Apprentice funding plans rejected in consultation

The full results of the government’s apprenticeship funding consultation last year have been released for the first time — revealing the vast majority of provider and employer respondents did not support the government’s proposed reforms.

The consultation ran from July until October and in November Skills Minister Matthew Hancock announced the government would be seeking to fund apprenticeships through the PAYE system, just one of the options suggested in the consultation.

Some consultation results were released in March with the launch of a new, technical consultation on how the new PAYE system might best work.

However, it has emerged that PAYE funding, where employers would claim funding through the tax system, had been supported by just 29 out of 366 respondents from businesses, providers and other stakeholders according to the results — and even where it had the highest support, among medium-sized business, it was supported by less than one-in-four.

The current system of channelling funding through providers was the most popular option, enjoying support from 213 of the 366 respondents, but was not mentioned in proposals laid out as part of the second consultation.

Chief executive of the Association for Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) Stewart Segal called for changes to be “based on evidence”. He said: “There is no overwhelming support from employers to move to mandatory cash contributions or direct funding to employers. In fact many smaller businesses have said they will not recruit apprentices if they have to manage the funding directly.

“Our interpretation of the consultation results was that employers of all sizes expressed a greater preference for the current provider funded model than any other option. Employers should have a choice of direct funding where they can meet the criteria or to work with a provider of their choice that would manage the funding.

“The frustration is that the option many employers want has not been included in the latest consultation.”

It comes as apprenticeship forum body Apprenticeships 4 England described the consultation as “a farce” in a formal complaint to BIS after the 744 responses it submitted were counted as just one response.

Apprenticeships 4 England chief executive Lindsay McCurdy said: “It worries me that we submitted a range of responses from across our membership, but if they only counted it as one, whose response did they use?”

She added: “There should be two options — we should keep the system as it is unless an employer says they specifically want to take on responsibility for directly handling apprenticeship funding — in which case, let them.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokesperson said: “We are reforming apprenticeship funding to give employers direct purchasing power to drive up the quality and relevance of training.

“Responses to the July 2013 consultation made it clear that this is unlikely to be achieved by simply adjusting the current system, which routes funding through the training provider. We are therefore consulting further on employer-routed funding as part of a fundamental overhaul to make the new system as simple and user-friendly as possible for all employers.”

The current technical consultation closes on May 1.