THE Government's apprenticeship drive is failing to reach young people in the North-East, new figures have revealed.

Since the start of the academic year, 580 fewer 16-18 year olds have started apprenticeships in this region in comparison with the same period last year.

The alarming 7.17 per cent drop comes ahead of new unemployment figures which are expected to show that a record one million young people are out of work.

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The apprenticeship numbers fell in a third of England's regions, with only the North West suffering a bigger fall than the North-East. But, in London there was a 7 per cent increase and numbers rose 2.87 per cent in the South-East.

The widening North-South divide follows a recent report that revealed the North-East has the highest proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training in the UK.

The news is a significant blow to Government claims that it is committed to supporting the region's young job seekers.

Earlier this year, John Hayes, the Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister, said that apprenticeship numbers were extremely encouraging and were testament to the government's unwavering commitment to apprenticeships. He had earlier labelled critics of the coalition's apprenticeship push as "carpers cringers, whiners and whingers."

The picture for mature apprenticeships, however, has shown an improvement.

Figures from the Department for Business showed that of the additional 55,700 apprenticeship starts across all age groups to April 70 per cent were aged 25 or over.

However, the increase in adult apprenticeships has coincided with the coalition's decision to scrap the Train to Gain scheme which funded basic, adult workplace training. Labour said thousands of adults who would have been eligible for Train to Gain funding were starting apprenticeships instead and helping to put a gloss on the figures.

Labour is now calling on the Government to boost opportunities for young people in the region by insisting that companies winning large public sector contracts offer new apprenticeship places.

Gordon Marsden, Shadow Minister for Further Education, Skills and Regional Growth said: "With youth unemployment at its highest level for a generation, these statistics lay bare the Tory-led Government's failure to ensure that there are enough quality apprenticeships for the young people in the North-East crying out for these opportunities.

"The fact that the number of young people starting an apprenticeship has fallen here in the North-East is staggering when you compare this to Ministers' rhetoric and claims.

"We would take action by using public procurement and government contracts to boost apprenticeship places. Ministers need to get a grip and urgently boost apprenticeship opportunities for young people, but they have refused to back our plan," added Mr Marsden.

A Department for Education Spokesperson said: "Our priority is ensuring that every apprenticeship delivers a high quality experience which really enables the individual to progress. We have been focussing our efforts on driving up quality and removing pockets of poor quality provision."