THE Church of England has yet to recover any of the £1.6 million it has paid to the Government in an annual apprenticeship levy, the General Synod heard last week.
The levy applies to all UK employers with a pay bill of more than £3 million per year, and is set at 0.5 per cent of this bill, minus an allowance of £15,000. It came into effect in 2017. It is paid into an apprenticeship service account, from which employers can draw to fund apprenticeship training and assessment. The funds expire 24 months after they enter the service account. The Government contributes a top-up of ten per cent.
In 2017, the Department for Education gave its backing, in principle, to the idea of using the funds from the levy to pay for curacy training (not stipends), but said that the C of E would need to enter into partnership with other denominations (News, 28 April 2017).
In a question to the Finance Committee at last week’s meeting of the General Synod, the director of learning for discipleship and ministry in the diocese of Salisbury, Canon Jane Charman, noted that the C of E had been unable to recoup any of the £1.6 million paid in the levy to date.
She asked, “in view of the delays that have been experienced in working with the Institute for Apprenticeships to gain approval for an apprenticeship that might be suitable for clergy training, what steps have been or will be taken to enable the work to be progressed more quickly; and what plans are there in place to address the situation in which, due to the impossibility of spending down a significant backlog of money in a short space of time, the Church of England, through no fault of its own, loses the opportunity to utilise some of these funds for the purpose for which they were levied?”
The Institute, launched in 2017, has the task of ensuring “high-quality apprenticeship standards”, and advising the Government on appropriate funding.
In response to Canon Charman, John Spence, who chairs the Finance Committee, reported that progress was being made towards approval of a “Church Minister Apprenticeship”, with a standard “conditionally approved” in July. “Despite this, ongoing delays from the Institute for Apprenticeships are preventing final approval and implementation.”
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, had recently written to the relevant Minister of State to “seek resolution to this through a meeting between the Institute’s senior staff and the appropriate Officers of the NCIs. Should that prove inadequate, a formal complaint would be raised with its Chief Executive.
“It is also possible to fund other eligible clergy on some relevant apprenticeships to meet specific needs. Changes to the funding rules also permit a proportion of levy funds to be transferred to ‘other employers’, for example staff in dioceses, and this option is being explored.”
He noted that “many employers are finding it difficult to use the levy for training their workers”.
Since the introduction of the levy, there has been a large drop in the number of apprenticeships started, from 494,900 in 2016/17 to 369,700 in 2017/2018. Employer bodies have cited the complexity and inflexibility of the levy. In 2015, the Government set a target of three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020.