Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden reflects on his fears for the future of apprenticeships if Britain pulls out of the European Union (EU).

I am firmly in favour of Britain staying in the EU, not least because of all the uncertainty and instability that leaving would cause FE.

I haven’t seen the financial forecasts that government ministers have access to.

However, it’s quite clear – and indeed our former chancellor Alistair Darling has expressed this view, along with [current chancellor] George Osborne when they appeared together recently — that funding would be seriously undermined.

The effect and prolonged period of dislocation if we were to vote to leave the EU would throw all sorts of things up into the air.

This is not least because if we’re going to get the smaller economy that both Mr Darling and Mr Osborne are talking about, that will obviously undo many of the calculations of government.

I think leaving would create huge problem for this government – any government infact – trying to meet the long-stated 3m target by 2020

I am actually just as worried about the overall effect on apprenticeships of a Brexit as the specifics of how it would affect the apprenticeship levy — which was of course the concern raised recently by Skills Minister Nick Boles.

This is because I think leaving would create huge problem for this government – any government infact – trying to meet the long-stated 3m target by 2020.

The reasons for that are very simple.

Large employers, especially those who are either internationally based or linked, in the profound uncertainties whatever the ultimate outcome would review very carefully their recruitment and expansion policies.

I think it’s fairly certain that many of these companies would be very wary of expanding their apprenticeship programme amid all the confusion and economic problems that pulling our country out of Europe would cause.

The ability of employers to parcel the apprenticeships out with their supply chain, or to support their supply chain could be badly undermined.

I would be particularly concerned that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) would be substantially affected by the period of uncertainty, and they should be a key driver with increasing apprenticeship starts.

I’ve been consulting widely over the levy and apprenticeships — going round and speaking to many people from a variety of background, and asking for their views on how achievable the government’s plans are.

There’s no doubt that they’re ambitious and civil servants are already struggling with planning and implementation.

This is largely because of cost cutting across the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Skills Funding Agency.

And having spoken to people, representing everything from large companies to SMEs and sector skills councils, the general impression I have had is one of extreme concern that leaving the EU could hold back the apprenticeship programme even more.

They see the potential for our relationships with Europe and indeed the rest of the outside world to be undermined, as far as skills and apprenticeships were concerned, if we pull out.

I would also like to add that this concern is shared among the apprentices themselves.

I’ve talked to many in the last six months in the service sector, from Airbus, from BAE for example, and they have all raised concern with me that the potential for them to either work in the EU or have collaboration with EU companies would be undermined.

Our current close links across the continent is very much something that they view as a positive in terms of what they could get out of their apprenticeship.

So I would say that the Skills Minister wasn’t scaremongering when he raised concern about the prospects of the levy if the public votes to leave in the referendum. He wasn’t going far enough.

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