THE managing director of Scottish Gas, Kevin Roxburgh, has spoken of the pride the giant utility takes in its investment in providing apprenticeships and said it would be good if more small businesses took on young apprentices.

However, the Federation of Small Businesses noted the bureaucracy and costs associated with employing apprentices and said it would be easier for firms to hire them if energy firms like Scottish Gas cut their bills.

Highlighting research by Scottish Gas that found there was strong unmet demand among young people for jobs that can allow them to acquire skills, Mr Roxburgh called on all businesses to do more to support youth employment through dedicated apprenticeship schemes.

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"In Scottish Gas we're very pleased and proud of our history of apprenticeships and we're keen to encourage the other Scottish businesses to consider what more they can do as the economy picks up to really encourage apprenticeships across their organisation," he said.

Mr Roxburgh said Scottish Gas had recruited and trained more than 500 apprentices over the past 10 years. It invested around £30,000 in each apprentice.

Asked what kind of businesses needed to offer more apprenticeships, Mr Roxburgh said: "The big corporates tend to do better in this situation because obviously they invest more."

He added: "It would be good to see a broader spread across maybe some of the smaller businesses and the more entrepreneurial businesses."

Colin Borland, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: "A lot of our members would like to take on apprentices, they see the value and not just in their business and sector but to the young person."

But, he added: "There's a reason why most apprentices tend to be taken on by big PLCs or by government and that's because it's a very bureaucratic system."

Mr Borland said the costs involved created barriers to taking on apprentices.

Asked if it would be easier for small firms to take on apprentices if Scottish Gas cut energy bills, Mr Borland said: "Everything would be easier if Scottish Gas cut their bills." He added: "Utility bills are a major overhead for our members."

Mr Roxburgh said: "We are fully aware of the many cost pressures facing our business customers. We are working hard to remain competitive for our business customers. We offer wide- ranging advice and support to reduce energy consumption and would encourage any customers to contact us to find out how we can help."

Mr Roxburgh praised the Scottish Government for the support it has provided for apprenticeships. Scottish Gas found that 80% of young people thought there were too many youngsters wanting apprenticeships and not enough places.