Rishi Sunak will use next week’s Budget to set out new plans to get young people in England into work after the disruption to their careers caused by coronavirus.
The chancellor will announce £126m funding for 40,000 new traineeships, alongside new cash incentives for firms to take on apprentices and a new programme allowing apprentices to work for a number of employers within a sector rather than stick to just one job.
The initiatives won the backing of the son of former prime minister Tony Blair, Euan Blair, now chief executive of Multiverse, which matches young people with apprenticeship posts.
But the Learning and Work Institute said that Mr Sunak must go further by extending furlough support to pay the wages of staff who would otherwise be laid off, maintaining the Kickstart plan for young jobseekers and keeping the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit.
The think tank’s chief executive Stephen Evans said the chancellor’s announcements were welcome, but added: “Speed is of the essence: the extra traineeships announced last summer are yet to be delivered, so we need an urgent focus on action on the ground.
“And we need more clarity on how all these initiatives fit together: we have argued for a youth guarantee to ensure all young people are offered a job, training place or apprenticeship.
“The Plan for Jobs will make a difference, but with unemployment likely to rise further the government will need to go further, including extending furlough support and Kickstart and keeping the uplift to universal credit in place.”
Details of the plans emerged as the chancellor came under continued pressure to extend coronavirus support for businesses beyond the end of Boris Johnson’s roadmap for lifting the bulk of restrictions to social and economic life by June.
With Mr Sunak expected to say on 3 March that the package of furlough payments, business rate reliefs, eviction bans and VAT breaks will be extended in line with Mr Johnson’s timetable, business organisations and unions have queued up to urge the chancellor to extend it further to the end of 2021 to give companies a chance to get back on their feet.
Today, the Betting and Gaming Council issued a plea for the extension of business rates relief for a full 12 months, to help betting shops and casinos after a year in which gross gambling yield fell by £1.7bn.
“With premises shut for much of the past year, this would help protect jobs and remove a major financial pressure on businesses that have suffered a significant loss of income during the pandemic,” said BGC chief executive Michael Dugher.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drink Federation called on Mr Sunak to announce a review of regulatory burdens on the industry, warning that companies will lose many times the £260m of profit which the government predicts from proposed promotional restrictions and a ban on online advertising.
Under Mr Sunak’s “flexi-job” apprenticeship scheme, young people will be able to sign up to agencies which will place them in posts with a series of employers within a sector over the course of an apprenticeship.
From July, employers will be able to bid for money from a £7m fund to create agencies, with the first flexible apprenticeship due to start in January 2022.
The scheme is designed to allow young people to gain experience in industries such as film and TV which often rely on short-term projects rather than a continuous stream of work.
Cash incentives for employers to take on apprentices will be increased from April to £3,000 per recruit, from the current level of £2,000 for a 16-24-year-old and £1,500 for over-25s.
And £126m of new money will go into traineeship places for 40,000 16-24-year-olds who lack the skills, experience and confidence to start an apprenticeship or job, and are offered work experience, coupled with England, maths and digital skills training, for between 6 weeks and 12 months to prepare them for work.
Mr Sunak, said: “Our Plan for Jobs has spread opportunity and hope throughout the crisis, helping people back into work and harnessing their talents for the future.
“We know there’s more to do and it’s vital this continues throughout the next stage of our recovery, which is why I’m boosting support for these programmes, helping jobseekers and employers alike.”
Euan Blair said: “By backing the employers creating more apprenticeships, these incentives should support firms to tackle critical skills gaps and help power the economic recovery.
“We’ve had over 100,000 applications for our recent tech and digital apprenticeships and some of the most talented people in the country are pursuing this route. It’s great to see apprenticeships playing a central role in the government’s thinking.”