill and resources and we would like to keep them in Wiltshire. I know Wiltshire College are looking at this."

She also spoke about the changing face of the railways in the UK and accepted, as a junior transport minister, that the pace of change had not been quick enough.

"At the last election people woke up to the fact our railways are not good enough. Our rail infrastructure is ranked 21st in the world, even behind India and we built the railways there. We have got to invest. The government is investing £73 billion between 2013 and 2021."

She was quizzed over the slow progress on the improvements to the A303 through Wiltshire and again conceded it hadn't been quick enough. But she said work would begin in 2020.

"To get the route sorted, the land sorted and take on the concerns of people this is quite an accelerated programme. Of course it might not be as quick as in other countries where democracy is not such a concern," she said.

She was also quizzed about the government's decision to stop funding the local business accelerator programme which offered free mentoring and planning to small firms. "I wasn't privy to the decision so I don't know why it was taken," she said.

She suggested that firms should pay their own way when it comes to advice and guidance.

"We shouldn't be spending government money propping up businesses when they could invest in their own future," she said.                    

She ended by praising chef Peter Vaughan on The Bistro in Devizes, not only for the quality of the breakfast he and his staff served but also for his commitment to taking on apprentices. "He is an inspiration," she said.

The day continues with business seminars and a speech at lunchtime by actress, model and now lingerie entrepreneur Caprice.

She praised Wiltshire College, which, under the leadership of new principal Amanda Burnside has turned around its fortunes and earned a Good Ofsted rating.