The British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that a reform of the apprenticeship levy is “vital” for the future growth of the economy and has called on the UK’s political parties to commit to this in their manifestos ahead of the general election.

Apprentices being trained in a bar

Changes to the levy would enable retailers to offer 12,000 more apprenticeships, say the BRC

The BRC said in a statement today that political parties must commit to reform to allow retailers across the UK to “ensure the industry is equipped to meet the needs of the economy”.

Changes to the apprenticeship levy would enable retailers to offer 12,000 more apprenticeships, particularly in “more deprived areas”, the consortium added.

The levy is a ‘use it or lose it’ system, requiring businesses to contribute hundreds of millions of pounds into a pot but with restrictions on how they can spend the money.

With retailers unable to fund any courses that are shorter than one year, more than £130m of potential retail investment into the UK labour market is being wasted, as well as opportunities for workers.

The BRC added that this money could have been invested into the workforces of towns and cities across the UK.

It said election manifestos for this year should allow businesses to provide short-term courses and higher-level courses, fund high-quality pre-employment courses, allow levy payers in devolved nations to directly access the funds, and allow the funding to cover costs associated with hiring apprentices.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “A clear plan for economic growth is the key priority of every political party ahead of the general election, and reforming the apprenticeship levy is a crucial piece of this puzzle.

”The levy is an inflexible, outdated system that hinders retailers from effectively investing in their workforce. It has deprived tens of thousands of people across the country of potential apprenticeships and training opportunities, and stands in the way of career progression for many people working in the industry.”

Currys chief people, communications and sustainability officer Paula Coughlan said: “Due to the inflexibility of the apprenticeship levy system, we are only able to use less than half of the available funds. One of the key barriers is the current insistence on 12-month courses, which is ill-suited for today’s workforce.

“We would like to see the levy developed into a broader lifetime learning model that offers flexibility in accessing funds for diverse and relevant skills courses.

“Reform to the system is long overdue and is essential in order to help companies like ours deliver more training and in turn support growth and better wages.”

Estée Lauder Companies UK and Ireland president Sue Fox added: “We are very proud to offer high-quality apprenticeship programmes that provide exciting opportunities for people to develop their skills and grow their careers in prestige beauty in roles ranging from data analytics to content production, digital marketing and retail.

“We would very much welcome reform of the apprenticeship levy to provide greater flexibility, enabling us to support more training opportunities and broaden our investment in a wider range of skills needed to contribute to the UK economy.”