Labour party leader Ed Miliband has hit out at the coalition government's efforts to stimulate the UK's IT industry, saying that falling apprenticeship numbers and increased levels of migrant workers is "letting down Britain's businesses".
On a visit to east London's Tech City, he said government statistics indicated a significant fall in the uptake of IT apprenticeships, by around 25 percent in the past year. At the same time, applications for tier-two visas increased by seven percent, with the most common source of applications coming from workers starting jobs in the information and communications industry.
His visit also included a trip to Hackney College, which runs its own apprenticeships scheme in partnership with Tech City. Miliband remarked: "Businesses need to be able to recruit talent and plug the skill gaps by hiring from overseas. But both they and government have a responsibility to ensure that in the future we have the skills needed for Britain to succeed in the future. "
"We hear a lot from David Cameron about the global race," he continued. "But the truth is that he is letting down Britain's businesses and our young people."
The Conservatives hit back with skills minister Matthew Hancock shooting down Miliband's claims, saying numbers of apprenticeships are significantly up on where they were under the Labour government "There are a record number of apprentices under this Government, but this is the same old Labour party, making promises they know they can't keep," he said.
Hancock added that Labour policy requiring businesses to take on an apprentice for every foreign worker they hire would be against the law. "They are once again demanding an unworkable apprenticeship scheme, that they know would be illegal unless it was open to all EU citizens - encouraging more immigration. It's hardworking British people who would pay the price."
The Conservatives also maintained that the Tech City scheme and the taxpayer funding that went with it were for the most part driven by David Cameron.
The opposition leader announced the opening of a "digital skills taskforce" run by former Tomorrow's World presenter and TeenTech chief executive Maggie Philbin. Miliband said the independent report would look to find out how any future government can help to strengthen businesses and young people's digital skills.
"Nothing will determine Britain's future more than the skills of our young people," he said. "Those skills are the route to higher-paying jobs and to providing business with the talent they need to compete in the world."
On the announcement of her task force project, Philbin said: "Britain has led the world in new technologies for decades, but we need to make sure we do everything to maintain that success by training and developing the talents that our country needs.
She added: "I would like to emphasise that this is a completely independent piece of work, which will be shared with all political parties to inform future policies as they see fit."
A lack of IT skills has been a running theme for both Conservative and Labour governments in recent years, with a completely overhauled and rebranded computing curriculum starting in 2014.
However, not all business organisations are convinced that the coding focus will work, maintaining that basic IT skills are more important for the majority of workers who will be IT users rather than creators.
The government has made several high-profile efforts to boost the UK's tech industry in recent months, including the launch of its Future Fifty programme to support the UK's fastest-growing tech businesses looking to compete on the global stage.
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