Surralun apprentice scheme plumbs the depths, says Mullins

Sir Alan Sugar's turn to get a roasting, as his state-funded apprenticeship scheme comes under fire.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Lord Sugar has been forced to defend the government apprenticeship scheme he fronts, after entrepreneur and plumber-to-the-stars Charlie Mullins described it as a ‘complete waste of time’. Mullins, who runs Pimlico Plumbers (the UK’s largest independent plumbing company) dismissed the scheme as ‘window dressing’. Given that it’s aiming to create 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020, and has so far recruited just over 1,000 people, he may well have a point…

The programme, fronted by Apprentice star and enterprise tsar Sir Alan Sugar, has to date cost almost £3m, but only 1,185 apprenticeship vacancies have been filled out of the 18,000 advertised. Mullins (who knows a thing or two about apprentices, having been one himself and hired many more) reckons it’s a total waste of money, arguing that that the website is just a platform for job ads. Nor is he a fan of Sir Alan: ‘I’ve met him a couple of times and he doesn’t know the first thing about apprenticeships,’ he told the Times. ‘He hasn’t done one himself. The television show, despite its name, bears no resemblance to apprentices – they’re paid £100,000 a year. He hasn’t got a clue.’ Ouch.

As you’d expect, Lord Sugar – or Surralun as he’s known on the show – was quick to defend the scheme this weekend, pointing out that he had received 5,000 enquiries from employers since the campaign’s launch in February. But Mullins wasn’t impressed. ‘It’s laughable, isn’t it? If any of his so-called apprentices had wasted £3m on 5,000 enquiries he’d say: You’re fired!’ Nor are the Tories: shadow skills minister David Willett dismissed Sugar’s role as a ‘celebrity gimmick’, and said the Government should be directly funding apprenticeship places instead.

Speaking of which, Mullins has his own plan for encouraging apprenticeships: he wants the Government to take the money they’re spending on jobseekers’ allowance and use it to fund 100% of an apprentice’s salary for one year, and 50% in the second – before the company takes on the full cost in year three. He’s just taken on 10 himself, but said he’d gladly take another 20 if the Government was willing to help foot the bill. ‘If we take on more apprentices now, we could be in a good position when the worst is over,’ he told the Telegraph. ‘Then they become taxpayers and everybody’s a winner.’

However, so far the Government hasn’t been too receptive to Mullins’ proposals – apparently he’s written to three Labour ministers, but has so far been given the cold shoulder.  And slagging off their high-profile enterprise tsar probably won’t make him any more popular in Whitehall...

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