Leading British supermarkets, including giants like Tesco, Asda, and Morrisons, are at the forefront of a movement urging the government to reform the apprenticeship levy. This call for change is in response to the "critical and persistent" labour shortages affecting the industry.
In a united front, ten influential signatories - also encompassing the British Rail Consortium (BRC), the National Farmers Union, and UKHospitality - have stressed the necessity of reform. They believe modifications to the levy could be pivotal in filling essential skills gaps within the food supply chain.
Introduced in 2017, the apprenticeship levy mandates employers with an annual wage bill exceeding £3 million to contribute 0.5% of their payroll costs to a training fund. Criticism has mounted over the past year, with significant players like Superdrug and Co-op voicing concerns about the levy's rigidity.
Helen Dickinson, the BRC's chief executive, expressed frustration, questioning the efficacy of a system designed to facilitate training but ultimately functioning counterproductively. She emphasised the longstanding pleas for reform from various sectors, underscoring the need for the government to take swift action. Dickinson highlighted the potential benefits of reform: enhancing the UK's food security, streamlining costs, and aligning with economic needs. She pointedly referred to the levy as a business tax in dire need of overhaul.
The consortium of signatories has identified the current system's inflexibility as a key issue, particularly its restriction against funding courses shorter than a year. They propose expanding the programme into a broader skills levy, enabling investment in diverse accredited courses. This would include shorter upskilling programs in critical areas like food safety, hazard analysis, first aid, and operating farm machinery.
Tom Bradshaw, the NFU's deputy president, echoed these sentiments. He highlighted the longstanding skills gap in the food supply chain and advocated for unlocking funds currently inaccessible to levy-payers. Bradshaw underscored the importance of reform in attracting young talent to farming and the wider food sector and in enhancing the skills of those already in the field. He stressed the significance of supporting the future workforce in an industry contributing over £128 billion to the national economy.
The call for reform is backed by a robust coalition, including Aldi, Asda, Lidl, WM Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco, BRC, NFU, and UKH. Their collective voice amplifies the urgency of this issue and its potential impact on a crucial sector of the UK economy.
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