The past week has seen a string of announcements from the Government in the further education sector, none more important than apprenticeship funding proposals released last Tuesday. The Minister u-turned on some of the more extreme funding cuts in the Department’s August proposals, but the devil is in the detail, and new proposals still leave many employers, providers and colleges significantly worse off.

The Government’s additional payment to employers for 16-18 year old’s seems likely to have little impact. The Government’s Equality Analysis for their proposals states that ‘employers expecting to pay the levy are broadly supportive of the £1000’ payment for 16-18 year olds. In reality, if you look at the figures, almost 60% of those surveyed were not satisfied. The analysis also suggest that the £1000 was ‘unlikely to act as a significant incentive’

These funding proposals also show a continued lack of focus on the crucial importance of the Service Sector. There is huge potential for high-quality apprenticeships in the service sector – to meet growing demands in social care, leisure and visitor services – but proposals show a free-fall in spending. Hospitality and Catering frameworks could still see funding cut by up to 45%.

The Government has the opportunity to use the new Institute for Apprenticeships to improve access to apprenticeships for those with disabilities, who, when given the opportunity, have a very high level of success rate. The Government’s Equality Analysis says the funding proposals ‘will have a broadly neutral impact on LDD learners’ which in the real world means the Government will have to do far more to support access.

The Government’s Equality Analysis also includes the aim ‘to achieve gender parity in the working population by 2030’ but we’d welcome more on information on me how the Government is going to link improvements in the gender balance with apprenticeships.

We are concerned with the capacity available to the Institute for Apprenticeships. Earlier this year we saw the Government formally close off their support for UKCES, this just the latest in a series of funding cuts to the Skills sector. Staffing levels at the Skills Funding Agency are down nearly 50% from 2011, leading on from the continuing and accelerating decline in staffing at the National Apprenticeship service.

And with so little time remaining before implementation, and with machinery of Government changes throwing up even more challenges, how much longer are we going to have to wait for an estimate of the resources and capacity of the new Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education?

Only last week Paul Warner, the policy Director at the AELP, claimed the Department was facing ‘capacity challenges’, with Ms Ryland, the head of the SFA’s technical and professional education, unsure of capacity and resources herself, stating they are still ‘taking stock of growth requests.’

For the last nine months we have been pressing the Government for more detail on the Levy, as we share the sectors concerns that in its current form it is not ready. The Government have been glacial in giving details to us and the sector on how in practice the Levy will work, and whilst there has finally been some progress last week, with just six months until it is fully operational, the time in which industry has to implement changes is extremely narrow. The CBI last week, following the new proposals, issued warning that “six months out from the new levy going live, and the EEF agreed “timing is now all important. With a shrinking window of opportunity to prepare for the levy.”

Whilst we welcome the reinstatement of disadvantaged and 16-18 year old uplifts, we still have serious concerns over how the actual process of moving further to implement all the other elements of the Levy by May 2017 which the Minister has again affirmed as the date to hit. Yet we know the concessions on the apprenticeship funding are only designed to ameliorate not abolish the loss of funding for disadvantaged groups, and there is no gameplan at present on show from the Government as to how they will be helped when the £60 million Government has budgeted for this transition year is exhausted. It looks like a rocky ride and rough justice rather than the smooth landing the new Skills Minister Robert Halfon is hoping to promote.

Gordon Marsden, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Skills


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