Thursday 28 March 2019 2:35 pm

Green shoots for apprenticeships but levels remain well below pre-2017 levy figures

Apprenticeship starts have started to grow for the first time since the introduction of a controversial levy on employers, but are still below equivalent figures reported in 2016-17 and 2015-16.

Between August and January, 225,800 people embarked on apprenticeships, 10 per cent up on the same period the year before.

Read more: Government 'very unlikely' to hit apprenticeship targets

But the figure is still well below levels reported before the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017, a tax which theoretically funds apprenticeship training for companies.

In 2016-17, 269,600 people embarked on apprenticeships, while 264,600 started them in the same period in 2015-16.

The apprenticeship levy charges all employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3m at a rate of 0.5 per cent of their total pay bill. The proceeds then go towards paying for more people to start apprenticeships at those companies.

The apprenticeship levy has faced criticism from businesses for the difficulty in accessing the funds, as well as problems with access to apprenticeships which are still in development.

Karen Jones, HR director at property developer Redrow, said it was “very promising” news, but the financial burden of hiring an apprentice “continues to grow”.

“One way to ease the pressure would be by expanding the remit for what levy funds can be used for.

“Introducing this flexibility would significantly ease the financial load to smaller businesses.”

Read more: DEBATE: Should the apprenticeship levy be scrapped?

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said: “We overhauled the apprenticeships system almost 2 years ago to the day and we have made good and steady progress.

“Apprenticeships are now longer, higher-quality, with more off-the-job training and provide for a proper assessment at the end, with the Levy giving employers the flexibility to invest in the skills they need for the future”