Bedford Question Time

Apprenticeships and degrees need cultural shift

13 March 2015

Kempston-based organisation the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) last night held a lively ‘Question Time’ debate at its headquarters with the MP candidates for Bedford and Kempston. The debate focused on apprenticeships in Bedford and how the MP candidates propose to support businesses and young people should they be elected on 7 May.

CILEx chief executive Mandie Lavin chaired the debate which hosted the five political parties standing for election in the constituency. Current MP Richard Fuller represented the Conservatives, Patrick Hall for Labour, Mahmud Henry Rogers for the Liberal Democrats, Charlie Smith for UKIP and Lucy Bywater represented the Green Party as the council candidate for Castle Ward.

Richard Fuller MP, Mandie Lavin & Patrick HallThe debate kicked off with a key issue raised by managing director of CILEx Law School, Noel Inge, asking how the candidates propose to shift negative perceptions of those who have served an apprenticeship versus those who attended university. Richard Fuller replied by stating he intends to blur the lines between the two: “The ultimate key to the cultural change is looking at ways in which we can merge the two. If we can stop this sharp distinction and… look at ways we can integrate apprenticeships with our universities then we will start to blur the lines.”

Charlie Smith agreed there is no uniform approach to education and that apprenticeships need to be given more respect: “UKIP thinks we shouldn’t be looking for 50 per cent of people to go to university; lots of people benefit from it, some won’t. Some will be burdened by huge debts that they’ll be paying back for years. Some will never pay the debts back.”

Patrick Hall was positive about the university route but also agreed that a cultural shift is needed: “Going to university is not only about learning Latin and Greek… you can learn engineering and law and other subjects. However there are half of school leavers who don’t go to university and absolutely we need to do something about that… it needs to be led by Government.”

Steven Palmer, academy manager at Aspire Achieve Advance Ltd asked what incentives the panel would introduce to encourage more local businesses to support apprenticeship programmes. Lucy Bywater was sceptical: “We need to have incentives but I am wary of incentives that give employers the wrong motivation… apprenticeships do contribute a lot. I’d be wary of giving tax breaks.”

Question Time PanelWhilst Apprenticeships are paid jobs, currently however the wage is not in line with the standard National Minimum Wage, with some young learners earning only £2.73 per hour. The panel were asked whether it’s right that the minimum wage for apprentices is lower. Mahmud Henry Rogers said: “Apprentices are expected to raise productivity in the company where they are employed…I agree that the [National Minimum Wage] should be equal regardless of your age and whether you are studying for an apprenticeship.”

In attendance were, among others, careers advisors from local schools including Hastingsbury College, Biddenham International School, Bedford Academy and Queensbury Academy. Representatives from apprenticeship providers were also key contributors at the debate including Bedford College, CILEx Law School and Aspire Achieve Advance Ltd.

CILEx hosted the debate not only as an employer of apprentices but also as an awarding body for legal services apprenticeships. Just last week CILEx won the Bedford College Outstanding Employer of the Year Award for supporting local apprenticeships in the borough.



1. From L-R: Richard Fuller MP; CILEx chief executive Mandie Lavin; Patrick Hall, Labour candidate

2. From L-R: Charlie Smith, UKIP; Richard Fuller MP, Conservatives; Mandie Lavin CILEx chief executive; Lucy Bywater, Green Party; Patrick Hall, Labour; Mahmud Henry Rogers, Liberal Democrats