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Friday's Business and Politics round-up

17 Aug 2018

Person reading the IoD's news round up with breakfast

Good morning,

Many of this morning's front pages pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, who passed away yesterday, at her Detroit home.

According to President Obama, at whose inauguration the Queen of Soul sung, Franklin "helped define the American experience". Elton John described her death "a blow for everyone who loves real music."

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Source-us-our Apprentice

The number of apprenticeship starts this academic year has fallen by 31%, latest official figures have shown.

The significant decline has led to calls for the Government's flagship Levy policy to be reformed, as the target of 3 million starts by 2020 looks to be "sinking below the horizon".

There have been 100,000 fewer apprenticeships this year from August to May. While yesterday's data release showed that the number of starts in May had increased slightly year-on-year, the comparison does not hold, according to the official statistical release, as the figures for May 2017 were severely reduced as the new Levy system was bedding in.

The IoD's Director of Policy Edwin Morgan argued the system wasn't delivering for businesses, saying that "a shortfall in approved standards for STEM subjects will hardly reassure companies in crucial high-skill sectors that need apprentices."

Morgan added: "Firms are not against the Levy in principle. Government has been talking to businesses about where the obstacles are in the system, but it’s now time for action to get the system back on track."

A level playing field

Staying with education, A Level results were released yesterday, but there appeared to be no one set of marking instructions on how to report on them.

The Daily Telegraph led with the rise in top grades - despite the introduction of tougher exams. At the same time, the Guardian led with the drop in those achieving C or above.

The Times pointed out that for the first time, the Chinese A Level was more popular than the German one. This was part of a broader trend of students moving away from European languages. The paper highlighted that French, down 8% this year in terms of popularity, had itself been overtaken by PE.

Considering the results from a different perspective, the Financial Times focussed on the intensifying competition between universities for new students.

Meanwhile, rapper Stormzy gained plaudits for the well-timed launch of a new 'Stormzy scholarship' to enable black students to attend Cambridge University.

Up in smoke 

E-cigarettes can play an important role in helping people to quit smoking, and restrictions around their use should be relaxed, according to a new report from MPs.

The Science and Technology Committee had been investigating the health effects and policy measures around the devices, and has concluded that tax on the products should be eased in recognition of their relative health benefits over smoking, while the industry should have greater licence to advertise.

One recent, small, experimental study under laboratory conditions suggested vaping could disable immune cells in the lung.

But Public Health England's current advice is that vaping is around 95% less harmful than smoking,  while there is no evidence they act as a 'gateway' into smoking.

Chair of the MPs Committee Norman Lamb said: "Current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same."

The report was also welcomed by health charities Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health.

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