Grant facility for small firms ‘fully committed’

Grant facility for small firms ‘fully committed’

Providers have been left waiting, as the Skills Funding Agency admits to having “fully committed” the budget for the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) facility for 2015-2016.

AGE 16 to 24 supports businesses that would not otherwise be able to recruit 16 to 24 year olds into employment through the apprenticeship programme. The facility works on a first-come-first-served basis for employers with fewer than 50 employees. They can receive up to five grants in total, each worth £1,500.

FE Week made enquiries with the SFA after being approached by a college, which said it had put in a growth request using AGE funding for 2015 and had been told there was no money left.

The college’s deputy principal said: “It does seem crazy to me that we are expected to go to small businesses, sell them apprenticeships for the first time, tell them the government wants to support them with a £1500 grant — only to then tell them that the government has no money to pay them.

“I can see a number of these small employers then deciding that they cannot afford to keep the apprentice on,” he added.

In response to FE Week’s enquiries, an SFA spokesperson explained that the agency was now looking to recall AGE funding that was not being used, in order to meet other providers’ growth requests.

She said: “For the 2015 to 2016 financial year, we have acknowledged and responded to all AGE facility requests. AGE is a finite budget.

“All available budget is committed (i.e contracted) in provider facilities, however this is not all being utilised by providers.

“We are about to run our performance management process to support the reallocation of funds to those providers requiring growth. We aim to fund all AGE eligible growth claims, subject to affordability.”

She added: “In the meantime, we are contacting providers with unutilised AGE budget to advise them of the need to reduce their facility, in line with their actual and forecasted activity.”

At the college that approached FE Week, the deputy principal highlighted that this deferral has come on top of a delay to its 16-18 growth request, a funding hold up that has caused widespread frustration. (See pages 16-17).

“There will be impacts to our and our subcontractor’s reputation if we do not get the £31,500 we have asked for,”
he said.