BUSINESS secretary Vince Cable paid a whistlestop visit to Darwen yesterday and was impressed with the success of two firms.

He was shown around Lucite International and engineering firm WEC Group after both companies have benefited from grant funding through Regenerate Pennine Lancashire.

During his visit to WEC, Mr Cable met some of the apprentices from the training academy, who showed him their skills.

Asked whether apprenticeships were key to addressing youth unemployment, Mr Cable said: “They're expanding very rapidly. We are talking about problems of companies like WEC getting access to it.

“There's a big growth of apprentices, 60 per cent over last couple of years bringing in a lot of money in spite of all the cuts that have happened. It's a valuable step forward for young people trying to get into the labour market.

“There are a whole set of problems affecting young people, but apart from apprenticeships the other things growing rapidly is these UTCs, they're brilliant.

“They will provide the link between skills and work for kids who are not terribly interested in the academic route.

"We have to treat vocational training with the same respect we treat undergraduates."

WEC Group Director Wayne Wild, who was also joined by Regenerate Pennine Lancashire Chairman, Dennis Mendoros, said the visit had been worthwhile.

He said: “We had David Cameron here the day before the election so to have another minister here at a family business shows we must be doing something right.

“One thing I wanted to get across is the cost of apprentice training. We take on 10 apprentices a year and get over 100 applications.

“It's going quite well but we have to fund that ourselves. I asked Mr Cable what opportunities there are for a company like ours which doesn't fall under the SME bracket so whether he listens as intently as you hope he does, it is difficult to say.”