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Calls for chancellor to clarify £80m SME apprenticeship fund

There have been calls for clarity from the government over its promised £80 million fund to help small businesses access the apprenticeship levy

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There have been calls for clarity from the government over its promised £80 million fund to help small businesses access the apprenticeship levy

One year on since the apprenticeship levy was introduced the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) is calling for “much-needed clarification” on proposals to help SMEs access levy cash.

The chancellor Phillip Hammond announced a fund in his Spring Statement, but nearly a month on no details have been released on how it will work, what the money will be spent on, or how exactly it will increase small businesses engage with the new apprenticeships system.

The CMI’s call on government for details follows a recent survey of more than 1,500 managers which found four in five want access to the digital apprenticeships service to be extended to small businesses to boost apprenticeship numbers.

'Helping hand'

Petra Wilton, director of strategy for the CMI, welcomed the chancellor’s £80m “helping hand” for small businesses but said she was still waiting for vital details.

“Too many businesses are missing out, and will continue to do so until the government fills in the blanks,” she added. “A year on since its launch, there have been many positive signs of how the levy is transforming the way in which employers develop young people starting out in their careers, and upskill existing employees.

“However, the current set-up certainly favours larger employers. SMEs employ nearly half of the UK’s workforce, so the government needs to get many more on-board with the apprenticeship programme if it’s to hit its 3 million target by 2020.”

Businesses 'taking their time'

The number of apprenticeship starts fell immediately after the introduction of the levy and they continue to stay well below the level of last year. The latest figures for the first two quarters of the 2017-18 academic year there has been a 25 per cent decrease in the number of apprenticeship starts.

“Despite a slow start, we’re aware that many businesses are rightly taking their time to ensure they get real benefits from investing in apprenticeships,” Wilton added. “As a result, many new starts are expected in the year ahead, and the government’s decision to create a two-year window for spending the levy is clearly welcome.

“However, still too many employers are not even aware that they can use the levy to train managers and leaders at every level. We now need more collaboration to ensure that this support from managers for apprenticeships translates into a new way of training and upskilling the workforce.”

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