BIO puts Oxfordshire at the centre of the business stage

Oxfordshire is poised to consolidate and strengthen its place at the heart of business in Britain – Brexit or No Brexit.

That’s the message from this year’s BIO, Oxfordshire’s largest business networking and showcase event, which takes place on 6th June.

BIO – which stands for Business in Oxford – is now in its sixth year and promises to be bigger, wider ranging and more important to the future of business in the county than ever before.

The organisers are expecting over seven hundred delegates with a vested interest in the success of business in the county to attend this year. The majority of attendees are business owners, managers and executives. There will be more than 70 exhibitors and a host of specialist speakers.

“Whatever the outcome of Brexit one of the major themes of BIO 2019 is to ensure this county is protected, prepared and proactive,” says organiser Richard Rosser.

“There is a real movement towards businesses looking at ways to work locally in the shadow of Brexit confusion and uncertainty.”

BIO2019 is being held at MINI Plant at Cowley, Oxford – an appropriate backdrop to highlight the need for continuity in business this year.

On top of the ‘B’ word and its effect on business success, BIO2019 is focusing on some of the major issues the county faces in a number of focus groups, workshop sessions and keynote speeches.

This year’s event is divided into three themes: Inspire, Discover and Learn.

BIO2019 is covering topics including the impact of climate change on businesses in the county and how they can action and understand its effects.

BIO2019 has also invited speakers from the B Corp movement which is encouraging companies to develop business strategies which are a ‘Force for Good.’ Other topics on the agenda include wellbeing in the workplace; a range of initiatives to strengthen cyber security and how to embrace and exploit the digital marketing landscape.

The event is also an opportunity for Oxfordshire Voice  – which brings businesses and local authorities together to help business thrive – to canvas opinion on the major issues facing businesses in the county and identify workable ways to address them. The opening session will feature Oxford City Council Leader, Susan Brown, Oxfordshire LEP Chief Executive, Nigel Tipple, County Councillor Ian Corkin and Harwell Science and Innovation Campus Director, Angus Horner. This drive is complemented by the range of speakers in the Discover sessions who will be discussing the skills shortages in the county, ways to solve the shortfall in housing for a much-needed workforce and the ongoing problems around the transport infrastructure across the county – and especially in Oxford itself.

Another key theme running through BIO2019 is the platform being given to the all-important future generations, those that will really benefit from the work Oxfordshire Voice and other excellent organisations are doing to create a better future for all of us in Oxfordshire. The closing session at BIO2019 will be in association with NXT focused on apprentices, young professionals and creatives who are already showing that the next generation are not only passionate about what they do but should also be listened to when making the key decisions for Oxfordshire.

BIO2019 is a real opportunity to discuss and listen to views on what the future holds….make sure you are there on 6th June by securing a ticket here

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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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