Don’t let the Treasury run the levy dry

The latest OV forum has highlighted a range of concerns over the way the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy is in danger of turning a force for good into a bad idea.

Oxfordshire Voice partners are calling on the Government to rethink its Apprenticeship Levy.

The Levy was set up in 2017. It requires businesses with payroll in excess of £3m to pay a 0.5% levy to the government. The money collected can then be used across the country by firms to fund apprenticeship schemes.

Companies can apply for the money through a government website by clicking this link: https://accounts.manage-apprenticeships.service.gov.uk/service/index

There is also more information on the Gov.uk website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apprenticeship-levy/apprenticeship-levy

Results of a recent survey by Oxford Brookes University and Oxfordshire Voice and a follow-up forum held at Brookes in April has highlighted concerns over the way the levy is being operated.

The forum found that whilst the levy is a good idea, it is being squandered by a lack of coherent information. This confusion and lack of awareness mean many firms are not taking advantage of the fund.

The survey found that four out of every five Oxfordshire businesses (80%) were unlikely to spend their full entitlement from the levy on apprentices this year.

The real concern here is the way the Treasury, which holds the collected levy funds, can claw back the money over time if it goes unused. This has led to accusations that the schemes is – for the most part – no more than a stealth tax on business.

A number of businesses at the forum also raised concerns over the involvement of Ofsted – the Government regulator for standards in education – which they believe has too dominant and constricting a role in the way apprenticeship schemes are managed.

The OV forum voted to adopt a range of outcomes to highlight and better exploit the advantages of the Apprenticeship levy. It also made a number of recommendations – based on the experiences of companies using the scheme:

• The existing Apprenticeship Levy Policy needs longer to be embedded, adopted and understood by the market.
• The levy needs to be run with ‘local’ rules of engagement rather than national as different regions have different apprenticeship requirements
• More government funding is needed to better promote awareness of apprenticeships and the types of apprenticeships available
• Separate and more flexible funding for shorter course apprenticeships, or those that don’t quite fit the existing outlines. I.e. More flexibility on what funding can be used for (e.g. life/social skills). I
• Is it absolutely necessary to have an English & Maths requirement at the current level? This can exclude a great number of people of all aged and experience who could otherwise benefit from an apprenticeship
• There should be more opportunity to ‘showcase’ examples of best practice in apprenticeship engagement. e.g. Blenheim.
• Using apprenticeships as an option for re-skilling and up-skilling.
• New name for apprenticeships – Change the mind-set of what an apprenticeship is.
• Encourage schools to promote apprenticeships to the same degree as higher education.
• How can we use the circa £4m fund locally and retain/manage locally?
• Look at the inspection factor – OFSTED. Or give it to another organisation. We should challenge OFSTED on the criteria it uses. Investigate whether OFSTED is the appropriate inspector to oversee the Apprenticeship Levy.
• Aim for a system that stays ahead of the curve. Equip people with the skills to adapt to future changes (watch “Shift Happens”).
• Wellbeing awareness in the workplace.

What do you think about the levy?

Is it a force for real business growth and worth expanding?

How is it affecting your business?

Join in the conversation in the comments below.

Forum Panelists:

• Edward Collett, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Abingdon & Witney College
• Sarah Cullimore, Head of UK Partnerships and Apprenticeships at Oxford Brookes University
• Richard Byard, Director of Business Development at Oxfordshire LEP
• Phil Southall, Managing Director at Oxford Bus Company
• Tom J Pearce, Assistant Manager of Talent Solutions and Growth Services at Grant Thornton
• Megan Cater, HR Manager at Blenheim Palace

Forum Host:
Chris Blackburn, Pro Vice-Chancellor & Dean of Oxford Brookes University

View photos from the forum here

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