Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 3:15 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and my noble friend Lord Rowlands, have spelled out the difficulties of the apprenticeship levy. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, is proposing that it should be a Wales apprenticeship levy, devolved to Wales in its entirety, and that it should be collected and administered in Wales. My noble friend Lord Rowlands pointed out quite a lot of the difficulties and the lack of transparency around this issue.

The UK Government have said that the new apprenticeship levy, when it is implemented in April 2017, will apply to all UK employers and that the levy will be charged on those employers with a pay bill of more than £3 million, with a levy set at 0.5% of the pay bill. The Welsh Government have rightly raised concern about the introduction of the levy, and noble Lords have spelled that out today. I understand that the Welsh Government were not consulted about this, and perhaps they should have been before the initial announcement was made, bearing in mind that the apprenticeship levy funding policy is devolved and it will be for the Welsh Government to decide how they use it.

Last year, the Welsh Government consulted extensively on aligning their apprenticeship model to the needs of the economy in Wales and the wider UK. They published consultation responses in July 2015 and, since that time, have delayed publishing their apprenticeship implementation plan, as they want to have the opportunity to properly consider the impact of the UK Government’s proposals for the operation of the apprenticeship levy in England and the associated changes in apprenticeship standard.

We are several months away from the levy being implemented, and there is a lot of confusion and a lack of transparency. Can the Minister ensure that the UK Government will continue to work with the Welsh Government on the implementation of the levy? The Government should ensure that Wales receives a fair share of the revenue raised by it so that it can continue with its very successful apprenticeship programme. At present, it is funded by the Welsh Government with the support of the European Social Fund, which will probably disappear in a few years’ time.

Can we get a much clearer picture than we have at the moment so that there is transparency and the Welsh Government will know how this is going to operate? It seems that they are a bit on hold at the moment, as other noble Lords have pointed out. I am sure that the Minister will be able to clarify the position.