Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 7th November 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 3:07 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, after that rush of enthusiasm for the Wales Bill, I rise to move Amendment 23, which stands in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands. It relates to the devolution of the funds generated through the apprenticeship levy. The issue has been raised with me because of the uncertainty experienced by employers based in Wales regarding this matter. The Government’s rather chaotic and haphazard approach to the apprenticeship levy has left all the devolved Administrations scratching their heads. Although the specifics are clear for businesses in England, the way in which businesses and organisations in Wales will be able to access and benefit from the money generated by the levy remains completely opaque.

Of the projected £3 billion in the 2015 Autumn Statement, the Treasury specified that £2.5 billion would be spent exclusively on England while the remaining £500 million would be divided among Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We were told we would have our fair share. Despite the fact that this levy is due to be introduced in April, just five months away, we are left facing more questions than answers on the matter. What is our fair share? Are the receipts going to be Barnettised? What happens if the levy yields less money than projected? Will England’s funding be prioritised at the expense of that which is promised for Wales? The lack of transparency in the Treasury’s funding formula for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is creating practical hurdles for those Governments as they prepare for their own apprenticeship schemes.

Apprenticeships are a devolved matter. So are education and training. Operating at a UK level a levy that is meant to directly fund the devolved function has every potential to cause confusion. I am told that an employer-led institute of apprenticeships is to be set up in April 2017 to advise the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the administration of funding and apprenticeship standards in England. Is this institute specifically for England? If so, where does that leave Wales? Surely a similar institution for each of the devolved areas should have a parallel role in advising the Secretary of State. Are the devolved Governments expected to set up their own bodies analogous to the institute or are they expected to relate directly to an institute whose remit extends only to England?

Online services will apparently be provided to employers in England but will not be available to Welsh employers. Another issue that remains unclear is how the levy will work in relation to companies that have headquarters situated in one country but employ people across the border in the territory of a devolved Administration. Plaid Cymru MPs were given assurances in the other place that the Treasury is working in co-operation with the Welsh Government to determine the implementation of the levy. We are yet to see any development on that front.

The apprenticeship levy status in Wales is reduced to a mere link on the UK Government website directing readers to a nondescript Welsh Government webpage that provides no clarity to those in Wales seeking information. What discussions took place between the UK Government and the Government of Wales before that link was advertised? With apprenticeships and businesses keen to take advantage of the levy in Wales in the immediate future, it is not right that they are left guessing while their English counterparts are able to plan in advance.

The UK Government are introducing legislation that pays no regard to the specific needs of the corresponding system in the devolved Governments. They are England-centric in their planning and implementation and appear to be progressing the matter without any co-ordination with the devolved Governments. More broadly, the patchwork devolution settlement being offered to Wales in the Bill will result in confusion and mismanagement. One solution to this problem, as my amendment today sets out, would be to devolve the apprenticeships levy in its entirety to Wales. This would allow the Welsh Government to administer and control the money raised and to align it with apprenticeship policies. Put simply, it would clarify any doubts over Wales’s fair share of the money raised, and would enable employers and apprenticeships to plan their programmes in a co-ordinated fashion. This is a constructive proposal to address a very real problem. I appeal to noble Lords on all sides to indicate their support for the amendment and I appeal to the Government either to accept it today or to undertake to return on Report with their own amendment to answer these very real difficulties. I beg to move.