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Apprenticeship Levy — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 3:47 pm, 11th February 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on securing the debate, and I warmly welcome his ongoing interest and engagement with the Government’s work on high-quality apprenticeships. It is vital that we advocate for businesses and apprentices alike up and down the country. I am delighted to see so many Members present, and I recognise the work they have already done on this issue. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that we have made huge progress on building a world-class apprenticeship system that creates opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds, wherever they are in the country. It is great news that there have been 11,000 more apprenticeships in his constituency alone since 2010.

As Members will know, last week was National Apprenticeship Week, our annual celebration of everything that apprenticeships have to offer employers, individuals and society. Many Members present will have heard some inspiring stories. The highlight for me was presenting the awards at Wiltshire College apprenticeship evening, where I met many extremely enthusiastic apprentices of different ages and at different stages of their career. Many Members will agree that the message of optimism in our outreach work, and the determination to challenge the outdated perception that university is the only desirable option for the ambitious and motivated, are quite rightly at the top of our agenda.

Many may have also heard the frustrations. Although we have made a great deal of progress, we cannot be complacent. We know that the levy remains a source of concern for some employers, and many Members spoke about the complexities and inflexibilities of the present system. I want to assure them—in particular, Emma Hardy—that we are keeping the apprentice system and levy under constant review to understand how it works for employers of all sizes, and most importantly how it can deliver for our economy and for social mobility.

On the timing for creating standards, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester raised, we introduced a faster, better programme, which has made significant improvements. In fact, the institute has exceeded its own targets. I appreciate that there is further work to do, but we are making progress.

It is vital to recognise that the levy is at the centre of our ambitious apprenticeship reform. Fewer than 2% of employers pay the levy, but 56% of starts—almost 225,000—were supported by the funds in the employers’ levy accounts between 2018 and 2010. The apprenticeship levy is helping businesses large and small to access the high-quality training that they need. More funding is available for apprenticeships than ever before. We will make more than £2.5 billion available for investment this year—double what we spent in 2010. That point was noted by my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds, whose insight from leading the Department was of great use today. His excellent speech highlighted the benefits of the apprenticeship system and how it works in practice.