LEADER of Hampshire County Council Ken Thornber has announced plans to employ an extra 1,000 apprentices over the next five years.

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

He also announced plans to award 10 university scholarships a year – 50 in total - to young people from poorer families.

But a leading opposition councillor criticised the proposals as part of a “pre-election package” – and said 200 apprentices a year was “not a big number in a county the size of Hampshire.”

Speaking at a meeting of the full council in Winchester yesterday (Thursday), Mr Thornber said: “We all know of the plight of our young people and the scarity 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.

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

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

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

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

He 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.

He 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.”

The union boss said it was important the apprenticeships were new posts and not used to replace trained staff.

Despite massive job cuts, the county council is still among the largest employers in Hampshire with 37,000 full and part-time employees.