More than 50 MPs wrote to Robert Halfon, Apprenticeships & Skills Minister,UK to rethink apprenticeship funding changes

UK : Planned changes to apprenticeship funding in England have been attacked by Labour MPs, who warn the shakeup risks cutting the number of schemes on offer and runs counter to Theresa May’s reported pledge to boost social mobility.

More than 50 MPs have written to Robert Halfon, the apprenticeships and skills minister, asking him to rethink proposals that would involve cuts in May 2017 of 30-50% to funding rates paid to some colleges and training providers that teach young apprentices.

The letter, written by the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, and seen by the Guardian, says the cuts “hugely undermine the government’s pledge to create 3m apprenticeships by 2020, and also entirely contradict the prime minister’s promise to ‘help anybody, whatever your background, go as far as your talents will take you’.”

As part of a push to raise productivity and address skills shortages, ministers have set ambitious targets to increase apprenticeship numbers and are introducing a levy on larger employers from next April to help fund the new placements. The government has also presented apprenticeships as a way of tackling inequality. Halfon recently described the levy as crucial to ensuring “people of all ages and backgrounds have a chance to get on in life”.

But Lammy said the the proposed funding changes, published by the Skills Funding Agency last month, were the latest sign that the government viewed apprenticeships as the “poor cousin” to higher education. These cuts are a direct attack on social mobility and a direct attack on the life chances of working class kids, said Lammy.

“The government talk a good game about social justice and helping people from disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds to get on in life, but time and time again they take from the poor and give to the rich.”

The proposed funding rates for apprenticeships were published in August along with an invitation for feedback to help test “how they support the government’s emerging industrial strategy and ensure that individuals from all backgrounds and parts of the country have the opportunity to get on in life.” The agency is aiming to confirm the final apprenticeship funding arrangements in October.

An analysis of the proposed funding rates by the further education newspaper FE Week found the two most popular apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds – the level 2 apprenticeships in business administration and in construction – face cuts of 27% -52%, depending on location. The analysis also found that the funding for many apprentices aged 24 and over would go up under the new proposals, particularly for those living in affluent areas outside the south-east and working for large employers.

The government wants to move away from using a range of different funding rates for apprenticeship places depending on age and location and to simplify the system to make it easier for employers to navigate. The government is also introducing extra support, worth £2,000 per trainee, for employers and training providers who take on 16- to 18-year-old apprentices or young care leavers.

Asked about the call by 55 Labour MPs for a rethink, Halfon noted that the government was ensuring more money was going into the apprenticeship system overall and more money on average per apprenticeship.

“This government is doubling investment in apprenticeships because we know they create a ladder of opportunity for our young people. Through the new levy, £2.5bn will be invested in apprenticeships by 2019-20 – twice what was spent in 2010-11,” Halfon said. He said the changes were also designed to encourage employers to take on 16- to 18-year-olds. “This will help to ensure every young person, regardless of background or ability, has the chance to take their first step into work,” the minister added.

However, training providers fear the proposed changes could force them to withdraw some schemes altogether because the new funding rates will mean some apprenticeships are no longer viable.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers said the proposals threatened to “wipe out” the training provision for young people in disadvantaged urban areas, with London particularly hard hit.The association, which represents training providers delivering more than three-quarters of England’s apprenticeships, has called on the Department for Education to explain why all apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds are not fully state-funded.

Mark Dawe, its chief executive, said: ‘Why should apprentices be the only 16– to 18-year-olds not to get free education and training? This approach appears discriminatory.”

The group fears that plans to remove extra support for apprentices in deprived areas could halve funding rates for the most vulnerable young people on apprenticeships. “The end result would be that these learners would have the choice of an apprenticeship taken away from them and areas such as inner London becoming apprenticeship deserts,” said Dawe.

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