Levy risks not fully understood – PAC

The influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has added its voice to those expressing concerns over the government’s insistence on prioritizing the number of apprenticeships over the quality of the training provided. And the PAC says the insistence on prioritizing meeting its 3m by 2020 target over other measures risks the quality of the training provided.

Rather than focusing on the numerical target, the committee recommends the DfE should instead, “Publish, and regularly report on, a broader range of success measures, both at local and national level. These measures should include whether apprentices move on to higher apprenticeships, whether successful apprentices benefit from increased earnings, and whether the programme is delivering improved access to under-represented groups across all occupations.”


‘Levy risk not fully understood’

In addition, the members of the committee say they are ‘not convinced’ that the Apprentice Levy’s risks have been fully vetted and understood by civil servants tasked with rolling it out, with the possibility of system abuse not fully recognized and mitigated. “Levy-paying employers will be allowed to use their contributions to fund a greater number of apprenticeships among their own workforce,” the report states. “However, the system may encourage some stakeholders to behave in ways that work against the objectives of the programme.”

The committee recommends that to address these concerns, “The DfE needs to systematically identify the full range of risks associated with potential abuse of the system and ensure that they are addressed from the start. It should be clear who is responsible for managing the risks, detecting problems as they arise, and taking action quickly should concerns emerge.

The report lays out its concerns that employers and training providers might collude to recover and share levy funds while offering little or no genuine training, or employers might artificially route other forms of training into apprenticeships. “The Department must not repeat the sorts of mistakes that were made when Individual Learning Accounts were introduced in 2000 which suffered from a lack of checks on learners, providers, and the quality of learning; and poor contract management which led to substantial fraud and abuse,” it concludes.


‘IfA may not fulfil its remit’

The committee also cast doubt on whether the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) will operate as intended, and whether it will have the capacity and capability to fulfil its functions.

‘The IfA’s broad remit will be to regulate the quality of apprenticeships including keeping standards to a manageable number and ensuring they deliver relevant, up-to-date skills,” the report states. “Despite the importance of these functions, the Department has yet to define: the precise roles and responsibilities of the IfA; how these roles and responsibilities will fit alongside those of the existing oversight bodies; and the resources to which the IfA will have access. It is also unclear whether the employer-led IfA will draw on the perspectives of other important stakeholders such as the trade unions.’

The report has been published on the back of extensive questioning of the government’s plans for apprenticeships, which has encompassed funding, measurement, quality, perceptions, career advice and the prioritisation of the right types of skills to meet the UK’s productivity gap.