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Northern Ireland firms in the dark over 0.5% apprenticeship levy

By Margaret Canning

The Executive has been urged to find out more about the apprenticeship levy in order to address the concerns of worried firms.

UK companies with a payroll of over £3m will be hit with a levy of 0.5% of their salary bill from April under the new scheme for funding apprenticeships.

Over 80 members of the business community - including recruitment firm Cpl - attended a Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce briefing on the subject with the Department for the Economy yesterday.

Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said: "Businesses are overwhelmingly positive about apprenticeships, and recognise that workplace training can help boost skills, business growth and productivity.

"However, NI Chamber members have fundamental concerns about the proposed apprenticeship levy on a number of fronts."

She said that six months ahead of the start of the levy, businesses still had "limited understanding of the implications or potential impact".

"It is important that the Northern Ireland Executive seek greater clarity from HMRC for Northern Ireland employers, particularly on how the funding raised can be accessed post-collection.

"In this period of uncertainty, following the EU referendum, further uncertainty is damaging to business confidence."

She added: "From a business perspective it appears almost as another form of 'payroll tax' and it is not clear what the benefits to those businesses that do pay will be.

"It is already challenging enough to scale up Northern Ireland's business base and this levy has the potential to act as a disincentive to growth unless its impact on business is demonstrable."

And she said the practical implications did not appear to have been thought through.

Aidan Flynn, who is the managing director of construction firm Maurice Flynn & Sons, said the amount it would be expected to pay would be equivalent to a year's profits, and would be on top of an existing fee paid to the Construction Industry Training Board.

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