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The Apprenticeship Levy and Scotland

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It is fair to say that the introduction of the UK-wide Apprenticeship Levy in 2016 did not meet with approval from the devolved nations.

 

It was perceived, quite correctly, as interfering with skills and learning policies, something that Westminster had previously devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While the devolved nations would receive a proportion of the monies raised, the flagship UK government policy of three million apprenticeships by 2020 applies in England only.

 

Further, it did not meet with favour of employers in the devolved nations. While this is complicated, essentially, levy funds could be accessed and allocated in England through the through the Digital Apprenticeship Service account (DAS), yet no accessibility or access was available in the devolved nations. Until now…

 

On 7 September 2017, the Flexible Workforce Development Fund (FWDF) was launched by the minister for training and employability, Jamie Hepburn MSP. This has been established as a result of a December 2016 Scottish government responses document that outlined employer views on the Apprencticeship Levy funding that will be attributed. The responses document said, in brief, the Scottish government’s intention was to:

 

  • continue the policy that will expand the number of Modern Apprenticeship opportunities to 30,000 new starts each year by 2020;
  • increase Graduate Level Apprenticeships in the 2017-18 academic year;
  • continue the implementation of the Youth Employment Strategy: ‘Developing the Young Workforce’; and
  • establish a Flexible Workforce Development Fund that will respond to employers’ immediate skills needs.

 

So to the 7 September launch of the FWDF. The basic details are as follows:

 

  • it can only be used by employers that are paying the Apprenticeship Levy;
  • it is a one-year pilot with a total fund pot of £10m;
  • employers, in partnership with colleges, will be able to apply for funds up to £10,000 for the purposes of upskilling and reskilling their employees.

 

Unlocking the Fund

 

It all revolves around colleges working in partnership with employers. Indeed, Colleges Scotland, the collective voice of the college sector in Scotland, issued an announcement to this effect on 7 September. However, the workings of the Fund are contained in guidance that was published by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). This is worth reading. In brief, it says:

 

  • colleges and assigned colleges in Scotland should develop “a regional suite of training provision available at their institution in support of the FWDF”;
  • the SFC will provide allocated funds to Regional Colleges and Regional Strategic Bodies, as per the ‘Allocation Table’ on the SFC website;
  • employers will be have to apply using an application form which may be along the lines of the template document on the SFC website;
  • employers must include a copy of the relevant section of the latest Employer Payment Summary (EPS) proving that the employer does actually pay the Levy;
  • applications are open between 11 September and 15 December on a first-come-first-served basis. Unused allocated funds after 15 December will be redirected to other colleges

 

Eligible employers have a limited application window. Anything issued on a first-come-first-served basis will always be snapped up by the person with the most knowledge. Therefore, have a look at the guidance on the SFC website on their ‘Flexible Workforce Development Fund AY 2017-18’ page.

 

It’s only just been launched but already the clock is ticking!

 

Employers will be interested in any similar developments in the other devolved nations as and when they occur. I am keeping both eyes out and this is where we are at the moment.

 

As for Wales, the government there is in the process of developing a policy whereby employers can be supported, regardless of the Levy paying status.

 

With regards to Northern Ireland, the picture is very unclear since the breakdown of devolution in January 2017. Although, on 29 November 2016, the Department for the Economy did launch a consultation on the “potential impacts” of the UK-wide Levy in Northern Ireland. There is no response so far.

Ian Holloway
Posted by Ian Holloway
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