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Devil is in the levy details now Brexit dust is settling

More than two months on from that dramatic referendum result and, politically at least, it would seem some of that post-vote dust has started to settle.

A new prime minister is in place and a wide-ranging reshuffle has ensured Theresa May has stamped her authority on Whitehall.

We now know which individuals are responsible for which portfolios and new relationships with new ministers are beginning to be established as the construction industry digests am extraordinary couple of months. Major policy initiatives somewhat receded into the background amid all the drama, yet policy decisions cannot be postponed indefinitely.

And so it was that we saw the mid-summer announcements on skills funding and the apprenticeship levy, which is still on track to be in place for April 2017, so we are told.

Cutting it pretty fine

Mrs May had spoken encouragingly of implementing a proper industrial strategy and of presenting more opportunities to young people, so there had been little reason to believe that David Cameron and George Osborne’s flagship policy would be ditched.

Furthermore, the recent announcements suggest it will be full steam ahead on implementation. For a supposed cornerstone of the country’s revamped skills strategy, this is still cutting it pretty fine, and in times of such uncertainty, there is a case to be made for less hasty implementation.

Recent announcements have, however, given us more details of what the new apprenticeship funding settlement – not part of the levy itself but an integral aspect of the policy package – may look like.

“We hope the new minister will be an ally in this drive to raise the standard of apprenticeship training and we look forward to working with him to develop the highly skilled workforce that the construction so desperately needs”

On the surface, the proposals look relatively positive for SMEs. Most should not end up paying any more towards training than they currently do, and some may pay less. This is important, particularly for small and micro employers for whom cost can be a major barrier to training.

Also welcome is the extra support available for those taking on 16-18-year-olds, as our members report that the youngest trainees can often be riskier to take on and take more time, in terms of managing and supervision, to see them through.

In the still-to-be-resolved column, however, is the operation of different funding bands.

Quality above all else

It is vital that construction apprenticeships fall within funding bands which fully capture the cost of construction training, otherwise we will see extra costs being imposed on employers by the back door.

What is encouraging is Mrs May’s decision to appoint a passionate advocate for apprenticeships to guide the levy. The new skills minister Robert Halfon has spent a great deal of time in parliament championing high-quality training – even becoming the first ever MP to take on his own apprentice.

This emphasis on the quality of training and apprenticeships is something the FMB and its members are passionate about, and the Trailblazer standards our members are developing are designed to increase quality above all else.

We hope the new minister will be an ally in this drive to raise the standard of apprenticeship training and we look forward to working with him to develop the highly skilled workforce that construction so desperately needs.

Brian Berry is CEO of the Federation of Master Builders

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