Levy update could be on hold until September

Updated guidance on the apprenticeship levy which was due out in June may now be postponed until September, FE Week understands.

FE Week submitted an enquiry to the Department for Education (DfE) about a potential change to the release date – which would be the second delay so far – but the DfE refused to confirm or deny the prospect.

Instead a government spokesperson said: “As businesses adapt and seize opportunities in the coming years, having a workforce with the skills to succeed will be more important than ever.

“That is why we’re committed to creating three million high quality apprenticeships by 2020 and why we have just published a dedicated skills plan to ensure our workforce is world leading.

“We are introducing the apprenticeship levy so that businesses have the talent they need to grow and thrive. We will continue to work closely with businesses of all sizes to design the levy around their needs and the need of their employees.”

Former skills minister Nick Boles had previously promised that the additional information would be available “well before the summer break”, when speaking at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers annual conference on June 27.  

He told delegates at the conference that there would be just a “little delay” to the update, following the British public’s decision to leave the European Union, but that they should “work on the assumption” that the introduction of the apprenticeship levy itself would still happened “as planned,” in April 2017. 

He said: “We had planned to be published further detailed information about the pricing of specific apprenticeship standards in the next few days.

“I’m sure you will understand that is now going to be a little delayed, but only a little we still expect to get that information out well before the summer break.”

Postponing the release of the additional details until September will mean a second missed deadline, while employers and providers are eager to move forward with their preparations for the levy’s introduction next year.

Meanwhile it has been ‘all change’ at the Department for Education (DfE), with the appointment of the both the new education secretary Justine Greening, and Robert Halfon, whose official title has yet to be confirmed.

On June 14, it was also announced that the DfE would take over responsibility for FE, skills and higher education, from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

A spokesperson for Number 10 told FE Week at the time: “The DfE has taken on responsibility for higher and further education policy as well as apprenticeship and wider skills policy from BIS.”

In a press statement, Number 10 also said that “bringing these responsibilities together will mean that the government can take a comprehensive, end-to-end view of skills and education, supporting people from early years through to postgraduate study and work”.

The statement from Number 10 confirmed that staff from BIS who are working on higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and skills will transfer to the DfE.

In light of these new developments, it is likely that the new administration is taking its time over how to proceed with the reforms.

But despite this hold up, FE Week understands that there are still no plans to delay the implementation of the levy itself from April next year.

On July 19, the Confederation of British Industry unveiled the results of a survey with nearly 500 companies showing widespread concern about the rushed design of the levy.

When subsequently asked by FE Week asked if it wanted Mr Halfon to delay beyond the planned April next year launch date, a spokesperson for the CBI said “yes”.

That went a step further than Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the confederation, was prepared to go in her interview with editor Nick Linford two months ago — when she would only say that “delay is certainly an option”.