Small businesses get huge apprenticeship boost as more big employers sign up to levy transfer

Nearly £500,000 has been added to the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) unique Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund, thanks to new contributions from some of the region’s biggest employers.

The BBC, National Express and the Wesleyan are among the latest big businesses to pledge their unspent apprenticeship levy to the WMCA transfer fund. The fund is then used to cover training costs for apprentices at small to medium enterprises in the West Midlands.

The WMCA has so far used transferred levy money to fund training for 70 apprentices at small to medium businesses in the region. Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said the scheme’s success relies on big employers agreeing to contribute to the fund.

Small businesses get huge apprenticeship boost as more big employers sign up to levy transfer

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street with National Express apprentice Amy Manning

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and former CEO of John Lewis, said: “The BBC, National Express and Wesleyan are very important employers in the West Midlands, and it is brilliant they have agreed to transfer their unspent levy funds to boost apprenticeship training at smaller businesses.

“As part of last summer’s Skills Deal, the Government agreed to give us unique powers to transfer levy funds in the region, and now we are delivering on this to super-charge apprenticeships in the West Midlands and create more job opportunities for younger people.

“We had already signed up HSBC, Lloyds and BT before today’s announcement, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg. In all, we hope the levy fund will collect up to £40 million to create new apprenticeships for people in the region.

“Using this approach, everybody wins – big businesses know their levy is being put to good use in the region, local people benefit from new job opportunities, and smaller businesses can consider expanding their workforce as the levy fund will cover 100% of the cost of training their apprentices.”

The apprenticeship levy is charged by HM Revenue and Customers on all businesses with a payroll over £3 million. The levy money is held centrally by Government, and businesses across the country can apply for a slice of that funding to pay up to 90% of the costs of training their apprentices. After a two year period, unspent levy contributions are ‘sunset’ and retained by the Government.

Under the WMCA’s deal, regional organisations can transfer their unspent levy to the combined authority’s fund – keeping the money within the region, and avoiding the risk of it being sunset. Contributions to the levy transfer fund are then used by WMCA to cover 100% of apprenticeship training costs for small to medium businesses in the West Midlands.

James Rutter, head of learning and organisational development at National Express, said: “As one of the region’s biggest private sector employers, we are always looking at how we can improve skills and provide more job opportunities across the West Midlands.

"As well as supporting those that are not in employment, we've already utilised some of our own levy to provide new skills for existing staff, helping to deliver an excellent public transport system for our customers. 

“Alongside new driver vacancies we are proud to have welcomed hundreds of staff to our family with the newly formed National Express Accessible Transport, safeguarding 600 jobs as well as vital community services.

"Our people are without doubt our greatest asset and we’re delighted to be able to further extend skills, apprenticeship and employment opportunities for people from across the region.

"By investing our unspent levy funds into WMCA's Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund we are certain it will be put to good use by increasing the same sort of apprenticeship opportunities for even more people across the West Midlands.”   

Jules Roberts, learning and development consultant at Wesleyan said: “We wanted to use some of our levy funding to support our customers, many of whom are teachers. So we’re delighted to fund four new apprenticeships in early-years education, helping to create jobs today and investing in the region’s workforce of tomorrow.”

The news comes after the latest ONS figures, released last week, show the West Midlands is bucking the national trend on employment. While unemployment has risen and employment has stayed static nationally, the West Midlands has seen a 0.5% rise in employment and 0.5% drop in unemployment.

Cllr George Duggins, WMCA portfolio holder for productivity and skills and leader of Coventry City Council, said: “The levy transfer fund is helping to create new job opportunities and supporting small to medium-sized businesses to expand.

“Apprenticeships offer a great way to earn and learn at the same time, and provide key work experience and a clear pathway for a career, no matter what age you are.

“Contributions from employers are helping to make a real difference to jobs in the West Midlands – and I’d urge other large employers to consider contributing to help us boost apprenticeships opportunities for people across the region.”

For more information on the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund, and to find out how to apply for funding to train apprentices, visit: