The County Councils Network (CCN) has called on government to give councils greater powers over apprenticeships and adult learning. Data compiled by CCN showed a decline in almost 200,000 people taking part in adult education.

The CCN, which represents 37 councils covering 26 million residents, argues that falling figures for both apprenticeships and Adult education participation over the past five years reflect a failure in high-profile government programmes designed to incentivise them. It has called for the schemes to be devolved to council levels.

The Apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017 on the largest employers based on their payroll costs.

  • The largest employers pay a levy of 0.5% of the earnings subject to Class 1 secondary National Insurance Contributions (NICs), in excess of £3 million. 
  • Each employer receives an allowance of £15,000 to offset against their levy payment.

The scheme has seen the number of apprenticeships fall by six per cent in CCN areas since its introduction, however, the figures do not include the Unclaimed £2 billion raised by the levy but not spent. It was returned to Treasury coffers.

Department of Education figures across all of England show a fall of 75,000 apprenticeships since 2017.

Tim Oliver, chairman of the County Councils Network, said, "Well-intentioned national reforms, such as the Apprenticeship Levy, are no longer working, having failed to address the decline in apprenticeships. We need all hands to the pump to kick-start the economy, and we are calling for an adult education revolution where powers are devolved to local areas so we can devise local solutions to local challenges."

Adult Education participation in county areas – 2017/18 compared to 2021/22

Type 2017/18 2021/22 Reduction % Reduction
Apprenticeships 373,680 351,980 21,700 -6%
Education and training 379,530 299,740 79,790 -21%
Community learning 199,840 116,230 83,610 -42%
Total adult education 953,050 767,950 185,100 -19%

Figures compiled by the CCN and Institute for Fiscal Studies

The figures for adult education are even more striking, falling by nearly 20% between 2017/18 and 2021/22. The adult education budget in 2010 was £3bn a year but the 2021-22 spend on classroom-based adult education dropped to £1.44bn last year. 

In another educational shakeup, the government plans to abolish BTec qualifications in August 2024 as part of a move to T-level technical qualifications. Educationalist Pearson Estimated more than 230,000 students completed BTec Nationals in 2021.

T-levels were introduced in 2020 and are studied over one or two years and each worth three A-levels for university applications.

Useful guides on this topic

Apprenticeship levy (employers' briefing)
What is the apprenticeship levy? Who pays it? How much is it? 

Apprenticeship Levy scheme failing says CIPD
An analysis of the Apprenticeship Levy by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that employers lost out on £2 billion in apprenticeship training funds and the government scheme had 'failed'.

Education & VAT
What rate of VAT applies to education? What sort of services are classed as education? What do you do if you have multiple supplies including education? What cases are there on VAT and education?

External links

HMRC: Apprenticeship Levy Manual

Guidance: Qualifications that overlap with T Levels

County Council Network


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