On 4th July 2019 Lord Young of Norwood Green led a debate in the House of Lords on the Motion “That this House takes note of the Apprenticeship Levy and the case for the effective delivery of workplace opportunities for young people.” The Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Revd James Newcome, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for bringing this very important subject to our attention. Like him and both the noble Lords who have spoken, I do not suppose that anybody would argue against the value of apprenticeships, or the principles that undergird the apprenticeship levy. Indeed, the Church of England is a very strong supporter of both, as well as a significant contributor to the levy. If that is an interest, I am glad to declare it. We are keen to play our part in improving skills and increasing productivity throughout the UK workforce, as well as providing more opportunities for young people to find worthwhile employment.
In the earlier debate today we were reminded of the very significant connection between just such worthwhile employment and mental well-being. However, like the noble Lords who have already spoken, we do not believe that the process is yet as effective as it might be for achieving those laudable ends. I shall briefly mention four issues.
One of the main problems appears to be the speed at which the regulator is able to respond to the development of new standards. Our own church minister apprenticeship standard is one example. The standard itself, which has been in development since 2017, has been approved, but written confirmation of what is known as its endpoint assessment has still to arrive. There are also some outstanding questions about the allocation of its funding band. We understand that the Church of England is not the only so-called trailblazer to have experienced long delays while attempting to introduce new standards. To that end we all welcome a recent speech by the Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, on exactly this issue.
Closely connected with the problem of speed is that of apprenticeship levy spending. The rules governing access to levy funds have been criticised, not least already this afternoon, as overcomplex and inflexible. Due largely to the sorts of delays I have mentioned, it is estimated that nationally, large employers, including the Church of England, are in effect losing as much as £12 million a month. We welcome the extension of the maximum levy fund payment from 10% to 25% for what are known as organisations and stakeholders in supply chains, which for us in the Church of England translates as parishes and dioceses, but at the same time we would appreciate a rather more realistic approach to the way such payments can be accessed.
A third matter of concern—it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his introductory remarks—relates to the need for provision at levels 2 and 3; in particular, for those young people who are just starting out in their careers and trying to find a place on the apprenticeship ladder. We have already heard various statistics, but since the apprenticeship levy was introduced there has been a 42% decline in the number of level 2 apprenticeships. This has not helped the formation of a clear apprenticeship pathway. As the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has pointed out, it risks leaving behind people with lower skills and those from more disadvantaged communities. What is more, the recently published Augar review, which has been referenced already, called for,
“an efficient distribution of Level 3, 4 and 5 provision within reasonable travel-to-learn areas”.
That has particular resonance for those of us who live, as I do, in the more rural parts of England. I would be grateful to know from the Minister what plans Her Majesty’s Government may have for tackling the provision of lower-end apprenticeships, especially in the more remote and sparsely populated regions of this country.
Finally, as we have already been reminded, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I am aware that the original target of 3 million new starts by 2020 will not now be reached. I appreciate the new emphasis that has been placed on quality rather than quantity. Of course, quality is tremendously important, but that does not mean that numbers no longer matter. It would be good to know what sort of figure the Minister might regard as a suitable replacement target.
Viscount Younger of Leckie [Minister] (Con):…The noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Pendry, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cohen and Lady Osamor, asked important questions about the need to promote level 2 and 3 apprenticeships, but it is important to remember that apprenticeships are jobs first and foremost. We have empowered employers to choose the apprenticeships that best suit their needs. Starts at levels 2 and 3 still make up the vast majority of the programme—82% of starts in the first half of 2018-19, which is quite interesting—creating the opportunities for progression to higher-level training…
…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle focused on the importance of quality. We remain committed to reaching 3 million apprenticeship starts, but are not worried that it may take some time to get there. What is more important is that we maintain our focus on quality to ensure that we meet the skills needs of employers and create the opportunities for young people to progress in their careers. Before we began our apprenticeship reforms, employers told us that the quality of training was often inconsistent. We listened to their concerns and acted by putting the independent Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education at the service of employers to help them develop the standards they need and to act as a guarantor for the quality of training. We recognise that there have been some teething problems. Such problems were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle, but I hope that I can reassure the House because we have overseen a significant acceleration in the process for the approval of standards, particularly using our so-called Faster and Better programme. As I have already mentioned, more than 450 standards are now available for employers to choose from, with more in the pipeline; they cover traditional skills, the professions and emerging industries…
…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle said he had heard that some standards still did not have an endpoint assessment in place, which was another theme. ESFA recently confirmed that we will require an endpoint assessment organisation to be in place for all standards. That will give employers and apprentices the confidence that endpoint assessments are ready when they need them and of the quality that is required.