Amendment 34

Part of Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:43 pm on 12 October 2021.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 8:43, 12 October 2021

I thank the noble Baroness. The time rumblings in certain areas are making us act a little less rationally. I will be very brief. I welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I am pleasantly surprised that the Public Bill Office accepted it and regarded it as within the scope of Bill. The levy does not merit a mention in the Bill, despite the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, which develops and approves the apprenticeships and technical qualifications of employers, being prominent in several clauses. However, here we are.

As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, apprenticeships are key to ensuring that Britain is equipped with a well-skilled workforce in the years ahead. It is a bit of a disappointment to some of us—certainly to me—that the scheme, which is a good idea, and the levy, which is an important way of ensuring that employers contribute to the costs of training, have yet to produce anything like the effects hoped for and, indeed, required. The number of young people taking apprenticeships is now down to something like 60,000—I am not quite sure. It has declined dramatically, and that is to be regretted.

When we debated this in Committee, I said to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that I was happy to support the amendment but remained a bit unsure about using levy funds for any purpose other than apprenticeships. In his opening remarks, he said that it could perhaps be used to pay apprenticeship wages, and I am not sure whether that is different. I want to avoid a situation where the money goes back to the Treasury and disappears. As long as the unspent part of the levy was kept within apprenticeships, as it were, we would not be unhappy if it involved some support for wages. On that basis, I am happy to support the amendment. I hope that when we talk about apprenticeships again we will see an upturn in their fortunes. They have a very important contribution to make to the development of skills going ahead.