Three young people start work in Westminster for the first time today. Breon Finch,
Alice Hannam and Rachel Shackleton are the first apprentices at the Parliamentary Academy, a cross-party initiative to break open access to the
nation’s seat of power for young people who can’t afford to do a lengthy unpaid internship.
So hats off to Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire; Mike
Crockart, Lib Dem member for Edinburgh West and Conservative Campaign Headquarters, who have shown the imagination to take on staff who don’t come from the usual tiny talent pool of white
middle class graduates. John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow-in-Furness, will shortly be recruiting and after the initial pilot the scheme
will launch in full by Spring of next year.
The Parliamentary Academy was the brainchild of Tory MP Robert Halfon, but it is a cross-party initiative with the full support of Ed Miliband’s office as well as CCHQ. The apprentices will work at
least three days a week in Westminster and have one day a week of training from the National Skills Academy. If they stay the course they will each receive an apprenticeship in Business
Administration. Enlightened MPs really do want to do the right thing (although I have to name and shame the absurd Hendon MP Matthew Offord at this point, who withdrew from the scheme at the last
minute when interviews for young hopefuls had already been scheduled).
I am proud to be associated with the scheme, which will help mitigate some of the wilder abuses of unpaid interns (parliamentarians are some of the worst offenders). Alex Graham of TV company Wall
to Wall has written passionately about the issue in The Times today. It’s behind the paywall but very much worth a read. Alex, a trustee of my charity New Deal
of the Mind, explains that, as the son of a twice-widowed secretary, he could never have broken into journalism without being paid at the start of his career.:
"We’re not talking about handouts. We’re talking about the State partnering with enlightened employers to offer real opportunities to young people. Someone gave me that opportunity
thirty years ago. Will we deny this generation a similar opportunity?"
MPs need to take a lead on this issue. And hiring an apprentice is one way of putting their money where their collective mouth is.