Hertfordshire County Council has had to pay back £148,000 of its apprenticeship levy – after failing to take on enough apprentices in the past two years to keep it all.

As part of the national apprenticeship scheme, all large employers – with a pay bill in excess of £3 million – have to pay 0.5 per cent of their annual pay bill into an apprenticeship levy.

That fund can then be used to support apprentices within their own organisation.

But if the money is not spent within 24 months it has to be paid back to the government – and is used to support apprenticeships elsewhere.

Data presented to the latest meeting of the special cabinet panel (June 3) shows that Hertfordshire County Council has had to return £148,000 of its levy.

That’s because they have not used all of the money set aside two years ago, within the two year limit.

According to the report to the panel: “. . . there is currently approximately £148,000 of historic levy that has expired due to it not being used in the last 24 months and will be reclaimed by central government.”

But presenting the data to the panel, head of corporate policy Alex James said this was “a small amount”, equivalent to around three per cent of the council’s overall level so far.

Data presented to the panel showed that last year (2019/20) the county council was just three apprentices short of its 184 apprentice recruitment target.

And it was reported that in the last three months of 2019/20, from January to March) the council recruited 72 apprentices – the highest quarterly recruitment rate since the levy was introduces.

It was also reported that there were already 90 apprentices who had been identified to start at the county council in 2020/21.

At the meeting, Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said: “Its always disappointing to give money back to the Government when they have given it to us.”

He stressed that the £148,000 was equivalent “to quite a few potential apprenticeships that we could have had”. And he asked for clarification as to how this had occurred.

Cllr Ralph Sangster said that the ‘situation’ represented the the first 24 month period after the scheme began and that most councils and other participants had got off to a fairly slow start.

He said that the availability of recognised schemes that could be included  had been limited, at this stage.

And he said it was a ‘hangover’ from this period, when the council was still ramping up the opportunities for apprenticeships to be established.

“I think going forward we will find that the ability to fill those spaces and to use up all the levy will be certainly more improved than it was from that very early start,” he said.

“I think that’s the reason why we have had to hand back a small sum of money – but I am sure we’ll be hanging-on to it in the future.”

Cllr Sangster also highlighted the work of officers to develop apprenticeship  opportunities within the council. And he said Hertfordshire’s offer had been considered ‘exemplar’ by central government.