Subsidised apprentice travel plan falls off Labour manifesto

Subsidised apprentice travel plan falls off Labour manifesto

A long-term pledge to cover the cost of apprentice travel has not made it into Labour’s final general election manifesto – despite it featuring in a leaked draft version.

Last week, the draft version first leaked to our sister paper Schools Week, included a commitment to paying for apprentices’ travel costs, “which currently run to an average of £24 a week – a quarter of earnings if apprentices are on the minimum wage”.

The costings for this were called into question, with a Conservative Party spokesman telling FE Week that it demonstrated “Labour’s manifesto is a total shambles”.

We calculated at the time that £24 per week would have worked out at around £1,200 per apprentice every year. If applied to all 899,400 apprentices who participated last academic year, that would have amounted to just over £1 billion.

But shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden, who previously committed to funding apprentice travel at FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference in March, tempered that last week by explaining the pledge would only cover transport for 16-to-19 starts, at a cost of around £99 million.

When asked today why the commitment had been dropped from the final manifesto, published under the slogan “For the many, not the few”, a Labour spokesperson would only say: “I’m afraid we don’t comment on leaks [what was in the leaked manifesto]”.

Mr Marsden (pictured above) previously told AAC delegates that “specific support” to cover transport costs was one of his key pledges to the sector.

The £24-per-week transport cost estimate came from research by the National Society of Apprentices, and president-elect of its parent body the National Union of Students Shakira Martin told us last week that she welcomed Labour’s decision to subsidise this.

But after learning it was not in the manifesto, Shane Chowen, head of policy and public affairs at the Learning and Work Institute said: “I know it was only in the draft manifesto, but I’d be interested in understanding now why Labour changed their minds on this.

“For example, perhaps Labour believe that the reintroduction of education maintenance allowance would enable apprentices to cover these costs.

“We know from the debate around apprentices’ families losing child benefit that there are participation penalties for some young people from low income households, so Labour should be joining the dots.”

The manifesto published today confirmed that Labour would restore the EMA “for 16 to 18-year-olds from lower and middle income backgrounds”, as first reported by FE Week last month.

A separate costing document to go with the manifesto said the combined cost of restoring EMA, introducing free FE tuition, and equalising 16-19 funding would be £2.5 billion.

Labour first revealed its education plans last week.

Mr Marsden told FE Week at the time: “We will increase the adult skills budget by £1.5 billion, so it will go up to £3 billion per year by 2021/22, the end of the next parliament.”

He added it would include extra funding for ESOL (English speakers of other languages) courses.

This was confirmed in the manifesto today which stated that Labour would “replace advanced learner loans and upfront course fees with direct funding, making FE courses free at the point of use, including ESOL courses.

After the full manifesto was published today, Mr Marsden added: “I am delighted to see a number of the ideas we have developed over the past 18 months endorsed in the manifesto, and in particular ending the historic neglect of the FE sector, giving parity of esteem across the sector, and backing that up, particularly on EMA, apprenticeships and lifelong learning, with the funding and strategic direction they need.

“Ending the treatment of support for apprentices as second class is another key objective, which the manifesto lays out in line with our offering of opportunities to all, whether 16-19 year olds or adult skills into the 40’s, 50’s and beyond.”

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