Judging by the way he wrong-footed the entire Westminster pack, The Chancellor should be a shoe-in for Eddie Jones’ next squad! The highlight for me being the way he left his opposing left winger, John McDonnell, for dead, jibbering about Chairman Mao and throwing his toys all over the House of Commons. Truly a great moment worthy of a slow motion replay!
He was, they said, supposed to chopping police numbers to the bone and hacking tax credits out of existence, but instead George Osborne yesterday side-stepped all that and announced a 400,000 affordable home building bonanza, and a three billion quid apprenticeship programme.
If George’s ‘Grand Designs’ project for hundreds of thousands of new homes was the try under the posts, the apprenticeship levy was the conversion that sent the crowds into rapturous applause!
The money will come from a levy on companies with payrolls of more than £3 million a year, which is a great thing to hear, and if the scheme is put into practice properly, could be seen in years to come as the moment when the tide turned on the UK Skills crisis.
Doomsayers from big business have been quick to say this 0.5 percent 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.
In the same way the Government has been forced to introduce a workplace pension scheme because not enough people are saving for retirement, the Chancellor has had to bring in this levy to ensure apprenticeship-based vocational training is accessible to all businesses and young people. 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 who will take on the apprentices, and it must only go to those who are running genuine high quality apprenticeships.
We have seen ‘mission creep’ where the hard work people like myself have done to raise the profile and validity of apprenticeships has been hijacked by employers such as supermarkets that have been offering shelf-stacking training courses under the guise of apprenticeships.
This country needs engineers, builders, plumbers, electrician, mechanics and the like, and vocational, on-the-job training is how these professions will not only survive, but become integral parts of the UK’s skills base.
Of course, I accept that some desk-based functions can also be served by apprenticeships. Indeed, at Pimlico we have a number of apprentices in our recruitment and accounts departments, but their training is delivered to the same on-the-job-based practical principles as our plumbing apprentices to ensure they have the right abilities to drive our business forward.
It is now up to businesses up and down the country to now pick up the apprenticeship ball the Chancellor has passed their way and drive over the try line to score. The economy will celebrate, young people will cheer and the world will look on in envy.