In April 2019, unspent apprenticeship levy funds began to return to the central government, with potentially billions of pounds worth of isolated funding losing its ring fenced status.
The public sector has been one of the largest contributors to the levy since its introduction in April 2017 but there still remains a sizeable surplus in allocated funds. Frequent updates to legislation have been introduced to combat the difficulties organisations have faced but the questions remain over how public sector bodies can make the most of their levy funds before they fall out of reach.
How will the deadline affect the public sector?
Following the April 2019 deadline for spending, previously isolated apprenticeship levy funds have started to fall into the central government budget. This amount will be subject to change every month on a rolling basis, opening the possibility of rapid rate increases and steep withdrawals. With estimated totals of unspent levy funds in the billions for private and public sector organisations, the clock is ticking for acquiring apprenticeship training.
Coinciding with the deadline for apprenticeship levy spending has been a disruptive round of local elections. As is the way following any election, a period of uncertainty is to be expected as new feet settle under desks. Consequently, there is an added urgency for local authorities, more than other areas of the public sector, to familiarise quickly with the workings of the levy and how to make the most of it.
What are the problems?
As part of a large group of public and private sector organisations, The Local Government Association (LGA) recently called on the government to rethink its approach to the May deadline for apprenticeship spending, claiming that local authorities did not have the flexibility needed to utilise funding effectively. The broad issues seem clear: establishing training standards has taken longer than anticipated, the process for acquiring compliant apprenticeship training is complex and many organisations are unsure of how to best utilise the available financial support.
Certain parts of the public sector have been addressing challenges posed by the apprenticeship levy to great success. The police were one of the first groups to realise the opportunities in developing training standards quickly in a collaborative approach with providers. As such, all 43 police forces across the UK can now benefit from the new police constable degree, training a future generation in the latest skills whilst adding boots on the ground.
Find the right apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships have always rightly been recognised as an effective way to introduce young people into the workplace. Learning basic practical skills is still an integral part of all apprenticeship training but what can be easily overlooked is how rapidly these skillsets have changed in contemporary local authority departments. Acquiring training for new or existing staff for integral roles such as cyber security or digital infrastructure is a fantastic way to ensure levy funds are used to meet immediate demands whilst also training a future long-term workforce.
Finding compliant routes of procurement?
One of the main problems cited by many public sector organisations is identifying compliant procurement routes for training. Standards have taken time to develop and finding the relevant available training to utilise funds has proven difficult for some local authority departments. YPO’s apprenticeship framework has been continuously updated with the latest training providers to ensure that the public sector can access training easily. As more standards are established, YPO’s dynamic framework will be updated to ensure the latest training is made available.
For local authorities, incorporating apprenticeship training into a long term recruitment pipeline can ensure that potential future skills gaps are filled whilst also addressing immediate budget strains. In a time of austerity and political uncertainty, long term futures can often seem distant but having access to a large dedicated fund for training has to be seen as a valuable asset. The floor of the apprenticeship levy has already began to open, however the opportunity for local authorities and the wider public sector still remain.
Lizzy Grayson is category manager of HR services at YPO