Downing Street backs off apprentices target renewed by Theresa May
Downing Street today refused to back itself on an apprenticeship promise renewed by Theresa May last year.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister declined to comment on whether the Government would meet its target of creating 3 million apprentices by mid-2020 – despite being asked three times.
It comes after manufacturing association EEF warned there was little chance of the target – made originally by David Cameron but taken up by his successor – being met.
EEF said the Government would need almost 70,000 new apprenticeships to start each month between now and April 2020 to hit the target.
But it noted that since a controversial apprenticeships levy on big firms was introduced last April, the average monthly start rate has been just 28,000 – and was only 44,000 before the levy came in.
Asked whether the Government was confident of reaching its 2017 manifesto promise, the spokesperson said there had been a 986% increase in people starting schemes in the past year.
“Our reforms are driving up the quality of apprenticeships and we are continuing to work on increasing them,” they added.
Asked for a second time, the spokesperson said: “The numbers are continuing to rise we are putting more people on the path to success across a range of exciting industries.
“And we continue to work with industry to improve the numbers.”
When it was noted that the answer had not been a simple yes or no, the spokesperson said nothing.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: “By refusing to back their own three million target, the Government has finally admitted that their handling of apprenticeships is failing.
“Time and time again Labour told Ministers that the target was a mistake. Now that they have accepted their mistake they need to focus on delivering high-quality apprenticeships instead of chasing arbitrary numbers.
“While the Government’s flagship further and technical education policy is now in tatters, it is young people across our country who are paying the price for the Government’s failure.”
Last year, former skills minister Nick Boles said the 3 million target was an election ploy to up the Tory game after 2 million apprenticeships were created in the 2010-2015 parliament.
Robert Halfon, the Tory chair of the Education Select Committee, told the Times the 3 million target was “always the wrong thing to do because it focused on quantity rather than quality”.
EEF blamed the levy on the slowdown - which sees firms with an annual pay bill of more than £3m put 0.5% of it into a pot for training apprentices, with the cash taken as tax if it goes unused.