GORDON BIRTWISTLE MP: My ‘apprenticeship’ with Total

WHEN the House was on recess I was able to spend a lot of time in Burnley, although on Wednesday I had to come back down to London to attend a meeting with Total.

As readers of this column will be aware, I am undertaking my own “apprenticeship” with Total and Statoil. Last week I attended an AGM at Total and briefed senior employers on how my fellowship had been developing, along with what I had considered to be the highlights. Later that evening I was a guest of Total at an annual oil and gas dinner. The energy industry is so important and we really need to look at more sustainable and long-term energy solutions, including more government commitments to low carbon energy.

A lot of you have written to me about Tim Yeo’s amendment to the Energy Bill and the need for more green jobs. I totally agree with the recommendations of the energy select committee and hope the Government begins to make firmer commitments in this area as well as making more assurances about renewable energy models such as wind. The UK not only has the perfect conditions to seriously develop offshore wind power, but we also have the means to manufacture turbines. Unfortunately, until the Government makes more long-term commitments to this type of renewable energy, manufacturing firms are unwilling to invest in manufacturing the turbines, and rightly so.

While I was in London I also had a follow-up meeting on careers advice with Ahead Partnership, a social enterprise supporting businesses. Like me, they see the need for vastly improved careers advice. They have introduced a programme called Make the Grade which enables schools to improve educational outcomes through long-term partnerships with business. This is similar to some of the partnerships we have in Burnley and I fully support their initiative.

During the week I had a number of very interesting meetings with constituents and businesses, I spoke at the Rotary Club and also attended a residents’ meeting at the former McBride’s factory. Having the week off from Parliament was really helpful as I feel I have been able to catch up on a lot of important local issues and help constituents with some seriously pressing matters.

On Friday I made a trip to Airbus in Broughton as part of my role as chairman of the backbench committee on business, innovation and skills and my chairmanship of the apprenticeship APPG. The visit was fantastic and it was fascinating to see how the wings were made. The wings are absolutely huge and have to be shipped between factories on specially made boats. Each wing costs millions of pounds and the plane when finished costs £300m. Watching these wings being constructed on the assembly line was just fantastic and a real exhibition of the UK’s manufacturing prowess. I took the opportunity while at Airbus to meet some apprentices. Once again I was blown away by the commitment and enthusiasm of these young people. A group of them are coming to visit Parliament soon to speak at an event and I am looking forward to talking to them some more on their visit. Our young apprentices are excellent role models, not only for the manufacturing sector but also for their generation.

After the street stall on Saturday I travelled to Widnes to speak at the Lib-Dem regional conference “Liberalism Matters.” I was on a panel with Andrew Stunell and we took a number of interesting questions from the audience. Being in coalition with a more right-wing party it is essential that the Liberal Democrats promote liberal ideas and retain our identity.