Government response ‘frustrates’

The government last week published its response to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee report on apprenticeships. Committee chair Adrian Bailey MP examines the response.

Apprenticeships can play a pivotal role in creating the skilled workforce necessary for economic growth.

I welcome the government’s agreement with this main thrust of our report.

The Richard Review came out shortly after our report and largely supports our findings especially on the issue of quality versus quantity.

I am pleased the government agrees that quality is the key for the apprenticeship programme going forward.

The government has gone some way to simplifying and strengthening the delivery system.

However, in response to our call for further work they cite two reviews underway. Action is needed now, not further reviews.

The basic flaw in the response is the government’s failure to recognise that if it wants a skills agenda to realise its stated objective of ‘balancing’ the economy with more vocational skills then it must take meaningful steps to give vocational training parity of esteem with higher education.

The select committee drew upon the experiences of apprentices to make recommendations designed to change the culture in our schools that would encourage a greater take-up of apprenticeships.

Apprentices reported that they had received no encouragement as their schools were preoccupied with getting students into universities.

Apprenticeships are a viable and attractive path to a successful career and this should be reflected in the culture of our schools.

I am therefore deeply disappointed the government has declined to require schools to publish ‘apprenticeship entries’ as well as the number of university places their students achieve, and call on it to reconsider the committee’s recommendation.

Schools cannot be blamed for being preoccupied with university entrants if this is to be the only measure of their success.

We were shocked to hear evidence of the government wasting money”

The government also failed to take up our recommendation that a formal structure be set up to attach apprenticeships to public procurement contracts.

We understand the need to be flexible, however, we fail to believe that a structure cannot be found that retains flexibility, while also encouraging apprenticeships.

The government has promised to investigate best practice in local government contracts and we will watch this space closely.

During our inquiry, we were shocked to hear evidence of the government wasting money on training schemes that it could not quantify or ensure value for money.

This stemmed from firms being able to pay their share with ‘in-kind’ payments.

The regulator does not perform any value for money checks to assess the level of contribution nor, it would appear, was there any consideration as to the quality of the training provider when allocating public money.

In these straitened times, this is simply unacceptable.

We made specific recommendations to address these problems by placing an obligation on firms to quantify the value of their ‘in-kind’ payments and are frustrated by the refusal of the government to act on this.

We are pleased the government has agreed to consider the use of quality indicators when allocating money in future. We recommended that they do so and repeat that recommendation now. We will monitor carefully actions on this issue.

We are pleased, however, that the government has promised to consider whether it should use quality indicators when allocating money in the future.

High quality apprenticeships can provide the cornerstone of a thriving economy.

We are pleased that the government has recognised this in its response to our report.

We encourage it to now take the necessary action to turn recognition into reality.

The government has acknowledged the need to keep on reviewing and refreshing its strategy in this area.

My select committee will follow developments closely and take further action if needed.

Adrian Bailey MP, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee

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