Apprenticeship levy: Labour, too, has work to do

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner says it is time the Labour party looked long and hard at its use of the levy

Angela Rayner

Angela Rayner on the apprenticeship levy: Labour, too, has work to do

Last week, we celebrated the hard work of apprentices and trainers across the country with National Apprenticeships Week. It was the ideal moment to think about how, in the Labour party, we can make better use of apprenticeships ourselves.

In the run-up to National Apprenticeships Week, I launched my Manifesto for a Movement: proposals for a radical shake-up of how we campaign, with training and skills at its heart. This was just the first chapter – and I want to write the rest with you, not for you – but I’d like to set out a few suggestions for a start.

Party staff work incredibly hard, often with unsociable hours and under a lot of pressure. Changing how we campaign can’t mean telling our people to just work harder or to just stop doing one thing and do another – as a lifelong trade unionist, I would never subscribe to that and I also know it won’t work. Instead, I believe that, in any workplace, the workers themselves must be part of driving change and innovation.

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That’s why I want us to look at how we could use the apprenticeship levy. Large employers have to pay into the levy and only get the money back to train their own people. It’s meant to encourage large employers to take on apprentices. If they don’t, the government keeps their money.

As shadow education secretary, I have seen some big companies doing everything they can to get around it. Just this week, we exposed city banks taking tens of thousands of pounds intended for apprentices and using it to help investment bankers add master's degrees to their CVs.

We need to be in government to change that. But we can still show our principles by living them as a party now. 

Formalising good-quality apprenticeships

We could start by working with others to develop a community-organising apprenticeship standard. Imagine offering every organiser the chance to train up to degree level through their role in the party.

We often hire trainee organisers but this would demonstrate how seriously we want to invest in our staff while developing the best-trained organising force in the movement. In turn, they will help to empower and train the best-developed activist force, with lifelong learning for our volunteers, too.

Second, we need to work on the diversity of our party staff across the board. We have a Labour HQ with some amazingly talented people, but we need to make an extra effort to ensure that our recruitment reflects the population of the country, let alone a city as diverse as London.

I know from my own life that the labour movement can provide the best apprenticeship you can get as an aspiring socialist and activist. It’s time we formalised that through good-quality apprenticeships within the party. Unlike those big businesses who use apprentices simply as cheap labour, we would pay a decent wage, as a basic moral standard but also a wider form of fair work, as I wrote about this weekend.

Finally, it’s long been talked about, but the development of a youth and student unit within the party, which is fully staffed and supported to recruit, develop, train and organise young people, is absolutely vital. We should give the same weight to further education and apprentices as we do to students in higher education. It may be more challenging than organising around a university campus, but that is all the more reason to try harder if we are to build a movement that represents the communities we stand up for.

Those are just three ideas of what we can do differently and better.

Over the coming weeks, I will be working on more chapters of our Manifesto for a Movement. But I want it to be a manifesto of the movement and by the movement, too. I don’t have all the answers or ideas. But I think you’ll have a few, and I can’t wait to hear them.

Angela Rayner is Labour's shadow education secretary. She tweets @AngelaRayner

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