Speech at Conservative Campaign Headquarters
"I believe that Britain needs to harness the skills and potential of its people.
I believe that we need vocational education fit for the 21st century.
Britain faces a huge and unprecedented challenge to our competitiveness from the emerging, low-cost economies of the Far East. To survive in future, we need a skilled workforce capable of offering extra value to employers, and helping our businesses survive in the face of this competitive threat.
Yet many of our businesses say they lack the skills they need, particularly advanced craft skills.
In many fields we have to bring in people from overseas - often with a damaging effect on other countries - like the Aids-stricken African nations who lose key care staff to the NHS and our care homes.
But we have a million young people not in education, employment or training.
We need to do a better job to build our own skills.
We need to fill the skill gaps that are holding back many of our businesses
We need to engage the disengaged young - so often the cause of trouble in our society - and help them build worthwhile skills.
The Government's focus in dealing with this challenge has been wrong. It has been obsessed with Higher Education as the solution to all our problems.
Conservatives believe that our real need is for stronger, vocational education. We believe that it is this part of our education system which has let us down, by comparison with other countries, and we will rectify this.
We believe that we will only build the skills of our people by offering greater choice to learners and employers, by empowering our professionals and by reducing the waste that has bedeviled post-16 education.
We will also strengthen the vocational opportunities offered to pupils between 14 and 16, helping them find the right options for their abilities, and so start to tackle the disengagement that leads to truancy and indiscipline.
Those principles lie at the heart of our alternative plans to build a more highly-skilled economy."