THE leader of Hampshire County Council has announced plans to employ 1,000 apprentices over the next five years.

Tory Cllr Ken Thornber said the drive to get young adults working was “probably the most exciting initiative we shall ever take”.

He also announced plans to award ten university scholarships a year – 50 in total – to young people from poorer families.

But a leading opposition councillor criticised the proposals as being part of a “pre-election package”.

The new apprenticeships come after the council axed 1,500 jobs as part of £100m spending cuts over the past two years.

Speaking at a meeting of the full council in Winchester yesterday, Cllr Thornber said: “We all know of the plight of our young people and the scarcity of jobs for them.

“I can now announce what is probably the most exciting initiative that we shall ever take.

Hampshire County Council will employ as apprentices 1,000 young people over the next five years as our contribution to reducing their unemployment.”

The council plans to employ 200 apprentices a year, aged 16 to 25.

A report to Cabinet in December will include more details, including costs. Funding will be in the budget for 2013-14.

Cllr Thornber said the council would offer places to young people from a wide range of backgrounds with “all academic or vocational abilities”.

And it will continue to fund a special apprenticeship scheme for vulnerable care leavers which has won praise from Ofsted.

Cllr Keith House, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, said the apprenticeship scheme was part of a “pre-election package”.

Cllr House said: “This is 200 apprentices a year, not a big number in a county the size of Hampshire. But Liberal Democrats welcome all action to create jobs especially from a council with a reputation for losing rather than creating jobs.”

Peter Terry, regional organiser for Unison in Hampshire, also cautiously welcomed the scheme but wanted more details.

The union boss said: “Generally apprenticeships are something we welcome so long as the young people are not being exploited and there is the prospect of full-time employment.”