Secondary Class 1 contributions: apprentices under 25

Part of Living Wage (Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 1:26 pm on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1:26 pm, 3rd February 2015

The hon. Gentleman goes to the heart of the question asked by Shabana Mahmood about who will qualify for the relief. As I have remarked, we are taking a power to define apprenticeships. Given that this is a devolved matter, it is important that we discuss it with the devolved Administrations. We want to support apprenticeships and will seek to achieve a broad definition for the purposes of the relief. However, the apprenticeship system across the UK is complex and evolving. Education and training is a devolved matter. Apprenticeships operate slightly differently in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and there are differences between Government-funded apprenticeships and independent employer schemes. The Government will discuss the definition of “an apprentice” with the Skills Funding Agency and its devolved equivalents before committing ourselves to a final definition. It is important that the definition is robust, satisfying minimum compliance standards while achieving the objective of supporting the provision of apprenticeships to the under 25s.

In terms of overall support for apprenticeships, the Government have done a great deal. We spend about £1.5 billion annually to support apprenticeship training. In Budget 2014, £170 million of additional funding was made available for apprenticeship grants for employers in 2014-16, providing a grant of up to £1,500 per apprentice for small businesses. The new budget will fund more than 100,000 additional incentive payments for employers to take on young apprentices.

It is also worth pointing out that in 2012 the National Audit Office recognised the strengths of the Government’s apprenticeship programme, highlighting how it continued to be valued by learners and businesses. It concluded that public spending on apprenticeships offered a good return, estimated at £18 for each £1 of Government investment. Evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills suggests that returns may be higher, at £28 for every £1 of Government investment. I hope Members will resist the temptation to criticise the substantial progress that has been made on apprenticeships over the course of this Parliament. It has been significant.

On the definition of apprentices, which I touched on earlier, there will need to be discussion with the devolved Administrations and the Skills Funding Agency. We want a robust definition, but we have to bear in mind the complexities in this area.

On eligibility, for a business to be eligible to work with training providers to create an apprenticeship programme, the employer offering an apprenticeship needs to employ an apprentice for a minimum of 30 hours per week, pay at least the national minimum wage for apprentices, support on-the-job learning and be involved in reviewing their progress. On the question raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood regarding manipulation, I would make the point that those safeguards are in the system.

One further point I believe is important is that, as the Government are doing with employment allowance and under-21s from April this year and as we did when we came to office and increased the threshold before employer national insurance contributions is paid, we have done a great deal to reduce the burden on businesses of employer national insurance contributions. That has helped in creating the substantial progress in employment we have seen in recent years. Had we pursued the policy we inherited—an increase in the jobs tax—we would not have seen that progress.