Belfast Telegraph

Businesses voice concern as apprenticeship levy introduced

Business groups have voiced concern about a new levy aimed at doubling investment in apprenticeships in the next few years.

The Government said the levy, coming in from Thursday, is part of the biggest shake-up of skills in a generation as it aims to create three million placements by 2020.

The levy will require all employers with an annual wage bill over £3 million to pay 0.5% of it towards funding apprenticeships.

But business groups said the levy is another tax being introduced at the same time as other measures including a higher National Living Wage and new reporting requirements on gender pay.

The CBI said there are a number of business concerns, including whether the policy will deliver high-quality training, slow progress in approving new standards and ineffective careers guidance in schools.

Neil Carberry of the CBI said: "For the levy to be a success, it must deliver long-lasting careers and close skills gaps, not just create more apprenticeships.

"As it stands, there is a genuine risk that firms aren't going to be able to use their funds if the system does not deliver the training apprentices need."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's good news for workers, who will have more opportunities to gain the skills needed for better paid jobs. And it's good news for businesses as their productivity will improve with a higher skilled workforce.

"The Government must now look at ways to make sure that all apprenticeships are of high quality. And we need action to improve access to apprenticeships for groups of workers including women, disabled people and black, Asian and minority ethnic workers."

Skills Minister Robert Halfon said: "There has never been a more important time for Britain to invest in the skills of our people and businesses. To make Britain stronger and fairer, we need to make sure that everyone gets the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity to gain the education and skills they need to be successful in life.

"Our apprenticeship levy is a massive part of this. More than 90% of apprentices go into work or further training, and the quality on-the-job training on offer will make sure we have the people with the skills, knowledge and technical excellence to drive our country forward."

Jo Dipple, chief executive of UK Music, said: " Getting the new system to work will offer huge advantages to the economy as we leave the EU. It needs a commitment from Government to guide and explain to employers, especially the non-levy-paying SMEs (smaller companies), how they can benefit."

Andy Donnell, managing director of facilities firm ABM, said " This is a real chance for us to balance the training equilibrium with people at every level. It will allow us to invest in some of the people who historically haven't been invested in, and to upskill and develop their talents."