Editor Asks: Apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon on government u-turn on funding cuts

As it turned out, my exclusive interview with the new apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon was conducted just hours after the Independent, Guardian and Mirror had all reported a major government U-turn on apprenticeship rates.

“People are saying this is a U-turn, but actually I would describe it as listening with elephant-sized ears,” he volunteered – before the questions had even begun.

How far does the u-turn go? Read our exclusive analysis

“I made it clear to you when you had the big [FE Week] event in parliament. I made it clear at party conference. I made it publicly clear in articles that we have listened –and that’s what my job is to do. The whole purpose of it was that it was a survey and a consultation, and so we’ve responded,” he said.

“FE Week, given what you’ve been up to, has been an incredibly important part of that consultation.”

That morning the government had announced that massive proposed cuts to the 16-18 apprenticeship framework rates would be softened by two measures: by increasing the £1,000 provider incentive with cash worth 20 per cent of the relevant funding band, and by adding £60 million to funding for providers for apprentices who live in a deprived area, or up to £600 per apprentice.

The minister, who appears uncomfortable with formalities, insisting I call him Rob, argued that when he “kept going on about social justice”, it wasn’t just warm words, and that this rethink shows he “really meant it”.

“FE Week, given what you’ve been up to, has been an incredibly important part of that consultation.”

Could he provide any reassurances that these new measures won’t be scrapped after 12 months? Not quite:

“The framework 20 per cent is a transitional measure and the idea is to help the providers adapt,” he said.

“It will reduce over time as the new standards come through.”

As for the disadvantage funding, this £60 million is “for one year”, he said, adding: “I am doing, again as part of my agenda on social justice, a serious review which will report sometime next year on what is genuinely the best way to incentivise, encourage and help disadvantaged people to do apprenticeships.”

Moving on to the apprenticeship levy, I asked him whether he thought large employers would look to use their whole levy pot, as was suggested in DfE research published the same day – a situation which would leave precious little funding available for smaller employers.

He was quick to dismiss the DfE’s research, saying: “I completely utterly reject that proposition, because I meet employers when I go all over the country. Some large employers say they love it, and they’re going to have apprenticeship; others just say they won’t.

“The treasury and others did serious studies to make sure the money was available. You know about all the incentives there are for smaller businesses to take on apprentices, which are guaranteed by the government, so I don’t think there is any evidence to say that this money won’t be there for smaller employers.”

He continued: “Obviously we always keep everything under review, and we’d work out what to do if that occurred, but I completely reject that it is going to happen, because there are many employers who don’t want to take up apprentices and many who do – and that is the whole purpose of the levy.”

In next week’s Editor Asks…part two, we tackle whether employer ownership of apprenticeships is compatible with social justice, the lack of assessment organisations, subcontracting, and whether the CBI is right to be concerned about timescales.

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One comment

  1. Graham Plant

    The elephant in the room here is the Framework bands are based on adult funding levels with no mention that this value only represents circa 50% of the required funding required to deliver the apprenticeship with the other 50% coming from the company contribution. Yes, I accept many providers haven’t been collecting all the required contribution, but some have collected something and taken the hit for the rest. Where is the research that identifies that apprenticeships can be delivered for half the price that they previously required. Even with the STEM uplift, £1000 and 20% (16-18) uplift providers will still be required to deliver a quality apprenticeship for a lot less funding. A lot less!
    Frameworks are still the preferred model for many employers in the engineering sector (sorry, I can only speak for my sector), as related to me in my many conversations I have with local companies. Many sector disciplines are still not represented by role specific Standards and it would appear that many that are, do not have approved assessment organisations. Look at the number of Standards that are currently being delivered against Standards and we clearly get a feel that companies aren’t clambering to use them.
    Going forward, companies will be incentivised to continue to use Frameworks as, in a contributory system, they will opt for the cheaper Frameworks rather than the more expensive Standards.
    What a mess!
    Disclaimer; These are my views and not those of my employer!