Ed Miliband will today promise an education revolution for the “forgotten 50 per cent” of youngsters who do not go to university.
He will announce in his leader’s speech at Labour’s Manchester conference a new qualification at A-level standard combining English and maths, skills training and work experience.
Waggish critics are sure to dub the new technical baccalaureate the ‘pleb level’ but Mr Miliband believes it is vital to help rebuild Britain.
While unemployment is falling, led by the West, the number of youngsters who have been stuck long-term on the dole is at record levels.
He wants to raise the status of vocational skills after decades of neglect, matching economic rivals such as Germany.
“For years and years, our party has focused on those young people who go to university – and that matters,” he will say.
“But it’s time now to focus on those who don’t go to university, the young people who are too often the forgotten 50 per cent. We cannot succeed if we have an education system which only works for half the country.”
In the 21st century, he says, everyone should be in education up to 18, not 16, which meant a new system from the age of 14 for vocational qualifications.
“I want ours to be a country where kids aspire, not just to go to Oxford and Cambridge, but to excellent technical colleges and elite vocational institutions.”
The scheme would see reforms of the apprenticeship system for teenagers, with £1 billion of public money taken away from a quango and given to business to control.
Tough new powers will clamp down on “free rider” companies that refuse to train youngsters, but poach them from rivals.
Mr Miliband will also pledge to tackle “rip-off Britain”, including the banks who hammer small businesses.
The energy giants, who only change petrol pump prices when the global cost of oil goes up, but not down, and privatised railways raising fares by 10 per cent a year, are also in his sights.
People who always thought they would be comfortably off are now struggling to pay their bills, he will say.
“They think the system doesn’t work for them. And, you know what? It doesn’t.”
The Labour leader will deliver what aides called a “very personal” speech, drawing on his background as the state-educated son of refugees from Nazi Germany.
And in a dig at his more-privileged political rivals from landowning dynasties, he will say: “My family hasn’t sat under the same oak tree for the last 500 years.”
In his speech yesterday, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls announced a taskforce to rebuild Britain’s infrastructure.
It will look at how to deliver superfast broadband to the whole of the UK, including the rural parts of the West that miss out,
It will decide how to update the antiquated National Grid to prevent more power cuts in the future, including a plan to invest in nuclear power, wind and tidal power and other renewables.
The work, led by Sir John Armitt, who ran the successful Olympic Delivery Authority, will also focus on flood protection, and rail and airport capacity.