A Plaid Cymru MS has criticised the Welsh Government for their proposals to slash the budget for apprenticeship programmes while prioritising young people in new Economic Mission.
Luke Fletcher, who represents South Wales West in the Senedd, told First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday that the number of new entrants into apprenticeship programmes will “fall of a cliff edge” if government plans to cut investment go ahead.
The Welsh Government has recently come under fire from the further education sector following accusations that they failed to accurately brief sector representatives about the extent of the cuts to the apprenticeship programmes budget.
The sector had been told by the Welsh Government to expect a 3.65% cut for the next financial year, and modelled their projections based on this figure. It was soon discovered that the loss of European Social Funds would push the total reduction up to 24.5%.
Initial analyses from the sector say that this will result in approximately 10,000 fewer starts, and representatives are warning of the detrimental impact that this will have on priority sectors such as health, social care, construction and engineering.
In a question to the First Minister on the floor of the Senedd, Luke Fletcher noted figures provided by the further education sector, cautioning that a reduction of this magnitude represents “the most rapid decline in training opportunities since devolution”.
Seeking assurances from the First Minister, Mr Fletcher went on to say: “Given the outcry from the sector and the consequences of such a cut, will the Welsh Government re-examine its spending plans before it publishes its draft budget later this month?”
In response, the First Minister Mark Drakeford told the Senedd: “The Welsh Government will invest over £100 million in apprenticeship programmes in the next financial year.
“Today, the Member wants me to ensure that there are no cuts to funding in apprenticeships in Wales, but if you are faced with a budget that has £1.3 billion less to do everything that we want to do next year, there's no part of the Welsh Government's budget that can be untouched.”
Just a week prior, the Minister for Economy Vaughan Gething launched the Welsh Government’s “Economic Mission”, the government’s priorities for a stronger economy for Wales.
Priority area two – “a platform for young people, fair work, skills and success” – emphasises the importance of creating employment, self-employment and training opportunities for young people.
Upon its release on 28th November 2023, Luke Fletcher, also Plaid Cymru’s Economy Spokesperson, described the priorities as “wafer thin on policy detail and targets”. Responding to the Economy Minister’s statement announcing the missions in the Senedd chamber, Mr Fletcher went on to say that the lack of substantive detail was “all the more disappointing in this case given the way this has been trailed as the Government’s master plan for the economy.”
Addressing the Economy Minister directly, Luke Fletcher said: “You and your Labour predecessors have had over a quarter of a century to deliver a stronger economy, but on practically every single metric you’ve got nothing to show for your efforts.
“Things have gotten worse, not better. So how much longer will the Welsh people need to wait before you get it right?”
In response, Vaughan Gething said: “In terms of where we are, what we've done is we've reset our four priorities, as I said, for a world that has changed significantly. It has changed significantly since 2021.
“The economic shocks we thought we'd been through with the pandemic have actually been exacerbated since then, and it responds to calls from both businesses and indeed trade unions to refocus the four priorities for them to gather and make decisions around.”
Speaking after First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd yesterday, Luke Fletcher MS said:
“We know that the Welsh Government’s funding outlook for next year is challenging, however, we aren’t talking about nice-to-haves here.
“Not only does the Welsh Government’s new Economic Mission lack necessary details, it’s also undermined by their own decisions in the budget process.
“The development of Wales’s future workforce is absolutely essential if we want to see the Welsh economy prosper, and as we navigate tough economic terrain, the Welsh Government must invest where it matters.
“Investing in apprenticeships is an investment in the future workforce of Wales, in opportunities for our young people, in our economic recovery and in key sectors such as construction, engineering, health and social care.
“The Welsh Government’s cut to the apprenticeship budget runs completely counter to their expressed desire to provide more opportunities for young people.
“What we are once again seeing is a Government that wants to adopt the veneer of progressive values without doing any of the difficult work required to ensure that opportunities are realised and realisable for young people.”
If you want to support Plaid Cymru and Luke, please click here.