The government’s announcement of long-awaited details about the apprenticeship levy today has met with a mixed response across the FE sector.
As well as outlining how the levy will operate, the guidance also confirmed that it is still scheduled to be introduced in April 2017.
While the announcement was welcomed by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), others expressed concerns.
Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for FE, HE and skills, told TES that many people in the sector would be “exercised” by the news.
“I see nothing in this document to calm some of the real concerns that organisations such as the CBI, which has called for the levy to be delayed, have raised.”
He also said that delays caused by moving all FE into the Department for the Education were causing disruption for providers.
“However good the intention may be, the capacity to deliver in this period of time must surely be pretty ropey,” Mr Marsden said. He also raised concerns about proposals to prevent providers rated inadequate by Ofsted from delivering apprenticeships, pointing out that five of the 13 colleges rated inadequate overall had a good or requires improvement rating for delivering apprenticeships.
The CBI welcomed the publication of “much-needed information” on implementing the levy, but reiterated its concerns about the timescale and the potential consequence of employers reducing non-apprenticeship forms of training.
Director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The April 2017 start date will not give firms sufficient time to prepare, so we urge the government to delay implementation. Though business understands the fiscal challenges, it would be a great mistake to rush ahead before a viable scheme is ready.”
'It's irresponsible to press ahead'
The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said the government was “irresponsible” to press ahead with the levy plans in their current form.
Head of public policy Ben Willmott said: “Our research suggests the levy, in its present form, will undermine efforts to improve the quality of apprenticeships. This is a time where we need to be raising the status of apprenticeships, not pursuing a policy which will have the effect of devaluing the ‘apprenticeship brand’.”
Petra Wilton, the Chartered Management Institute’s director of strategy, welcomed the “generous levels of government co-investment announced today”, adding that small businesses “now have a great incentive to take on apprentices”.
Stephen Evans, deputy chief executive at the Learning and Work Institute, said the guidance offered clarity for employers and providers.
“Learning and Work shares the views of many employers who believe apprenticeship quality is just as, if not more, important than quantity”, he said.
Mr Evans also welcomed the news that the government will fully meet apprenticeship training costs for young care leavers and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans, but raised concerns about using Ofsted grades as a basis for deciding whether to allow a provider to deliver apprenticeships.
Sue Pember, policy director of adult and community learning providers' body Holex, said the new guidance would give "those in the field the information they need to start planning for 2017".
“We are also pleased they have listened to our concerns over small employers and have agreed to pay 90 per cent of the costs of training,” she added. “The extra support for English and maths for young people and those with a care plan is welcomed but the proposals are silent on those who are older and who may have a disability and need extra support to access an apprenticeship. We would like to see that addressed.”
AELP chief executive Mark Dawe said providers were pleased with the announcement. “Any delay would have made the task very difficult,” he said. “Apprenticeships must be at the heart of the prime minister’s social mobility agenda and this is why it’s vital that incentives are maintained for smaller businesses to offer young people a high-quality start to their careers.”
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, warned that the levy system “does not appear to be any simpler than before”, but added: “It is a positive step that small employers will be protected from making payments when they take on an employee who is 16 to 18-years-old, has left care or has an EHC. This will create more opportunities for people in these ‘vulnerable’ groups.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that, after the vote to leave the European Union, it was “vital” for the levy to be introduced on schedule.
“It is particularly welcome that employers will be able to use the levy to support apprenticeships in their supply chains, not just their own company,” she added. “This means real benefits for whole sectors of our economy, not just individual companies.”
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