Today I met Caroline from the NFU. Ipswich is the County Town for rural Suffolk, so we had lots to discuss from apprenticeships to the cost of fertiliser and reducing fly-tipping.
I was keen to emphasise the importance of agricultural apprenticeships. Skills, training and apprenticeships is something I am always trying to promote to ensure the best opportunities for Ipswich people. When it comes to agricultural apprenticeships, it seems that more certainty is required in the way they are run. Level 2 apprenticeships are currently available for a certain period of time, however there is nothing to replace them and this is creating some uncertainty. Many young people from Ipswich travel to rural areas of Suffolk to work in agriculture, and a number of Ipswich-based students take courses at Suffolk Rural college, which is linked to Suffolk New College, so this is an issue which affects both rural Suffolk and our County Town.
Another key issue we discussed was the increasing cost of fertiliser. Suffolk farms import fertiliser via Port of Ipswich, and fertiliser prices have shot up. This is impacting not only local farms growing British produce here in Suffolk, but also having an effect on the Port of Ipswich trade.
I had the chance to raise the issue of fly-tipping, which is prevalent around rural Suffolk. This is an issue which constituents have raised with me as something they have noticed when out and about across the county. I wanted to discuss this with Caroline and see what can be done to reduce the issue together.
Thank you to Caroline for an interesting and productive meeting.
This morning I visited the Northgate Sport Centre Summer Camp to hear more about the IBC Summer Holiday iCard activities for local Ipswich pupils. I met with the Sports and Leisure Service Manager at Ipswich Borough Council, Bella, who showed me around the camp. They have 50-60 users on a daily basis with the iCard Summer Holiday camp being offered for free to any eligible children between 5-16 years old who live between postcodes IP1-IP4.
This is a fun way for Ipswich pupils to fill their summer holidays with sporting activities such as football, gymnastics, basketball and trampolining. I was pleased to see that archery was also being offered with adjustments made for children with disabilities. Bella explained how they are working with charities to deliver sport activities, including some meant specially to support children with disabilities.
I continue to be incredibly supportive of any way to incorporate sports to all pupils, including those with special educational needs. This iCard programme incorporates both socialising with friends, with sporting activities and healthy exercise and whilst there it was clear to see how much pupils were enjoying the variety of activities.
Thank you to Chris Starkie from the New Anglia LEP for a productive meeting today, where we covered everything from devolution to levelling up to apprenticeships and skills.
Chris and I agree that a level 3 deal for Suffolk, with a directly elected county council leader who is accountable, would be good for the area – bringing more power and ability to invest directly in Ipswich. There are still a lot of logistics to discuss here and technicalities to work out, but I personally think that with devolution usually comes a package of funding which would be good for the Town.
Chris and I discussed the Levelling Up funding, and the progress of the Town Deal projects. I have been writing to the Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to press forwards on these projects.
I told Chris about my views on the value of apprenticeships, and that we need to make it easier for Small and Medium Enterprises to offer apprenticeships and apply for the apprenticeship levy. Skills and apprenticeships are vital to the future of our local economy, and making this process easier for small businesses is something we need to work on.
Thank you to Chris for all the work the New Anglia LEP does for our local economy here.
I was contacted by constituents affected by the closure of Willow Park Montessori Nursery, which will be shutting its doors at the beginning of September due to staff recruitment issues and funding. Having written to the Minister for Children and Families about these challenges, I wanted to visit the nursery personally.
Willow Park Montessori Nursery has been providing vital care and education to their children, and it is critical that the funding is made available to the early years sector. The nursery has 22 members of staff, however struggled to recruit. I have also visited other early years providers recently who have raised the same issue.
Early years teaching is an incredibly valuable career and one which contributes greatly to society. To be able to recruit the right talent for these roles, we not only need to appreciate the real value of early years teaching and staff, but also reflect this in salaries too. Understandably if other jobs are paid more highly, early years staff are likely to leave. We need to make sure sufficient early years funding is available for nurseries to give their staff the right wages and ensure they can recruit the best from their field. It is important to make early years careers attractive, and salaries need to be higher for jobs of such significant societal value. Early years staff are fundamental to shaping the minds of young people, and evidently there is increasing awareness and recognition of the importance of earlier years but funding for things like salaries needs to follow.
No one goes into working in early years to make money. They go into it due to their passion for young people. However the salaries shouldn’t be so low they make careers in early years prohibitive.
Successful nurseries like this one should be given the funding and the tools required to give children the best opportunities possible. It is a real shame to see the loss of this nursery and early years staff moving out of the field. The nursery has been here for 20 years, and in that time has had a very positive impact on hundreds of children.
I think the Education Committee should be doing a review of the Early Years sector and this is something I will suggest in September.
I have been working with Chris Pont, chairman of IJYI, on skills and apprenticeships in tech and the opportunities we can offer students. We are working together to make it easier for small and medium sized enterprises, those with payroll under 2 million who aren’t part of the apprenticeship levy scheme, to hire apprentices.
Chris is running a degree apprenticeship scheme in computer engineering for young people to gain digital skills. The world of tech is fast-moving and constantly growing, so it is more important than ever that we give students the right skills to keep up with the changing needs of the job market. Chris was also in Parliament earlier this year to give evidence to the Education Select Committee on tech and skills education.
Starting in September, students will spend one day a week at Suffolk University and the rest at IJYI, as part of the 3-year degree apprenticeship. With 2/3 to start with, there are then plans to scale up. BT currently have 50 students on the scheme, with the intention of giving young people the skills they need to stay on in the industry. This degree apprenticeship is exactly the kind of thing we should be promoting, as it enhances skills training in our local people as well as contributing to the local economy. My view is that we need a lot more skills training and apprenticeships but this will only happen if it’s easier for small and medium sized businesses to hire. It can’t just be big businesses, and we need to offer the right support for small businesses.
I’m working with Chris to see how we can expand these opportunities, as well as make sure that students in the local area have access to careers advice and know exactly what is on offer for their futures.
Huge thank you to Chris and the team at IJYI for putting so much energy and commitment into getting this scheme up and running.