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Charlie Mullins: Apprenticeship levy is contribute and train, not tax and spend

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For me, the apprenticeship levy was the icing and the cherry on top of that cake, which I’ll come onto later, but what a cake we’ve all made since 2010.

We’ve see gross domestic product (GDP) rise for 11 straight quarters that has been stable at 0.5 per cent or higher, including the half per cent growth between July and September, which was confirmed on Friday. As a result, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is forecasting growth this year of 2.4 per cent and 2.3 per cent for 2016.

In addition, the deficit is 50 per cent down to £69.5bn from 2010 and is forecast to go into surplus in 2019, which will be the first time since 2001. 

These are great numbers, and maybe, as some say, the chancellor has been lucky. But I’ve always found my luck tends to increase the harder I work, and I see in George Osborne a hard-working man, not a lucky gambler.

And he used the position he’s guided the economy into, with the help of course of the army of businesses up and down the country, to rustle up a very impressive Autumn Statement.

Autumn Statement 2015: Apprenticeship levy to create £3bn to raise British skills

It caught a lot of people off guard, particularly the shambles of the opposition benches, and contained some pretty positive announcements that will further improve our economic prospects.

Among the stand-out announcements was the plan to build 400,000 new affordable houses, which will create much-needed homes across the country, but also create and support jobs in the construction-related industries.

This leads me on nicely to the apprenticeship levy – a plan right out of the top drawer that will make one of the most significant improvements in decades to the way we train young people. 

The £3bn project will be funded by a levy on businesses with a wage bill of £3m a year or more and, if delivered correctly, will see the tables turned on the UK skills crisis.

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Doomsayers from big business have been quick to say this 0.5 per cent levy will impact growth, but this is a sensible move that will benefit the entire UK economy through the creation of a workforce armed with practical skills that can be applied across all manner of industries. 

This is not a “tax and spend” political decision, it is a “contribute and train” policy that will solve skills challenges, youth unemployment and make the country more competitive and more productive. 

If this is done properly in 20 years’ time we could be crediting the “Osborne apprentices” as a major contributor to our prosperity. There is, however, lots of work to do. The money must reach the employers which will take on the apprentices, and it must only go to those who are running genuine high-quality apprenticeships. 

Hopefully I’ll hear some more about the apprenticeship levy on Thursday when employment minister Priti Patel pays Pimlico Plumbers HQ a visit. The minister is our guest of honour at a meeting of the 5% Club, which is an organisation made up of businesses that have achieved, or aim to achieve, the target of five per cent of the workforce consisting of apprentices.

It will be a great opportunity to celebrate the announcement of the levy and to discuss how it will help businesses achieve, or even exceed, that five per cent threshold.

The result of the levy will be a great reward to the millions of UK businesses that have played a part in the economic recovery who will require future generations of skilled employees. 

We must all keep up the good work because those numbers I mentioned earlier haven’t just happened, they are sum total of the work of millions of Brits, going to work evert day and whose numbers are increasing every week. 

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