Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe

Spending Review submission for skills focuses on productivity and social mobility

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has submitted to the Treasury a 10-point sustainable investment plan to increase the impact that skills training has on social mobility and workforce productivity.

A top priority is action to address the government’s own admission that the apprenticeship levy will soon not be able to meet employer demand for apprenticeships at all levels.

AELP is calling for the restoration of a minimum standalone non-levy apprenticeship budget of £1bn a year to enable the 98% of employers not paying the levy to have access to the programme. Without it, parts of the country could end up as ‘apprenticeship deserts’ with significant shortages in some areas already being reported by training providers and colleges.

AELP’s Spending Review submission is being published as delegates gather on Monday for the start of the AELP annual conference, sponsored by NCFE, in central London when Anne Milton is expected to give one of her final speeches as skills minister before the ministerial reshuffle. Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden will also be there to respond for the Opposition.

The debate surrounding the sustainable funding of apprenticeships has heated up since a National Audit Office report in March voiced concerns about it and the DfE permanent secretary was forced to admit to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that ‘hard choices’ had to be made about its future unless the Spending Review came up with extra money.

AELP has said in its submission that one option for the new Chancellor to consider is increasing the scope of the apprenticeship levy by changing the minimum £3m company payroll threshold and/or increasing the current 0.5% levy rate on employers within its scope.

AELP wants the Treasury to get behind proposals for prisoners to start apprenticeship programmes while still in prison. With strong support from interested levy paying employers, the call is for prisoners to be included within the definition of employees needed for an apprenticeship when the offender is working within prison or on temporary release.

More than just apprenticeships

Following the skills minister saying last week that she is ‘thrilled’ with the outcomes achieved by the Traineeship programme for young people, the AELP submission says that additional funding is needed to reinvigorate the programme as a driver for social mobility. The number of traineeships has slumped by a quarter to just 17,700 during the last two years.

AELP has told the Treasury that the government could be getting a much bigger bang for its buck out of the Adult Education Budget (AEB). After years of budget underspends and wasteful subcontracted delivery, the submission calls for the entire national and devolved AEB to be put out to tender instead of retaining the heavily weighted and inefficient grant allocation system. AELP believes that the AEB could be a good vehicle for improving digital skills among adults if properly resourced.

Other skills initiatives covered in the 10-point plan include the forthcoming launch of the National Retraining Scheme and the promised replacement of European Social Fund funding by a UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

In a separate paper published last week picking up from the recent Augar review on the funding of post 18 education, AELP proposed that all young adults aged 18 to 24 should be given a fully state funded entitlement for learning at level 2 and level 3. This would support and motivate them to continue their education and training to at least a full level 3 along with the English and maths required and employability skills.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said:

‘If the government can find a solution to Brexit, then apprenticeships are going to be more important than ever to drive productivity improvements in businesses of all sizes and equip young people and adult workers with the skills needed to fill job vacancies. The Spending Review is therefore crunch time in making sure that Britain’s flagship skills programme has a sustainable future at all levels of education and training.

‘The AELP Spending Review submission is not some hopeful attempt to shake the money tree. Recognising that only a 1-year settlement may be on the cards, our focus is on what already works effectively and on more efficient spending of scarce public resources within education.’

Skills minister Anne Milton and Gordon Marsden speak on day 2 (Tuesday 25/6) of the AELP Annual Conference 2019, sponsored by NCFE, 24-25 June at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London. On apprenticeships, delegates will also hear from Anthony Impey MBE of Optimy and the Federation of Small Businesses. Deputy Mayor of London Jules Pipe CBE will speak about devolved skills programmes on day 1.

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