UK regions debate levy plans

While the apprentice levy’s administration and funding structure in England is now a little clearer, other regions in the UK are still in the uncertain stage. Northern Ireland, for one, is still yet to finalise its plans for how the levy will be funded and dispersed.

In the light of the uncertainty, the Federation of Small Businesses in the province has called on the NI Executive to confirm funding details – with a financial incentive for SMEs at the top of their wishlist.

According to the FSB, only 23% of small businesses in Northern Ireland are currently involved in apprenticeships, and that figure will remain low as long as SMEs are wary of the costs of employing an apprentice.


Financial incentives crucial for NI SMEs

Wilfred Mitchell, FSB policy chair for Northern Ireland, said: “In Northern Ireland we are still awaiting clarity around how the apprenticeship levy, which will be raised on a UK-wide basis, will be returned to firms who want to take on an apprentice.

“FSB therefore calls on the Northern Ireland Executive to implement the Securing our Success: NI Apprenticeship Strategy in full, with appropriate resource allocations to ensure the financial incentives for employers are adequately funded.”

Meanwhile in Scotland, business groups are still unclear over how the levy will work. Writing over the weekend, the CBI’s director in Scotland, Hugh Aitken, called on the government to delay the levy’s introduction: “Our message is clear,” he said. “Delay introduction of the levy to ensure we have the chance to make it a success, so that it contributes to raising productivity, competitiveness and prosperity.”

The Scottish government is currently running a consultation on how the levy should interact with the Scottish skills system, with the UK-wide levy having a significant impact on devolved skills policy across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


‘Business knows best’

A delay, Aitken says, will allow for more planning to take place to ensure the levy has the maximum positive impact. “With clear criteria for cost recovery developed in collaboration with business, training providers and government we can develop a system that gives levy-payers the ability to utilise funding to address skills gaps in the Scottish economy – not only for apprenticeships but also for broader skills development,” he said.

“Businesses know best what skills they need in their organisations and sectors, and should have a strong voice in shaping the system.”