Sharp drop in number of apprenticeship starts in Norfolk sparks concern

The number of apprenticeships in Norfolk has fallen. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The number of apprenticeships in Norfolk has fallen. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The number of new apprentices starting in Norfolk has fallen by almost a quarter, with the significant drop being blamed on government reforms.

County councillor Stuart Clancy. Pic: Bill Smith.

County councillor Stuart Clancy. Pic: Bill Smith. - Credit: Archant

From August last year to April this year, there were 1,440 fewer apprenticeship starts in the county compared to 2016/17 and the issue came under the spotlight at a county council meeting.

Officers at Norfolk County Council said the county had actually done better than the national picture, where the drop was 33pc.

But they said national changes in legislation had resulted in a reduction in the take-up of apprenticeships.

In 2017, an apprenticeship levy was introduced. That means employers with a payroll of £3m or more have to pay 0.5pc of their total pay bill towards apprenticeship programmes.

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They can then draw upon a fund to use against the costs of employing an apprentice, but take-up of the central fund has been low, with criticism over the bureaucracy surrounding the scheme.

The issue was debated at a meeting of the council's business and property committee, where councillors expressed disappointment at the fall.

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Bev Spratt, Conservative councillor for West Depwade, said: 'I'm a bit disappointed with the figures, because a couple of years ago, I thought we were right up there when it came to apprenticeships. This is highly important for Norfolk and I think, as members, we have got to try a bit harder.'

Fellow Conservative Ian Mackie, who represents Thorpe St Andrew, said the county council and its arms-length company Norse, did show good commitment to providing apprenticeships.

And their party colleague Stuart Clancy, who represents Taverham, said he wanted to see schools push apprenticeships more.

He said: 'We need to make sure apprenticeships are being presented in schools. Apprenticeships are still seen in some schools as the poor relation to universities.

'Young people can earn very serious money in the construction industry. It's hard and dirty work, but you can end up earning big money. There are skills shortages in many of the trades connected to construction.'

Councillors heard how a number of measures were being taken to respond to the fall in apprenticeship starts.

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