Editor Asks part two: Apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon on employer ownership, assessment organisations and subcontracting

Last week, I spoke to apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon about the government’s so-called funding U-turn and the apprenticeship levy. Part two of the interview takes in employer ownership, assessment organisations and subcontracting.

So, I asked, is employer ownership compatible with social justice? “Absolutely,” he told me. “If you don’t incentivise the employer you then don’t get the quality apprenticeships that you need.

“We’re doing everything possible to incentivise the employer. That includes levy payers, because if they fulfil their levy they get some money back and an immediate £15,000.”

However, he insisted that the shift to employer control wouldn’t affect those in the 16- to 18-year-old bracket, who make up 25 per cent of all apprentices.

“Not everyone is 16 to 18,” he said. “This is not about one particular group of people, and don’t forget many 16- to 18- year olds will choose to carry on in education, or do technical education, or whatever it may be.”

So even though roughly 150,000 people will be out of a ring-fenced budget from May 1, he believes employers will take the incentives keep taking young people on.
“If we want the apprentices we have to create an employer-led system,” he said.

Next question: Will the minister prevent apprentices from stating standards before they have an assessment organisation? His answer: “No.”

“We’re not going to slow it down because we’ve got roughly 400 standards with something like 3,800 apprentice starts,” he added. “We’re going to work incredibly hard to get this assessment situation sorted out.”

He did however acknowledge the situation as “a difficulty”, and promised “more clarity” and “more support”, adding: “there’ll be plenty of time to sort it out”.

On subcontracting, and the government’s change of heart, he admitted that it had been down to the responses to the consultations.

“We’ve actually listened,” he said. “We still want to do something on the subcontracting issue… and our decision is that to take stock and look at this issue in the round.”

And finally, he was bullish on the CBI’s concerns on the apprenticeship levy, and on its call to delay implementation, pointing to the TUC, the EEF and the various colleges which have spoken in support of the measure.

He said: “Of course [the CBI] is going to raise these issues – all businesses are going to ask – but we’re working incredibly hard to make sure it is ready, and it will be ready.

But if you go back to what the CBI originally said about our levy, you should recognise that while they have questions on the final implementation, they have welcomed the vast substance of what we’ve done.”

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