Drove to the Levy but the Levy was dry

Ask me my three main priorities for government, and I tell you: education, education, education.

Well it was always a big ask I suppose. The 3 million apprenticeships that the Tories promised in their manifesto.

Turns out that the actual number is likely to be somewhat south of that. In the way that Hastings is somewhat south of Inverness.

The government – in its then guise of David Cameron – gave itself the target of creating three million new apprenticeships between 2015 and April 2020.  When Cameron flounced off to spend more time in his £80,000 garden shed, it was left to the incoming Teresa May to uphold the apprenticeship pledge. Which, bless her, she did, but the rate at which the apprenticeships are being taken up will need to get a move on if that target is to be reached.

According to, research by the EEF, the manufacturers’ association, the government would need about 68,000 new apprenticeships to start each month between now and April 2020 if the target is to be reached. What does the EEF blame for the slowdown? Yup, last April’s Apprenticeship Levy. Since the levy was introduced, the average monthly start rate has been 28,000, though to be fair, before that it was only 44,000 a month anyway.

Tim Thomas, the EEF’s director of employment and skills policy, said there was now “little chance” that Mrs May could achieve her manifesto commitment.

“What employers, would-be apprentices and high-quality training providers all want is for government to remove the road blocks and bottlenecks now, so that businesses can train the next generation of talent that employers need,” he said.

Under the scheme, employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million pay 0.5 per cent of it into an account used to pay for training as part of an apprenticeship. If the money is not used, it is taken as tax. As usual, with Government schemes, employers have complained that the system is overly bureaucratic and that many of the registered apprenticeship providers are not up to standard.

Although many Ministers have since admitted that the 3million figure was something of an electioneering ploy, there is a clear need for the Levy to be made to work. Apprenticeships are going to be vital if there is to be sufficient interest in new, young workers coming through the system.

I’ve been watching my friends’ and neighbours children getting their A Level results this week and, while many of them are heading off to university, there are others for who another three years of academia just isn’t the right choice. Quite apart from the fact that the £9000 a year tuition fees and the means-tested student maintenance loans will ensure that most of them spend their time skint and scrabbling round for part-time jobs before emerging owing the equivalent of a sizeable house deposit.

A friend is a partner in a law firm and told me that they are looking at introducing apprenticeship programmes in order to bring in younger people for who the traditional law –degree path would prove prohibitively expensive.

Many of this industries up and coming managers started out on the apprenticeship path, so it would be a massive shame if the Government messes up the provision of schemes by making it all too complicated.



About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

Check Also


Reclaim the night

Because the night, belongs to lovers Because the night, belongs to us I’m going to …