Commenting on the announcement by Simon Hamilton, Minister for Economy, of a consultation on the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy: Aodhán Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, said:

 

“The NIRC welcomes the Economy Minister’s decision to consult on the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy on Northern Ireland. It’s crucial that those businesses directly affected by the levy receive a fair return for their contribution and that they have the chance to input into how the proceeds should be used to boost productivity and growth in Northern Ireland.

“Unless the NI Executive takes action, there is the real chance these employers will pay a contribution to the Levy, but receive no benefit. That’s clearly unfair, and we hope government will work with us to ensure a reasonable solution is found.

“What Northern Ireland businesses want is a fair system that provides support for their training needs. That should involve some direct funding and reimbursement for NI Levy payers. But there is also an opportunity to look at allowing Levy-payers to provide support to their Northern Ireland supply chains. For example, grocery retailers could benefit from training investment in the Food and Drink sector, where more productive, efficient and capable suppliers will provide better products, which of course benefits both retailers and customers. 

“There is also an opportunity here to refresh the Northern Ireland skills framework. Whilst much of the system is effective, it‘s worth examining how it could become more flexible, for example on age restrictions for Apprenticeships, to meet the needs of modern businesses. By working closely with business, and focusing on reform and the needs of the economy, it could be the spark to inspire a more flexible, modern, and effective skills system.”