City-wide programme needed to ‘maximise’ apprenticeship levy benefits – GMCA

A single apprenticeship programme across the public sector could be the only way to maximise the benefits of the new apprenticeship levy, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has said.

In a report published ahead of Friday’s board meeting, Cllr Sean Anstee, portfolio leader for work and skills, and Theresa Grant, portfolio lead chief executive for employment and skills, argue that the public sector has a duty to be “an exemplar” to other organisations in using the levy to encourage employment.

It says this should include creating new opportunities and progression pathways for potential apprentices, including those who need extra training and experience to become “apprenticeship-ready”, and upskilling existing staff.

The report notes: “The Greater Manchester public sector needs to act together to maximise the opportunity of the levy to drive a flexible and upskilled Greater Manchester workforce.”

The apprenticeship levy has faced criticism recently. Ben Wilmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said it was “not fit for purpose”, whilst an IPPR briefing paper called it “not fit for the 21st century”.

The GMCA warns that many local authorities have budgeted for the cost of the levy payments but “may not have budgeted for any additional salary costs associated with new apprentices”.

Although employers will receive digital vouchers from the government to help cover the cost of the levy, it is not yet known if they will meet the full amount, and the report warns that an additional funding model may be needed.

Funding guidance on the levy, due to be published in June, has been delayed because of the change in prime ministers from David Cameron to Theresa May.

It is estimated that the levy will cost Greater Manchester’s local authorities £8m and its health sector £12m.

All Greater Manchester public sector organisations have now met three times to share knowledge and develop a common approach. In addition, the city’s health sector is developing a Greater Manchester Health Economy Apprenticeship Strategy.

GMCA is currently carrying out a review to see if it is possible to establish a minimum set of standards for contracts, salaries and terms and conditions, although it has found that there is currently “significant variance across organisations”.

It is also reviewing the new apprenticeship roles that might be needed in local authorities, including leadership and management, digital and IT roles, schools based apprenticeships, waste management, business admin and customer service.

There is also potential for GMCA to lead the development nationally of apprenticeship standards for areas including planning and development control, environmental health, policy and commissioning roles, and statutory roles such as that of Registrar.

The GMCA will also carry out a review of how it can encourage the businesses it procures from to increase their number of apprentices, with the results published in the autumn.

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