Arts apprentices’ curates’ egg Budget

While there is encouragement in Philip Hammond's autumn Budget for small and medium sized enterprises, the category most arts organisations fall into, the expected support for apprenticeships - vital in painting skills in the sector - is only partial.

And there is a real danger of a no-deal Brexit extra Budget that the arts and culture should beware of.

“It is impossible not to view this budget against the backdrop of the uncertainties faced due to the UK’s upcoming exit from the European Union” said Alan Bishop, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation. “The possibility that the spring statement may be upgraded to a ‘full fiscal event’ suggests that an emergency budget may be forthcoming should a deal not be reached.

“It is vital that creative enterprises and entrepreneurs receive assurances that they will be fully supported if this is the case.”

However, there is recognition of the growing importance of SMEs to the economy, and of their use of apprentices, essential in preserving and building on vital skillsets: as from April the amount they will have to contribute to the government’s apprenticeship fund is to be halved from 10% to 5%.

Extra relief on business rates, to help revive high streets, will also help small cultural endeavours.

One of the most affected by the change will be the screen industries where the cost of training tends to be either £9,000 or £12,000 a year, and where there were 4,480 new apprentices in 2017/2018. Seetha Kumar, CEO of ScreenSkills, the industry-led skills body for UK screen formerly called Creative Skillset, was cautiously welcoming of the measure. “Reducing the percentage that smaller screen employers have to pay towards training will save them each between £450 and £600 per apprentice,” she said. 

“However, it does nothing to help the larger employers who between them pay around £20 million a year and struggle to make use of it. More flexibility needs to be introduced to enable employers, large and small, to recruit apprentices to help fill the skills shortages in this booming industry and to diversify the workforce.”   

Recent research by ScreenSkills and Creative & Cultural Skills, the UK’s Sector Skills Council for the arts, using Department for Education official statistics, found that in the cultural heritage and design sectors much of the apprenticeship levy is left unspent among the creative industries. 

The findings were that only 27% of the levy fund was used, leaving around £55m untapped because of the complexities of the system, money that could be used by non-levy-paying SMEs to take apprentices. Instead, a large part of the money, perhaps as much as £35m, will be lost to the creative industries skills system.

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