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Ministers 'very unlikely' to hit target of three million new apprentices by next year, MPs warn

3 min read

The Government is set to fall short of its target for three million new apprentice starts by 2020, MPs have warned.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found that an unexpected 26% drop in the number of people taking up the schemes in the first year of reforms had slowed the whole programme.

The group say the setbacks which followed the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017 meant that while the level is now recovering, it would be unlikely to make up lost ground on time.

The levy sees employers pay a 0.5% levy on their annual pay bill, where it is over £3m.

While ministers underspent the programme’s budget by 20% in 2017-2018 as a result of the fall, the committee also found employers’ preference for higher-cost apprenticeships meant that the programme will likely come under growing financial pressure in the coming years.

Elsewhere in their report, the group criticised the Government’s “unambitious” targets on bringing in female apprentices and those from black, minority ethnic groups, despite making it one of the programme’s four main objectives.

It also highlights that too many apprentices are trained by “sub-standard providers”, with around a third covered by Ofsted inspections in 2017/18 being assessed by those deemed ‘inadequate’ or which ‘requires improvement’.

Just under 23% of new apprentices were from the most deprived local authority areas, compared with the department’s target of 25%, the report found.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said of the report: “The number of people starting apprenticeships is falling significantly short of government targets...

“Ultimately, the lack of progress has disrupted the direction of the programme. The way the programme is evolving is out of kilter with the Department’s objectives: opportunities for people with lower skills are diminishing and apprenticeship starts in disadvantaged communities has fallen.”

“What’s more, take-up from under-represented groups has been too low. We are supportive of the programme’s core objective to draw apprentices from a wider range of social and demographic group, but this is at complete odds with its unambitious targets.”

“The apprenticeships programme has laudable ambitions, but the Department’s poor execution has created serious longer-term problems.”

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, said: “We are increasing the numbers of people with learning disabilities or from BAME backgrounds starting apprenticeships. We have projects aimed at helping people from disadvantaged areas to achieve an apprenticeship with all the benefits it provides.

“Our reforms have also seen more employer buy-in giving employers greater control so they can invest in the people and skills they need. Companies like BAE Systems, JP Morgan, Marks & Spencer and Lloyds Banking Group are embracing the system and supporting the development of new high-quality apprenticeships.

“There is still work to be done, but we won’t sacrifice quality for quantity and I’m thrilled that the number of people starting on our new high-quality apprenticeships has risen by 79% in the first half of 2018/19 compared to the same period last year."

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