MPs single out government’s apprenticeship schemes in critical Productivity Plan report

The Government’s much-lauded “Productivity Plan” has been criticised by a committee of cross-party MPs today – with concerns raised over the three million apprenticeship target and new levy.

The Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) committee in a report published this morning has claimed the government’s plan – heralded as a “blueprint for creating a more prosperous nation” – lacked clear, measurable objectives.

MPs took aim at the government’s “ambitious” target of three million apprenticeships by 2020, saying there was a lack of consultation with industry on the policy.

The report said this raises concerns the decision was made “with no consideration for what type of training businesses actually require”.

The government’s apprenticeship levy was also criticised, with MPs calling out the Chancellor George Osborne for not providing enough detail about how it will protect sectors that do not use apprentices.

The Productivity Plan is a vague collection of existing policies

Iain Wright MP, chair of the BIS Committee, said “productivity is the pressing economic challenge of this Parliament”.

But he added: “As a committee we welcome the Government’s focus on tackling this crucial issue for the UK economy. However, rather than being a clear and distinctive roadmap as to how Britain will close our productivity gap, the Productivity Plan is a vague collection of existing policies.”

He said while analysis in the government’s plan is good, “milestones for implementing improvements are virtually non-existent.”

“If the Productivity Plan is going to avoid collecting dust on Whitehall bookshelves and having a legacy of being seen as worthy but useless, then the Government needs to back it up by setting out how these policies are going to be implemented and how their success will be measured.”

The committee has made a number of recommendations, including calling on the government to set out its rationale and evidence base for the three million target.

MPs also want the government to consult with industry to ensure the apprenticeship levy allows the sector to invest in skills through different qualifications and training.

Harvey Young, chairman of the National Consortium of Colleges and Providers (NCCP), said this report shows it is time for the government to turn “rhetoric into practice”.

But he added: “The FE sector and employer trade bodies, with government support, need to do more to promote the positive outcomes that can arise from effective basic skills training in the workplace to small and large businesses alike.”

A spokesperson for BIS said while successive governments have struggled to keep productivity on track, “we are now seeing a return to productivity growth”.

The spokesperson added: “The reforms set out in our productivity plan are delivering a step change that will secure long term investment in people, capital and ideas.

“As the select committee notes, boosting productivity is not as quick and simple as pulling a lever.

“That is why we have taken steps to protect the £6 billion science budget and innovation, maintained funding for further education and are driving forward our plan to deliver three million high quality apprenticeships, putting businesses in the driving seat supported by the new apprenticeship levy.”

The department will consider the recommendations before producing a formal response “in due course”.

FE Week approached the Treasury for comment, but was told the department had nothing to add to the BIS response.

Read our exclusive Q & A with committee chair Iain Wright MP here.




–   We recommend that the BIS department works across the Government to enhance the employability skills that are acquired by school pupils, college and university students by looking to give work experience greater prominence in schools as part of a proper policy on information, advice and guidance.


–   We recommend that the Government, in its response to this report, sets out the rationale—and publishes the evidence base—for it setting a target of three million apprentice starts when that may run against what businesses actually require.


–   There could be a policy trade-off between the Government achieving the three million apprenticeships target and the maintenance of apprenticeship quality. We believe that the Government is right to resist this temptation and will continue to keep a close eye on this part of skills policy.


–  We recommend that the Government works with businesses and individual sectors to make a preliminary assessment of how the three million apprenticeships will be broken down by level and publishes the result of this work.


–   We recommend that the Government consults with industry to ensure that the apprenticeship levy is implemented in such a way as to allow sectors to invest in skills through different qualifications and training methods applicable to their specific needs.


–    We recommend that the Government does more to balance the perception of the benefits of college and vocational education against those of higher education, and should do more to promote both as attractive career paths and as good drivers of productivity.

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  1. Mike Farmer

    The continuing hand-wringing about ‘parity of esteem’ between higher and further education makes another appearance. The Committee suggests that the government should address ‘the perceived distinction between ‘formal’ Higher Education and ‘vocational’ Further Education.’ (What about vocational HE?) It then suggests that this is due to an imbalance in government funding. Whilst there may be some truth in this (the funding of vocational HE like nursing, medicine and teacher training is probably better than BTECs etc) , the report fails to address the reason why the ‘perceived distinction’ is held by the public. Public perceptions are deep-rooted and linked to a range of factors, not least our UK class system. I think it is disingenuous to suggest that the government can somehow wave a magic wand and change public perceptions. Interestingly it is perhaps the proposed legislation by DfE (not BIS) about requiring schools to give equal ‘airtime’ to vocational providers and apprenticeships in their post-16 careers advice that might have some effect, but it wont be overnight.

  2. martin jolley

    This is purely about money not the quality of apprenticeships for young people and as a nation will reap what we sow. The government have realised that it costs considerably more to keep a 16 to 18 year old in school than an apprenticeship.

  3. The committee seems to have identified the key question. How was the 3m apprentices calculated: 600k per year over 5 years. How does that compare with recruitment and growth trends to date? Is that a reachable annual target? What would have to be done differently by businesses to create those vacant apprenticeship positions? Will the public sector have to make redundancies to provide the vacant capacity to meet their contribution to the target? Will Traineeships, now open to all providers, be re-categorised as pre-apprenticeships and counted towards the target? So many questions and 1 year is almost up.

    It would make a great headline in reducing unemployment of young people as apprenticeships would be counted as full-time employment. The next generation of voters.

    • Understanding the make up of the 3m will be very interesting. The cynic in me would suggest it was little more than an electioneering slogan that the government knew would not come under any real analysis. It is likely to have been based on making a significant increase on the oft quoted 2m starts during the last Government. What is never mentioned is that figure included the short term apprenticeships, large volumes of older already employed apprentices, high volumes in level 2 and focused in certain occupational areas where the need was questioned. Whilst there were many strong high quality apprenticeships there were significant numbers which were there because of a focus on target volumes.
      Looking in detail at the assumptions underpinning the 3m should show if the focus and balance has shifted from what has gone previously. Clearly the assumptions will also factor in the reforms underway in the apprenticeship programme and how transition is planned.