Major names in business and education across the Central South are calling on the government to urgently review the Apprenticeship Levy to help tackle a growing skills crisis in our region.

An open letter was presented by business leaders at the House of Commons during a recent visit organised by Business South.

Supporters included:
Alex Bowman, Head of Organisational Development, Sunseeker
Jason Muller, Global Manufacturing Director, Lush
Hannah Leach, Vice President, Culture and Learning, Carnival UK
Caroline Walsh, Director of Solent Business School, Solent University
Chris Bishop, Head of Organisational Development, Southampton City Council
Gary Whittle, Commercial Director, Meachers Global Logistics
Mike Gaston, Principal and CEO, HSDC
Catherine Gee, Head of People, Vivid Homes
Rachel Darke, Projects Team, Drew Smith
Jodi Fair, Solent Apprenticeship Hub
Lisa Lavis, MD, Glow
Philip Tutt, MD, 360 Integrated
Dr Jamie Mackay, Skills Strategy Manager, EM3

Gosport MIP Dame Caroline Dinenage accepted the letter and has already shared it with Kwasi Kwarteng, MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Alex Bowman, Head of OD at Sunseeker Yachts based in Poole and employing 1,800 people, did not mince his words.

“The apprenticeship reforms have not worked. It could be said that some medium to large employers in the UK have both significant labour shortfalls plus significant surplus funds in their apprenticeship levy accounts, despite best efforts to grow apprenticeship opportunities.

“The inability to increase headcount may stifle business growth and future investment. Action is urgently needed to allow employers to access their full apprenticeship levy contributions through the relaxation and devolvement of the rules, to stimulate training and development in skills and timeframes that meet employer’s needs.”

Gary Whittle, Commercial Director at Meachers Global Logistics, said: “As a sector we find it incredibly difficult to attract new employees into the logistics industry; as a business we recognise the value and benefits apprenticeships bring.

“Granting employers greater flexibility in their Apprenticeship Levy spend through a credit system will help to generate wider skills development, drive positive change in the apprenticeship system and allow large employers to support SMEs with their training, skills and staffing needs.”

And Dr Jamie Mackay, Skills Strategy Manager at the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership added: “The EM3 Advisory Panel is the place to go for employers across Hampshire and Surrey to share their recruitment and skills challenges. Since 2019, the Panel has heard from businesses across our local economy who would like to see the Levy made more flexible so they can spend it on more tailored skills provision to meet their needs and enhance local economic growth.”

Chair of the Business South Workforce South Action Group, Zoe Huggins, said the situation was urgent and Business South would be launching a campaign to draw further attention to the issue.

“With the current skills disparity affecting almost all sectors and the imbalance in payroll being at its highest, the 1.3 million vacancies, and the issue of real earnings versus the cost of living, now is the time to take action and give employers flexibility
in their Levy Spend,” she said.

The letter called for:
● Skills credits within the Levy system to spend on internal training schemes and vocational training. Giving greater flexibility to support the breadth of skills training needed to address the skills crisis and the need for new skills, reskilling, and upskilling the workforce
● Recruitment credits that would support the relocation or travel of staff that might be on the lowest salary such as an apprenticeship wage. This would allow employers to take ownership of their own bursary scheme and utilise their Levy.
● Placement credits Employers in our region value the opportunity these placements bring to their business but raise many concerns over the demand on their People Managers. They wish we could build Levy credits enabling them to spend a proportion of their Levy on valuable placements.

Zoe added: “We believe with attention and employer involvement there can be a solution that addresses the skills crisis, the skill budget, and gives more employer flexibility.

“We have a collective commitment to not just make sure apprenticeships are of high quality but to add the right value to our people and our communities. Enabling businesses of any size, building a thriving economy, and attracting and retaining a
workforce and succession plan for their future.”

Promoting Central South at House of Commons