Skills Minister Nick Boles has told Association of Colleges (AoC) conference delegates to stop letting private providers “nick your lunch”.

He was critical of colleges for failing to secure more government apprenticeships cash and said independent learning providers (ILPs) were much better at securing the funding, during a keynote speech at the ICC Birmingham this morning.

Mr Boles told delegates: “As your friend, I have to ask you this, why on earth are you letting these guys [ILPs] nick your lunch?”

He challenged colleges to go from delivering a third of all apprenticeships to two-thirds.

It comes after FE Week revealed startlingly low levels of college take-up on apprenticeship delivery at many colleges.

Skills Funding Agency figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that colleges, on average, have 27 per cent of their 2015/16 Adult Skills Budget allocated to apprenticeships, compared with 60 per cent at other providers.

But the college figure varies significantly across the country, with London colleges averaging just 12 per cent.

Mr Boles also told delegates this morning that apprenticeships funding was rising while other funding streams available to colleges was being cut.

“Total government spending on apprenticeships grew by £400m, or nearly 30 per cent, between 2009/200 and 2015/16,” he said.

“In 2009/10 the taxpayer was investing every year £1.1m in apprenticeship training but in 2015/16 it will be £1.5bn.”

“We will be spending a great deal more on apprenticeship training in 2019/20,” he added.

“We need to help you take advantage of that funding stream. I want to help you give ILPs a very good run for their money and secure a much larger share of that funding.”

Mr Boles added that even if the government hit its 3m apprenticeships target by 2020 “we will still have fewer apprentices per 1,000 of population than almost any of our European competitors and if it works for them and makes them productive I don’t think we should shrink from it”.

“The new apprenticeship levy will provide substantial additional resources to fund training,” he added.

It comes as Mr Boles also told delegates in his speech that he could not give them any insights into the conclusions of the upcoming spending review.

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said afterwards that he had “played a remarkably straight bat”, during his conference speech, over FE funding.