Delivering his keynote address to the forum – organised by the Food Manufacture Group – Wilkinson, who chaired the event, told food and drink manufacturing business leaders the levy was “ a poisoned chalice”.
Due to be introduced in April, new legislation will require businesses with payrolls of more than £3M to contribute the equivalent of 0.5% of annual pay outgoings towards the Apprenticeship Levy scheme.
Businesses will have two years to invest their levy payments in apprenticeships. Small to medium-sized enterprises exempted from the levy will be able to access funding for 90% of the cost of apprenticeships.
“As far as the levy is concerned, the only thing we know is that it will be an administrative nightmare: just like the Single Farm Payment scheme and the Basic Payment Scheme, with complexity swamping the new digitised system.
“We still await appointments to the Institute of Apprenticeships who are supposed to be the guardian.”
Trigger unintended consequences
Wilkinson warned the levy would trigger unintended consequences, in the form of compelling employers to rebrand all their training to conform in order to reclaim their investment.
“It's a funny old world where we have moved from government supporting employers to now charging them to train their staff,” said Wilkinson.
“It's a funny old world where we have moved from government supporting employers to now charging them to train their staff.”
- Paul Wilkinson
Turning to the sugar levy – due for introduction in April 2018 – Wilkinson quipped: “And if you thought the nanny state has vanished with Labour, the sugar tax put paid to that myth.”
Wilkinson also dismissed “the huff and puff” over what Brexit meant. “Why ask for the Single Market, customs union or variations, when what we want is free trade. It feels to me like we are panicking and failing on the first rules of negotiation. You work out the strength of your position, view it from the other side then keep your cards close to your chest.”
Excuse for business failure
Brexit had become a convenient excuse for business failure, he claimed. “Brexit lets all of us bosses off the hook. We can now all resort to blaming it for any form of corporate failure; neatly trumping that bastion of last resort – the weather.”
Some of Britain’s media and commentators “secretly hope it all [Brexit] falls over so they can say ‘told you so’”, he claimed. Even The Financial Times and The Times were “still grudgingly coming to terms with the fact that Brexit means Brexit”.
In a wide-ranging address, Wilkinson also singled out food deflation, “Marmite-gate” and manufacturers’ relationship with retailers and the bright prospects for mergers and acquisitions.
The Food Manufacture Group’s annual Business Leaders’ Forum took place at the London offices of host sponsor DWF.
Associate sponsors of the 2017 event were: ALS Life Sciences UK, Charpak packaging and RSA Insurance Group.
Meanwhile,watch out for more multi-media reports from the forum at FoodManufacture.co.uk – including an exclusive video interview with Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright – later this week.
Further highlights from the forum – including more reaction to the Apprenticeship Levy – will be available in the February edition of Food Manufacture magazine.
Information about the Business Leaders’ Forum 2018 is available here .
“Brexit lets all of us bosses off the hook. We can now all resort to blaming it for any form of corporate failure; neatly trumping that bastion of last resort – the weather.”
- Paul Wilkinson