Economy minister accused of undermining Welsh Government economic priorities
Wales’ economy minister has been accused of undermining the Welsh Government’s economic priorities with proposals to slash the budget for apprenticeship programmes.
In October Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government would not hit a target of creating 125,000 all-age apprenticeships within this Senedd term despite it being included in Labour’s election manifesto.
The apprenticeship budget will be slashed by £17.5m this year, a decision that was justified by the economy minister on the basis that demand had fallen due to a flat economy over the past 12 months.
The Welsh Government has since come under fire from the further education sector
following accusations that they failed to accurately brief representatives on the extent of the cuts to the apprenticeship programmes budget.
The sector had been told 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 predicts this will result in approximately 10,000 fewer starts, and representatives are warning of the detrimental impact this will have on priority sectors such as health, social care, construction and engineering.
Luke Fletcher, who represents South Wales West in the Senedd, told First Minister Mark Drakeford this week that the number of new entrants into apprenticeship programmes will “fall of a cliff edge” if government plans to cut investment go ahead.
He said: “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, Mr 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.”
Last week, the Wales’ economy minister launched the Welsh Government’s ‘Economic Mission’ – the government’s priorities for a stronger economy for Wales.
Priority area two emphasises the importance of creating employment, self-employment and training opportunities for young people.
Mr Fletcher, also Plaid Cymru’s Economy Spokesperson, described the priorities as “wafer thin on policy detail and targets”.
Responding to Mr Gething’s statement announcing the missions in the Senedd chamber, Mr Fletcher said 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.”
Mr 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, Mr 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 FMQs on Tuesday, Mr Fletcher 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.”
Vaughan Gething was invited to comment.
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