Editor asks: Halfon answers three key questions after snap election announcement

Editor asks: Halfon answers three key questions after snap election announcement

Tonight, the Institute for Apprenticeships held a launch event in London at Mansion House. The apprenticeships and skills minister, Robert Halfon, was there to deliver a congratulatory speech. Afterwards, against a backdrop of the snap election announcement and as the event continued around us, I had the opportunity for a short interview and asked him three topical questions.

  1. Future of the 3m apprenticeship starts target

The Conservative manifesto in 2015 committed to three million apprenticeship starts by 2020. Given the snap election announced today, I asked the minister what happens now to the target.

The minister said he “wasn’t going to comment on that” as he “didn’t know what was going to be in the manifesto” but went on to say: “I’m very proud that we’ve got 900,000 apprenticeships in our country at the moment. Highest on record”

I pressed him on whether he wanted an apprenticeship starts target to be in the new manifesto, even whether it should be increased to 4m. He said it was “a very good question” but would only add that he “would love millions of quality apprenticeships – definitely.”

  1. Lack of English and maths policy shift

Last November the minister and Secretary of State Justine Greening indicated at the AoC annual conference that the policy on forced GCSE English and maths resits for grade D students wasn’t working. The following month the Ofsted annual report was also critical of the policy that was introduced last year.

So, I asked why, as reported in FE Week, the 2017/18 rules on mandatory GCSE English and maths resits remain unchanged.

After a long pause, the minister would only say: “If there wasn’t an election [announcement] today I would say there is a lot more work to do and watch this space.”

  1. Impact of the pause to the non-levy procurement process

The Education and Skills Funding Agency was due to share the results of the £440m non-levy funding procurement process on 14 March, but after a delay of nearly a month they announced last Wednesday they were ‘pausing’ the process until the end of 2017.

Those already holding an SFA contract would have it extended during the pause. But, as reported in FE Week, there are estimated to be around 400 providers (typically subcontractors) that in May will not have direct access to funding for more than 98 percent of employers, those that do not pay the levy. Many are hoping the agency will also pause changes to the subcontracting rules to allow existing arrangements to continue. Some, those with current allocations that did not make it onto the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers are also calling for its use to be paused.

Despite the promise of further guidance and clarification, nothing has yet been published.

So I asked the minister, about the “concern, confused and worried” providers after the pause was announced and what happens now.

He said “Well, exactly what we said in the press release that went out. It’s been paused until December”.

I pressed the minister on the hundreds of providers that applied for an allocation and now won’t have direct funding to non-levy funding in May. Do they go bust?

The minister repeated “we paused it until December and we will set out… well… again… election. If there hadn’t been an election [announcement] we would set out what was going to happen.”

I pressed again, asking what FE Week readers really want an answer to. Does the minister accept that following the procurement pause there are now several hundred apprenticeship providers that don’t know if they have a business from May?

“What I accept is that we’ve listened and we’ve extended this until December to make sure that we listened to the concerns that were set out and that’s exactly what we’ve done” said the minister.