‘Not fit for purpose’ levy challenged by wholesale

Wholesalers have called for changes to the Apprenticeship Levy which was dubbed ‘not fit for purpose’ at the FWD Skills, Diversity and Apprenticeship Reception in Parliament this week

MPs including Daniel Zeichner MP, Shadow Food, Farming and Fisheries Minister, Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Transport Minister and Victoria Prentis, Cabinet minister, attended a Parliamentary Reception on Tuesday 30 January hosted by Carolyn Harris MP, an advocate of the food and drink wholesale sector.

The reception focused on Skills, Diversity and the Apprenticeship Levy. Members of FWD’s Wholesale Leaders Forum, a diverse group of senior wholesale and food and drink supplier managers and directors came together with the Future Leaders Forum, a network of aspiring young professionals and FWD Council members. Delegates ensured a wide representation of the wholesale sector to some 25 MPs in attendance.

The key objectives of the event were to showcase the steps that wholesalers are taking to increase diversity in the sector and continue the conversation with MPs on the apprenticeship levy in terms of its limitations and challenges.

Clare Lowrie, Sysco’s Senior Learning and Development Lead, outlined training schemes the wholesale giant delivers to its workforce to demonstrate the lengths businesses are being forced to go to outside the parameters of the levy. In addition to the in-house training Sysco delivers, Clare presented examples of how the levy is not fit for purpose in its current form, with millions of pounds sat in the scheme’s pot available to Sysco but going unused.

Addressing the reception, Bill Esterson MP agreed: “The apprenticeship levy isn’t working and the Labour Party will fix this. Labour will introduce a Growth and Skills Levy in its place to focus on a wider range of training. With this, companies will have the freedom to use up to 50% of their total levy contributions on non-apprenticeship training and at least 50% remains reserves for apprenticeships.”

FWD CEO James Bielby said: “A key criticism has been the lack of flexibility in the system – with the Government failing to approve certain apprenticeship schemes proposed by employers and being unwilling to support flexible apprenticeships with short-term placements, and those that do not involve classroom learning. This event initiated a conversation between wholesalers and MPs on why the levy in its current form does not work for the wholesale sector.”

He continued: “We are calling for a restructure of the apprenticeship levy into a Flexible Skills Fund for broader skills development; quicker and simpler processes to update standards, and a removal of the statutory six-hour per week off-the-job classroom training, which is not suitable for the wholesale sector.”

Shadow Food, Farming and Fisheries Minister Daniel Zeichner MP supported the efforts wholesalers are making to work around the levy, saying: “The wholesale industry holds a pivotal place in the UK economy, and events like these underscore its importance.

“Under a Labour Government, we will be turning our focus towards the wholesale sector and the critical role it will play in driving prosperity and growth in both local communities and the wider UK economy. Labour shares FWD’s ambition to drive growth through local employment, empowering local communities that play a critical role in in the food and drink supply chain.”

Apprenticeship Levy FWD FWD Skills Diversity and Apprenticeship Reception