UK Cabinet Office axes apprenticeship scheme

By on 20/02/2019
In happier times: the first intake of civil service apprentices in 2013. One of the scheme’s strands has now been axed (Image courtesy: Cabinet Office).

The UK’s Cabinet Office has suspended one of its apprenticeship schemes, following budget cuts which forced a training provider to withdraw.

The central government department was one of a number of employers providing the two-year associate project management apprenticeships. It planned to deliver 120 per year, with training funds totalling £9000 per trainee.

But according to the Financial Times, training provider QA has withdrawn the course after the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfA), which oversees apprenticeships, cut the amount which could be spent on each participant by a third.

The scheme’s fall represents a blow to the government’s Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion Strategy report, which states its ambition to “become the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020,” and identifies apprenticeships as one of the “central planks” in efforts to increase social mobility across the civil service.

Funds cut

The IfA website says the funding band for the associate project manager apprenticeship has been reviewed, with a new funding band of £6000 due to be implemented on March 6th.

The cut from £9000 (US$11,800) per trainee to just £6000 (US$7900) made running the course untenable for the training company, which could no longer cover the course costs. William MacPherson, QA’s chief executive, told the Financial Times the “drastic” funding caps were imposed “with very little time to manage the transition.”

“It is obvious that higher level skills and training will cost more,” Mr Macpherson told the paper. “But the return on investment, upward social mobility and impact on the economy is also much more significant.”

What we say, not what we do

The suspension of the Cabinet Office apprenticeship programme is an embarrassment to the government, which has emphasised widening access to the civil service in recent years.

The Cabinet Office’s own Civil Service Apprenticeship Strategy report outlines its leading role in promoting apprenticeships in government, explaining that it aims to support other departments “to achieve the civil service vision for apprenticeships.”

“This includes programme management, governance, setting the strategic direction, and assurance on delivery of numbers and quality. The Cabinet Office will additionally deliver on key areas such as resourcing the Apprenticeship Programme, delivering corporate schemes, procuring training and providing departments with guidance,” it says.

Falling flat

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We are in talks with several other providers and will make an announcement in due course. No one currently on the scheme will be affected.”

On becoming prime minister, Theresa May set out her goal of improving social mobility. But she sacked the committed apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon in 2017, and the members of her Social Mobility Commission quit later that year – accusing the PM of failing to support the agenda. Despite initially committing itself to a target of creating three million apprenticeships, the government since appears to have accepted that it will fall well short of those numbers.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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