A BIG fall in the number of apprentices in Bradford was revealed yesterday, as the general election starting gun was fired.

Only 4,240 people started a Government-backed apprenticeship scheme in 2013/14, a decline of 540 or 11.3 per cent on the total of 4,780 the previous year.

Across England, the number of starts has plunged by 70,000 to the lowest number since the apprenticeships initiative started in 2010.

And there is particular concern over a 6,000 fall in the number of 19 to 24-year-olds becoming apprentices – although no figures were provided for each local area.

David Cameron has personally pointed to apprenticeships as key to his pledge to “end youth unemployment” in the next parliament, with a target to create a further three million.

The department for business (BIS) said the fall was explained by new rules to raise quality by ensuring all apprenticeships are “real jobs” and last at least 12 months.

A spokesman said: “Our insistence on quality has had an impact on numbers in the short term, but has resulted in a marked improvement in the quality of training.”

The figures were revealed as Labour started its campaign trail with shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt visiting the First Bus depot in Bradford to meet the firm’s apprentice engineers.

First Bus has recruited seven people on its four-year apprenticeships at its Bradford depot in areas including engineering and administration.

Mr Hunt said: “We want to make sure people are given adequate chances for these types of apprenticeships.”

“I have just met some of the apprentices here building successful careers.

“We think that whatever type of school, there needs to be a better quality of leadership. There needs to be qualified teachers in the classroom.”

Carl Thompson, 21, of Allerton, is currently in the second year of his four-year engineering apprenticeship at First Bus.

He said: “I’m a coach builder. I love it. I’m doing something different all of the time.”

Imran Hussain, Bradford Council’s deputy leader and Labour parliamentary candidate for Bradford East, was also at yesterday’s visit.

Councillor Hussain said: “All people want in Bradford East is to be given an opportunity. Nobody comes here with a silver spoon in their mouth.

“First Bus is a fantastic opportunity for people. A total of 130 people applied for just seven posts here.”

He said that theGet Bradford Working project had helped over 1,000 people apprenticeships and jobs.

The number of apprenticeships also fell in Calderdale by 14.7 per cent, in Kirklees by 8.4 per cent and in Leeds by 12.3 per cent, the Government statistics showed.