Spring forward?

When two tribes go to war, one is all that they can score

OMG – and any other expletives you care to add in. What now? I have no idea what is likely to happen now that MPs have once again rejected the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU.

Will we actually leave the EU on March 29? Will Mrs May persuade the EU to let us delay Article 50 so that we leave later on in the year? Even if we do leave in, say, October, rather than March, will there be any difference? Delaying Article 50 is no guarantee that the UK will leave with a deal. The way that the hard-line Brexiteers and the ERG are behaving, they are determined that leave means leave at any cost, ( and for some of them, the price they are willing to pay may indeed be the current Prime Minister). The only thing that is certain is that certainties are as rare as Mrs May’s vocal chords.

So, onto something we can be sure will happen – Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s Spring Statement – what in old money used to be known as the Budget before that put its coat and hat on and moved to the Autumn.

Chancellor’s always like to spring nice little surprises at these announcements, so even though Hammond has said that it’ a bit of a non-event, he may well be tempted to add a bit of spice o hat will, essentially, be a holding pattern, designed to give us something else to talk about for a few brief, beautiful hours.

Here’s something he could try: the Apprentice Levy. This has been a bit rubbish so far, to put it mildly. The Levy was designed to raise £3bn a year to be used for apprenticeship training. So far, most of it is unused. There is nearly £3bn that’s been taken out of the UK economy under the levy that’s not been spent yet. THREE. BILLION. QUID. What else could we do with £3bn? If you’ll excuse the rather clumsy Brexit-Bus mathematics, that’s a hospice, a thousand MRI scanners, a couple of secondary schools.

Or, and here’s a novel notion, it’s a lot of training provision to help build and develop the next generation of people working across all industries.

As is so often the case with the Government schemes (Green Deal anyone?) there are way too many complications, barriers and hoops to jump through for this system to work smoothly. There are companies across the UK economy who have not yet spent the money that they had to pay under the Levy. Some of those companies are in this industry. And it’s getting too late to do anything about it. This really is a case of use it or lose it and there are a very many companies who are going to lose it.

Hammond has an opportunity today to do something with this unspent money that will benefit those businesses that have had to pay it. As we hurtle closer to March 29th, the need to do something to help businesses in the aftermath of our exit becomes ever more pressing.







About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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