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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Oxfordshire has found its Voice – Now let’s use it

Oxfordshire Voice is fast gaining recognition as the most effective way for people from all walks of business life in the county to come together and build a better business future.
 
Why? Because OV is a single forum where all sides can meet, discuss and decide the future of business in Oxfordshire.
 
The organisation was launched in January 2019 to bring together representatives from across the political and business spectrum: local authorities, elected officials, budget holders, business owners and workers of all shapes and sizes. 
 
“There’s a lot which needs to be done here – right across our county.” says Simon Howson-Green from Oxfordshire Voice. 
 
“We need a vastly improved transport system and better digital connectivity. We need to build new and vibrant communities to provide affordable homes to a growing workforce and we need to ensure the rest of the world knows Oxfordshire is open for business. 
 
“Firstly, this requires planning for the long, medium and short term but, more importantly,  all of these plans have to become a reality and need to be seen to be real. A huge part of OV is to go on a mission to explain the challenges the local authorities face so we are all better equipped to come up with workable solutions.”
 
 
This was part of the clear message from the latest gathering of OV partners held at the Weston Library. The forum agreed that Oxfordshire businesses needed:
 
• more transparency from local councils about their plans and why they were implementing them.
• the opportunity to respond to those plans and share their views and feelings about the planning priorities. 
 
Bev Hindle, Strategic Director for Communities at Oxfordshire County Council,  was a key speaker at the event and praised  OV for: “Bringing us together and getting us to focus on outcomes. (I’m) not aware of any other network getting under the skin of how we all can better engage.”
 
Oxfordshire faces a huge challenge. It needs effective, workable plans, not only for the next fifty years but for all of those changes which need to be made now. 
 
Until now, meeting these challenges has been fragmented, mistrusted and often frustrating. OV is determined to change this through collaboration. 
 
“OV is a potent and effective way to lobby, plan and decide what needs to be done through a carefully crafted structure of monthly forums and published findings in our quarterly Blue Papers” says Richard Rosser – one of the founders of OV. 
 
Another Oxford businessman, Darren Aston, took to social media to describe the OV forum as an: “Enlightening first experience of Oxfordshire Voice, highly beneficial and engaging for any size business. I can see that being involved with a forum that cares not only improves your feel-good factor, it is also an important part of building trust and understanding of what the future could look like and the support required to help make things happen.” 
 
Huw Mellor of Carter Jonas, who was on the Weston forum added, “What I was heartened by was the clear, collaborative effort seen between both the public sector and private business parties to make things work in the County. Very encouraging.”
 
If you would like to join this growing partnership, please register your interest Here

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Alex Sayers | Your Voice

Alex Sayers of XIST2 tells us about an issue his business contends with daily. Public transport access and getting his employees to work safely.

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