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 Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:43, 12 October 2021

I offer many apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Watson. It was so rude of me. I am afraid my tummy overtook my brain, not for the first time.

Apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s skills ambition. Given Covid-19’s impact on our economy, apprenticeships are as important as ever in helping businesses to recruit the right people and develop the skills they need.

I want to take a few minutes to outline the principles of the apprenticeship levy and funding as I think that will help to respond to some of the points made. The apprenticeship levy has put apprenticeship funding on a sustainable footing and means that this year £2.5 billion is available to support apprenticeships. The levy has been set at a level to fund apprenticeship training and assessment in all employers—both those who pay the levy and those who do not.

As my noble friend Lady Penn explained in Committee, the funds available to levy- paying employers through their apprenticeship service accounts

“are not the same … as the Department for Education’s … apprenticeships budget.”—[Official Report, 15/7/21; col. 2025.]

This budget also funds additional payments made to employers and providers with apprentices aged 16 to 18. It funds the £3,000 incentive that can be claimed by employers hiring new apprentices. I should like to highlight to noble Lords that these incentives were recently extended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer until the end of January 2022, helping more employers to invest in apprenticeships as we recover from the pandemic.

This is one example showing that the apprenticeships programme is dynamic and responsive to both employers and the wider economic context. In addition, we are delivering a set of improvements and flexibilities that will make apprenticeships work better for employers in all sectors and give employers greater opportunities to make full use of their levy funds. Importantly, we also continue to listen to employers and adapt apprenticeships to better meet their needs. Work is under way to deliver a package of improvements which responds directly to employer feedback so that they can make greater use of the apprenticeship funds.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Storey, will be pleased to hear that, first, we are introducing a new service to make it easier for employers who pay the apprenticeship levy to transfer funds in their accounts to other employers. Large employers are able to pledge funds for transfers and other employers will be able to apply to receive these funds, helping both to benefit from transfers. Secondly, we are helping employers choose more innovative training models, such as front-loaded training and accelerated apprenticeships, which will help apprentices with relevant skills and experience to complete their training more quickly. Finally, we are supporting sectors of the economy which have more flexible working patterns, such as the creative industries. We will shortly launch a £7 million fund to help organisations in England set up and expand new flexi-job apprenticeship schemes.

I should also like to say a little about how we are supporting individuals into apprenticeships. We have introduced accelerated apprenticeships, which will reduce the duration of an apprenticeship for individuals coming from certain T-levels, skills boot camps and occupational traineeships where they have acquired substantial prior learning. This will join up skills opportunities and make them more appealing to both employers and individuals. We are undertaking the largest ever expansion of the traineeship programme for 16 to 24 year-olds, supporting more young people to move into apprenticeships and work. As over 30% of all traineeship starts are by learners from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and over 20% of traineeship starts are from learners with learning difficulties or disabilities, our investment will also help to broaden diversity and inclusion. I hope the noble Lord will agree that there are some positive steps we are taking.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked if the programme has shifted from older people. More than half—53%—of all apprenticeship starts continue to be by young people under the age of 25. This compares to 56% in 2015-16, prior to our reforms. As well as supporting young people into employment, it is important to recognise the role apprenticeships play in upskilling and reskilling people throughout their lifetimes. I hope I have made the noble Lord, Lord Storey, happy with what I have said and that he will therefore feel comfortable withdrawing his amendment.