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A £2.5m advertising campaign launched amid much fanfare by the Department for Education has degenerated into a political football after opposition politicians claimed it has ‘abjectly failed’.

Over the first nine months of the year, the number of individuals accepting apprenticeship positions fell 34%, despite the high-profile afforded to the campaign courtesy of the public purse.

M&C Saatchi was awarded the contract to oversee an integrated communications campaign to raise the profile of training programs among both businesses and job seekers following a competitive tender, but in recent months interest has fallen into reverse with just 290,500 individuals accepting a placement.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “Austerity is not over for our colleges, but this government is more than happy to hand out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to the Tories’ favourite advertising agency after abjectly failing to meet their own apprenticeships targets.”

Expanding apprenticeship numbers has been a flagship policy for the government since 2015 but it has struggled to meet its ambitious targets, casting doubt on a widely heralded pledge by then prime minister David Cameron back in 2015 to create 3m apprenticeships by April 2020.

This summer Havas London secured a prize DfE contract to boost teacher training numbers.