Owen Paterson
Conservative MP for North Shropshire

Since I was first elected as an MP, in 1997, I have had an association with Derwen College in my constituency.Derwen is a national, residential college which educates students with a range of physical and learning disabilities, as well as with challenging behaviours.I elieve it to be a unique and transformative place which is making a massive difference to the lives of young people. I am proud to have worked with them over many years.

All children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities should be able to access quality education and training which supports their individual aspirations and enables them to lead happy and fulfilled lives. I am delighted, therefore, that Derwen College, Premier Inn and Novus Property Solutions have been working together, since 2013, to give students from the college access to local Premier Inn hotels for work experience opportunities in the hospitality industry.

More importantly, they have built a training centre on site at the college, the first of its kind in the country, consisting of a reception area, three en-suite bedrooms and a linen room creating a real-life work setting for students to learn housekeeping skills. It looks like any other Premier Inn and gives students a perfect setting to train for a career.

The facility enables increased numbers of students to access industry standard training in hospitality and, ultimately, to improve
their chances of gaining employment after college. Training such as that offers a great way to break down barriers, help develop transferable
skills and instil confidence in the young people learning at Derwen.The ambition of the college is for the training centre to expand and become a functioning hotel with paying customers.

According to research by Mencap, there are only seven percent of people with learning disabilities currently in paid employment. That is despite 65 per cent of people with disabilities expressing a desire to work. People with a learning disability can be invaluable employees; they have lower sickness levels and stay in entry level jobs longer, thus saving employers money on recruitment. Employers report that staff team morale increases as a result of working with colleagues with a learning disability. People with a learning disability often feel excluded from accessing work, and are very keen to perform well. Their enthusiasm can be infectious, with team dynamics and overall performance often improving as a result of employing someone with a learning disability.

Earlier this year, I met with Clare Howard, Chief Executive of NatSpec, the membership association for organisations which offer specialist further education and training for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. She told me that the savings to the taxpayer in health, social care and enabling the parents and carers of those young people to re-join the workforce, can be up to £1 million per person over a lifetime. The Social Market Foundation has estimated that by increasing the number of people with learning disabilities entering the workforce, there could be a boost to the UK economy of at least £13 million.

In 2013, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, launched Disability Confident. Through Disability Confident, the Government is working with employers to challenge attitudes, increase understanding of disability, remove barriers, and ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.The Government is committed to halving the disability employment gap. Employers have a crucial role to play in that, and Premier Inn are leading the way. There are great benefits to employing and retaining disabled people. I would encourage the hospitality industry, as a whole, to embrace the benefits of employing people with disabilities and adapt their working environments to help support and accommodate potential employees. By working with colleges like Derwen, more people will be trained to fill roles which lead to fulfilling careers and in which lives can be transformed.