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This Government can learn a thing or two from Councils on Apprenticeships

20 October 2017

Last week, the DfE released the apprenticeship figures for the previous quarter, and their press release came straight out of the ‘burying bad news playbook’. A simple release on the department’s web page at the end of the week that was hopefully going to get little attention and a look at the figures you can quickly see why the department may have not been too keen to shout it from the roof tops. Figures demonstrating a 61% reduction in new apprenticeship starts in comparison to the previous quarter provides a damming indictment of the government’s new apprenticeship-levy. In time there will be calls for a fundamental look at the policy but what may be overlooked is the poor way in which the policy was implemented and to this end the government should look to local government for some of the answers.

I’ve lost count at the amount of times we spoke to large employers in the early days after the announcement of the levy and they stressed how confused they were by the policy. Six months down the line and many of those businesses were still none the wiser, ‘What if they couldn’t spend all of the levy pot? And could it be shared with businesses down their supply chain?’ ‘What did it mean for a franchisee?’  Southwark, like many other councils, heard these questions and so alongside our partners set up a number of levy workshops throughout the borough for businesses. We also highlighted the apprenticeship-levy at many of our business networks across the borough. However, six months after the introduction of the levy it strikes me as odd that there hasn’t been a concerted effort to provide more support for businesses at a national level often leaving it to local partners to pick up the slack.

As if not to be outdone by the lack of any substantial support for businesses, the government provided very little advice on approved training providers. To put this into context, the government sought to substantially increase demand for apprenticeships but offered very little support to businesses in selecting training providers. Thanks to Government delays, attempts to introduce an approved providers list for non-levy paying businesses were pushed back, with only being released in July 2017, four months after the introduction of the scheme. A look to local government may provide answers; many councils, like here in Southwark, have an approved list of providers and in Southwark, businesses sign up to Southwark’s  Apprenticeship Standard, ensuring the quality of each apprenticeship and simplifying the process for businesses.

If you delve deeper into the apprenticeship starts that have taken place, figures revealed that ‘management’ apprenticeships proved to be the second most popular apprenticeship. This would seem to validate fears that the levy is being used for management courses for existing employees as oppose to encouraging new starts. Many councils have also identified this risk and here in Southwark we developed a programme which incentivised local businesses to take on new apprentices through our procurement, something the government has only just introduced recently.

If the government is serious about turning the tide, it should look seriously at the practical steps above or more importantly support councils with the resources to expand on the support it currently offers to employers locally.  


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