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Should the Apprenticeship Levy be delayed?

In his latest blog, Paddy Patterson of Maverish Ltd and founder of Oxfordshire Apprenticeships discusses recent calls to delay the Apprenticeship Levy.

In news that surprised no-one this week, three of the country’s larger employer groups called for a delay to the planned introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017. The consensus being that to design and deliver the new system on time in a post-Referendum, new government Britain is ill-advised and unrealistic. You can read more on that here: https://next.ft.com/content/03c50368-5007-11e6-88c5-db83e98a590a.

And to be fair, who among us hasn’t at least entertained the notion that a delay might happen? And who wouldn’t agree that if more time were needed to get it right, that maybe it would be worth it? And remember how before the referendum, the man behind the Levy, Nick Boles, questioned how ‘prudent’ it would be to introduce the Levy to Brexit Britain? And then told us right after the vote that it was full steam ahead in any case. And then resigned the day before we thought the already-delayed Levy update was due (“well before the summer break”, remember? Still waiting….). Delay would make sense, surely?

But the problem is still that there’s a target of 3 million new Apprenticeship starts by 2020 and it has to be paid for somehow. So unless the new Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Rob Halfon decides we don’t want all these new Apprentices (unlikely – he’s very committed to Apprenticeships, read http://feweek.co.uk/2011/11/09/robert-halfon-his-story) or the new Chancellor Phillip Hammond finds £3bn at the back of a cupboard at the Treasury (probably more chance of finding Narnia), then it seems unlikely the Levy won’t go ahead in April 2017 as planned. From what I am told, everything from within the SFA is about working towards that date and don’t spare the horses. 

I harp on constantly about the need to have dialogue with businesses about the Levy, regardless of what is or isn’t happening at policy level. Whether it be by survey, by conference, via business groups, networks, professional bodies, any or all of the above. I think we run the risk of having many unprepared businesses and a lot of very frustrated and worried training providers by procrastinating. If we know the planned timetable, the Levy threshold and the tax rate, then shouldn’t we be talking to as many businesses as possible to find out what they know, what they think, what they plan to do and what help they need? And it’s clear there’s plenty to do by the DfE now to make all this happen, so wouldn’t it be better to come together and help them get the recipe right for April 2017?

The setting of a huge growth target, alongside programme reform and the introduction of a payroll to pay for it all is a huge puffing out of the chest by the government on behalf of the Apprenticeship brand. I think shrinking back now would be detrimental to the credibility of the programme and be another set back the perennially fraught relationship between skills and businesses.

Of course, there’s a lot of talk about the lack of technical detail and the continued wait for the ‘June’ update of course doesn’t help. It simply gives more power to the elbow of those who either want to lobby for delaying the whole thing, or it feeds the ‘wait and see’ attitude. Or to put it another way, it feeds inactivity. And though it’s summertime, on this issue, it’s most certainly not time to sit back and unwind.

What do you think? Should the Levy be delayed? Do you have questions or concerns about how it the Levy affect your organisation? Get in touch on info@oxfordshireapprenticeships.co.uk or tweet @OxonApprentice.