AAT CEO Mark Farrar responds to the key elements in the Chancellor’s Spending Review.
The Chancellor painted a bleak economic picture in his Spending Review, with warnings of a shrinking economy and rising unemployment levels.
Yet there are some reasons to be cheerful despite the doom and gloom, including funding for lifelong skills training, further investment in apprenticeships and support for small businesses, which will all help achieve the goal of protecting jobs and strengthening the economy.
AAT welcomes anyone thinking about starting or developing a career in accountancy or bookkeeping – regardless of age, school qualifications or background – so we were particularly pleased to see that the Government has committed to support lifelong learning with an investment of £375m in the National Skills Fund in 2021-22.
Crucially, this includes more funding for traineeships and the National Careers Service, two areas AAT has long identified as needing more resources. Along with the proposed three-year restart programme to help people who have been unemployed for over a year to find new jobs, this investment will help even more people who want or need to reskill to do so at any age of their life or career and access wider opportunities, which is particularly key in a rapidly changing business environment.
Additionally, as a key provider of further education for tens of thousands of students across the UK, we also welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment to provide almost £300m extra to ensure that core funding for 16- to 19-year-olds is maintained in real terms per learner, rising in line with demographic growth.
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We have been campaigning for changes to the apprenticeship levy for many years, and are delighted to see the promise to reform this in today’s announcements, along with the emphasis on the SME community who make up the backbone of the British economy.
Enabling levy payers to transfer unspent fund in bulk to SMEs from August 2021 – with a new pledge function and introducing a new online service to match levy payers with SMEs that share their business priorities – is a strong move that will help many. Alongside extending incentive payments to March 2021 and testing approaches to more flexible working patterns, there are now more opportunities than ever for employers of all sizes to reap the benefits of investing in apprentices.
What today’s announcement shows is that now is the time for employers and individuals to invest in developing the skills they need to ensure that they and their businesses are able to not only survive but thrive in these challenging economic times.
Employers, government and training providers now need to work together to ensure that they and their local communities benefit from increased investment in skills and training, and ensure that people across the country can upskill and reskill.
This will support a strong nationwide economic recovery and help to create real change.
Mark Farrar is the Chief Executive of AAT.