PLANS to charge Scottish businesses a fee to fund apprenticeships have been branded a “scandal” amid claims the cash raised will only be spent south of the border.
A new scheme, announced by Chancellor George Osborne, promises to fund a bumper crop of apprentices by levying large businesses across the UK.
But Scottish students, politicians and business leaders have hit out, claiming that cash raised in Scotland will only be spent on English apprentice schemes.
The new “apprenticeship levy” was unveiled in the budget last week, as a part of conservative party plans to create three million apprenticeships in England by 2020.
But critics have hit out at the plans, saying that the benefits of the levy made on Scottish businesses will not be felt by Scottish apprentices.
Vonnie Sandlan, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland said the levy was “a great idea in theory” but criticised the possibility of using funds exclusively in England.
She said: “If they introduce an apprentice levy across the UK but fail to pass the income directly on to Scotland that would simply be a scandal.”
Calling for a policy change, she added: “We must now see the UK government urgently change direction to ensure any apprentice levy charged in Scotland can be set in Scotland, and will go directly to providing high-quality opportunities for apprentices in Scotland.”
David Watt, executive director at the Institute of Directors Scotland called the levy a “strange thing to do”, adding that the benefit of any levy made in Scotland should be felt locally.
And SNP Treasury spokesman MP Roger Mullin was also quick to strike out.
He said: “The way to do this is not to have a UK-wide levy, but to make sure that Scotland has the full taxing responsibilities to enable it to choose whether or not a levy is the way to go.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills defended the move, saying that devolved administrations will have “complete flexibility over how to support businesses through training and apprenticeships” and would be able to set up a similar scheme if they wished.
He also noted that the funds raised from the levy would “flow through the Barnett formula in the usual way.”
But critics have maintained that while the Scottish government may receive more cash, the amount they will receive is unclear, as is the extent to which it will flow back into Scots businesses.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government called for greater clarity on the plans, adding: “The introduction of a new apprenticeship levy has to be designed in such a way which works for Scottish employers and their current and future modern apprentices.”