I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions – but this year I did.

I set myself – and our local public and private sector employers - a challenge to make 2012 the year of the apprenticeship.

Our community has the lowest unemployment in England but that hides the fact that so many people locally are on low wages. One of my most important tasks as your MP is to act to bring well-paid jobs to the South Lakes. I see creating more apprenticeships as a vital way of developing skills in our community to help attract more high value employers to our area.

Apprenticeships provide people with the chance to learn a skill or a trade and to earn at the same time. This year, South Lakeland businesses and the public sector employers have risen to the challenge and I want to publicly thank them for that.

In Cumbria as a whole, 5,280 people were on an apprenticeship in 2010/2011, representing an increase of 58 per cent on the previous year (compared with a 63.5 per cent increase across the UK).

But here in Westmorland and Lonsdale the apprenticeship figures rose by a massive 96 per cent. Proof that our local campaign here has really made a difference.

Apprenticeships won’t solve everything but they will help us to create the skills base needed to attract even more businesses and investment.

The recent move by Kendal College to bid for government funds for an engineering base is another ambitious step in our economic plan to help us buck the economic trend. I have spoken to ministers about the bid and will do everything I possibly can to support them.

The huge increase in local apprenticeships is vital to ensuring that we keep talented young people here in the communities they were brought up in.

A depressing statistic from last year’s census is that one in four young people leave our area and never return.

We are much more likely to hang on to our young people if we can provide real opportunities for them and apprenticeships are really helping us to do that.

The funds recently secured for Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria will make a difference too, as will our successful bid to Defra to create a green manufacturing hub in the South Lakes.

When you add these successes to the additional funds we’re bringing in to the South Lakes through £500 million investment in GlaxoSmithKline at Ulverston, the £70 million investment we’ve secured with Gilkes in Kendal and the £3 million investment that we have won from government for Croppers at Burneside, you begin to see a picture of South Lakeland punching well above its economic weight.

It goes to show that if you roll your sleeves up and aim to win investment and to improve opportunities for our young people at the same time, you can absolutely make a difference.

So I want to finish this piece by laying out a challenge to local businesses. if you haven’t taken on an apprentice – will you look into it?

If you’ve looked into it – will you take the plunge?

If you have an apprentice already - could you take on one more?

You could help make the difference and give someone a chance of learning a trade and giving them the first step on the ladder.

It’s great to have got most of the way through the year and to have genuinely kept a New Year’s resolution – I hope you can help us to keep that up well into the future!