'Remarkable' Ladder campaign hailed in Parliament
A "remarkable" Express & Star campaign that has created thousands of apprenticeships across the West Midlands should serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country, MPs have been told.
Ian Austin praised the newspaper's groundbreaking Ladder scheme during a Westminster Hall debate on the future of adult learning and vocational skills.
The Dudley North MP said the scheme, which was started by Kevin Davis from The Vine Trust and the E&S in 2014, had made "a huge difference" to the lives of people across the region.
The Ladder aims to help people gain hands-on work experience to started in their chosen careers by forging a direct link between employers and trainees.
Recently relaunched, it has involved more than 500 companies from across the Black Country, Staffordshire and Shropshire, and has seen more than 3,000 apprenticeships created.
Speaking in the debate on education provision in Dudley, Mr Austin paid tribute to Mr Davis – describing him as "the driving force" behind the campaign – and the E&S, which he said had been "critical" to the Ladder’s success.
He told MPs: "What Kevin Davis, together with Martin Wright, editor of the Express & Star, and his predecessors and colleagues have achieved is remarkable, and their work will make a huge difference to the lives and prospects of thousands of local people.
"We should imagine how much better off Britain would be if every local paper and the voluntary sector worked together to do that sort of important work in every community.
"It is a great example of how, over the past 15 years, we have brought together schools, colleges, local universities, local authorities, employers, training providers, the region’s media and the community as a whole to make educational skills our number one priority so that we can attract new investment, new industries and well-paid jobs to replace the ones that we have lost in the Black Country, help local businesses to grow, give youngsters a first-class start and help adults to get new jobs, too."
Mr Austin also hailed the impact of the Dudley Academies Trust, which was established by Dudley College and had helped to improve standards in the schools it runs in the borough.
The debate was called by Stourbridge MP Margot James, who reflected on the "very sad" closure of Stourbridge College as she highlighted "the need for continued skills provision" across Dudley.
She said the adult education budget for the West Midlands of £2.1 million was woefully insufficient, and had led to "dire" social and economic consequences.
Ms James is due to meet with the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and local colleges at the end of the month to make the case for new funding to secure the future of adult learning and skills provision in Stourbridge.