AO founder and chief executive John Roberts is calling on the government to let retailers and other businesses run their own apprenticeship schemes.

John Roberts, AO CEO

John Roberts said it would be better for employers such as Timpson, B&Q, Tesco and Asda to reform the scheme

He has said the “broken” apprenticeship levy system could be fixed and he wants to get a group of business leaders together to create a new framework as the current scheme “doesn’t work”.

Roberts has also recently called on the government to fix the UK’s “broken” youth services, as “too many kids have a bad start in life and they don’t need to”.

He has joined other companies in speaking out against the levy and seeing it as unworkable. He said businesses struggled to spend their full allocation.

Roberts added that over five years, £4.4bn raised by the levy has been kept by or returned to the Treasury instead of being spent on apprenticeship programmes.

The levy was introduced in 2017 and requires employers with an annual wage bill of over £3m to pay 0.5% of payroll costs into a fund to allow for training.

Many retailers have said the courses are unsuitable and the duration of the programmes is the biggest barrier.

Roberts told The Times that it would be better for employers such as Timpson, B&Q, Tesco and Asda to come up with a different way.

He said: “Wouldn’t it be better to get the likes of James Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson, and Matthew Barnes at Tesco to come up with a plan? They run good businesses, we trust them with vast amounts of employment and they wouldn’t put their retail brand at risk to rip the country off.

“Within a week, we could knock up a group of leading businesses employing a million people and start to agree a rules framework for this.”

The Department for Education defended the levy, saying it had “enabled us to increase investment in apprenticeships to over £2.7bn a year by 2024/25. It has allowed us to support employers of all sizes and in all sectors to offer almost 340,000 new apprenticeships in the last year alone. On average, 98% of the apprenticeship budget was spent over the last two years.”

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