Photo: Verity Stockdale
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, recently visited the multi-functional Junction 3 Development in Easton to witness the partnership and community work of the apprenticeship scheme On Site Bristol. The scheme helps local construction businesses recruit and support the training of local people in order to further redevelopment in the city.
During his visit, Clegg was helped by apprentice Zach Mealing, 17, to fit a radiator in one of the many apartments that make up part of the Junction 3 Development. Mealing, who is on a four year training programme with On Site Bristol, is just one of many apprentices working at the site. The On Site partnership, inaugurated in 1996 and led by Bristol City Council, supports more than 200 apprentices on the programme at any one time, thirty of which are employed directly by the Council itself. The scheme operates on various construction sites across Bristol, including the University of Bristol’s Life Sciences facility currently being erected opposite the Arts and Social Sciences library.
Whilst in Bristol, Clegg was forced to defend the decisions that the Liberal Democrats have made since the coalition came into force two years ago. He summed up his party’s efforts saying that ‘Everybody knows that there are challenges as we make savings so we can pay our way in the world, but I think people increasingly recognise that what the Liberal Democrats have done is brave and for the national interest and that is something I am very proud of.’
Following his visit to the scheme, Epigram grilled Clegg on prospects for graduates in the future.
When asked how putting thousands of students further into debt upon leaving university would help them to get on the property ladder, Clegg highlighted the new repayment system for students paying the higher tuition fees. ‘Of course everyone focuses on the headline “greater fees”. Actually, the really important number to focus on is how much [graduates] are paying in [their] repayments, and those are going to come down for absolutely every graduate in the future. At the moment graduates have to start paying back as soon as they earn £15,000 [but] in the future they won’t have to pay back until they earn £21,000.’
Clegg was keen to promote a positive mental attitude for young people, criticising the Guardian’s recent label of this year’s university leavers as ‘graduates without a future’. ‘I think it’s really important that people don’t talk themselves into a state of complete gloom,’ Clegg advised. ‘I think that if we can combine [an investment in further education colleges and an expansion of apprenticeship schemes] with the work that we need to do with the banks, so they get lending to businesses, invest more in infrastructure then I believe that in the future we will of course be able to provide youngsters with the opportunities that they deserve.’
The Deputy Prime Minister was also quick to attack the former Labour government for many of the issues currently facing young people in Britain. ‘You’ve got to remember youth unemployment has been going up unfortunately in this country since 2004, so it was going up even in the good times when the Labour government had all that money which they wasted; so of course it’s more difficult now because of the terrible legacy they left us.’ Clegg continued, ‘I believe that the future is bright for young people and I think it’s wrong when people talk down the prospects of youngsters, because it’s when you are young that you should feel most optimistic, not gloomy, about your future.’
Whether talking about further education colleges truly answered the question or not, Clegg adequately demonstrated a competent and eloquent display of political question dodging by not, at any point, justifying the extortionate shake-up of tuition fees which lost the Liberal Democrats so much support amongst the student population. That said, however, he was very adept at fitting that radiator.