North East Lib Dem councillors have expressed concern over comments made by Newcastle council leader Cllr Nick Forbes which appear to cast doubt on the commitment of Labour councils to the Apprenticeship Levy, which aims to fund and support delivery of apprenticeships for young people.
The Levy is chargeable on all large employers in the public and private sectors and aims to create thousands of additional apprenticeship places to boost employability and the economy.
Speaking in his capacity as LGA Labour leader, Cllr Forbes gave the impression of opposing the requirement for councils to pay the Levy, citing a £205m cost and a £400m cost of wages for the target number of apprenticeships in the local government sector. He said “Paying the apprenticeship levy and meeting national apprenticeship targets each year will add further financial pressure onto already stretched local services”
The remarks contradict recent commitments by the NE Combined Authority, of which he is a leading member, to prioritise apprenticeships following a disappointing decline in apprenticeship starts in the region.
A report to NECA in October 2015 to agree an action plan to tackle underperformance made a pledge to do more on this agenda, stating
“As the Combined Authority develops it will be critical that it communicates a strong priority to support the work of the Apprenticeship Growth Partnership. This will assist its constituent authorities and partners to increase the numbers of apprenticeships, improve the quality of apprenticeships, and support the development of clear progression routes to sustainable careers from apprenticeships.
The support from NECA and its constituent authorities could include:
- as employers lead by example by creating apprenticeship opportunities
- set a NECA standard for employers for apprenticeships
- actively promote apprenticeships to all employers
- seek to maximise the support to smaller employers to include apprenticeships as part of their recruitment plans
- support larger employers to include apprenticeships in their medium to long-term workforce planning
The NE Devolution Deal, signed by Cllr Forbes, also makes a commitment to “collaborate to maximise the opportunities within the North East presented by the introduction of the apprenticeship levy“
Responding, Cllr Greg Stone said “Cllr Forbes’ comments appear to cast doubt on his commitment to the Apprenticeship Levy and suggest that he opposes councils being obliged to contribute, despite his apparent willingness for private companies to pay this, and he views meeting apprenticeship targets as placing an unjustified funding burden on councils.
Cllr Forbes wants NECA to have more power over apprenticeship programme delivery and funding, but his record on this agenda is disappointing, having overseen a reduction in apprenticeship starts by Newcastle council under his leadership, and NECA has acknowledged that delivery to date in the North East has been poor with apprenticeship starts declining in the last two years.
He appears to be happy for business to meet the costs of apprenticeship support but seems unwilling for councils to make the same commitment to young people.
Cllr Forbes and Labour councils should do more to lead by example, rather than remarks like these which give the impression of speaking with a forked tongue by supporting the aims of the policy but refusing to support its funding.”
Cllr Forbes comments: https://www.politicshome.com/economy-and-work/articles/story/apprenticeship-reforms-cost-councils-%C2%A3600m-year-says-lga
NECA report on apprenticeship performance: http://www.northeastca.gov.uk/sites/default/files/minutes_document/NECA%20Overview%20and%20Scrutiny%20Supplemental%20Agenda%208%20September.pdf
Devolution Deal: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/472187/102915_DEVOLUTION_TO_THE_NORTH_EAST_signed_pdf.pdf