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Apprenticeship Levy rules show industry needs a “single voice” to be heard, says Adrian Marlowe

Recruiters should come together to present a "single voice" for recruitment in the wake of the apprenticeship levy roll-out, Adrian Marlowe, chairman of Association of Recruitment Consultancies (ARC) and director of Standards in Recruitment (SiR) yesterday urged conference delegates.


Marlowe was speaking at ARC’s ‘Public Sector IR35 and the Apprenticeship Levy: panic, penalty or progress’ conference in London, where he said that recruitment agencies should work together to get their opinions heard when legislative changes are being made which might affect them.


He relayed his frustration in speaking to organisations who did not respond or were not willing to engage when presented with his proposals for reform of potentially problematic areas of the Apprenticeship Levy, due to launch on 6th April, suggesting that the recruitment industry has been sidelined in the Levy consultation process.


He stressed that recruiters need to ensure a closer working relationship with key decision markers to communicate the industry’s aims and needs and become a driving force for change in the instance of major initiatives and legislative changes in the future.


One of the main objections to the Levy is its rigid nature. All organisations with a pay bill of £3m must pay a Levy fee charged at 0.5% of their annual pay bill. Employers who aren’t connected to another company or charity will have an Apprenticeship Levy allowance of £15,000 each year. Each paying company will be given access to a digital fund to the value of their contributions. This must be spent on training and development of apprentices; however, a significant amount of recruitment companies work primarily in the temporary market, placing people who do not qualify for Levy funding because they will not be in a job for one year and one day as the criteria stipulates, or who cannot be guaranteed to be in a job for this minimum period.


Mark Bull, chief executive of Randstad spoke at the event to highlight the company’s own challenges with the constitution of the Levy, telling delegates that the Levy is equivalent to a 40% increase in corporation tax for Randstad.


Bull said making use of the Levy funds would be an “unworkable proposition” for Randstad as 98% of temps wouldn’t be in a placement for more than a year.


He said communication about the Levy had been a fraught process for Randstad as he had personally written to over 40 MPs before the Apprenticeship Levy was made legally binding, but only three had agreed to meet with him.


He stated he had also written to 20” influencers”, but while many were sympathetic they were not willing to engage with his concerns.


Bull said he had suggested to the MPS he had met that instead of recruitment companies paying the Levy, clients could pay the Levy directly on the temp workers they use and those clients could then access the digital fund, but he was told this was too complex.


Bull added that Randstad was a ‘trailblazer’ group, tasked with developing apprenticeship standards, but said the issues surrounding the Levy had highlighted that there is still a lack of understanding of what recruitment agencies do, from people and organisations outside the industry.


Echoing Marlowe’s comments. Bull’s presentation to the conference audience stressed that the industry is fragmented, there is no voice and no input into shaping legislation, no credible voice in wider commerce, no effective relationship with non-recruitment bodies and a negative media image.


He concluded his presentation by telling delegates that, “we have to change and speak as one voice” and “be at the table when legislation is being shaped.”


Marlowe, who told delegates Levy rules should be amended to allow funding to be allocated to those in positions for less than one year, said there was a possibility the Apprenticeship Levy could eventually be converted to a training levy.


Oher speakers at the event, which also focused on IR35 and was held in association with Lawspeed, included Neil Withey, training and development divisional director at EEF, and John Deaville, development director at Key Training.


Pictured: Adrian Marlowe speaking at yesterday's ARC conference


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