OxLEP Skills’ Social Contract programme aims to address impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic relating to unemployment, barriers to employment, education and training, with a core focus on encouraging Oxfordshire’s large businesses to pledge their unused apprenticeship levy towards small businesses – supporting apprenticeship opportunities in the county.
The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership Skills Team (OxLEP Skills) has announced today – as part of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week – that one of its key skills programmes, which aims to retain investment in the county whilst supporting the creation of apprenticeships, has now far exceeded an overall project target, hitting a massive £2.27 million-worth of pledges, with critical funding continuing to find its way to small businesses all the time.
The Social Contract is a £1.7 million programme of activity funded by the government’s Contain Outbreak Management Fund, via Oxfordshire County Council and led by OxLEP Skills. It aims to address several impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic relating to health and wellbeing through unemployment, barriers to employment, education and training through a number of initiatives – including the ‘Grow Your Own’ levy-pledge scheme.
This latest levy pledge milestone means OxLEP Skills continues to far exceed an original £1.3 million target of pledges set for the Social Contract programme.
The apprenticeship levy is paid by large employers with an annual pay bill of £3 million or more. Companies can choose to transfer up to 25% of their levy funds each year to help other businesses pay for their apprenticeship training and assessment.
If levy funding is not utilised within those large companies, or pledged to smaller businesses, it is lost to Oxfordshire and returned to the Treasury.
The Social Contract programme works directly with levy paying businesses – raising awareness of pledge opportunities – as well as liaising with small businesses, highlighting that funding is available to support the creation of apprenticeships within their respective organisations, matching the pledge to the new apprenticeship and providing guidance and support throughout the government levy transfer process.
Sally Andreou, Skills Hub Manager at OxLEP, said: “This latest milestone is another significant achievement for OxLEP. The employers who have pledged their levy funding to smaller Oxfordshire businesses can truly say they are making a real difference to many organisations looking to grow, as well as helping to create life-changing opportunities for many people, set to start out on their apprenticeship journeys.
"Apprenticeships are a vital part of our economy and by reinvesting apprenticeship levy funding, we can support smaller businesses in the county to grow their workforce and retain high-quality talent.
“We continue to encourage small businesses in Oxfordshire – who have not yet taken advantage of the funds available through the apprenticeship levy transfer scheme – to get involved and unlock the door to a growing future workforce.”
To date, OxLEP Skills has supported companies such as B&Q, JDE Banbury, Ridge and Thames Water to manage their levy pledges, ensuring funding is retained within the Oxfordshire economy.
One of the most recent pledges to support apprenticeships in the county includes £100,000 from the University of Oxford. Since the beginning of the programme, the Social Contract has supported a total of 135 apprentices within the county.
Other areas in which the Social Contract seeks to address the impacts of areas such as barriers to employment, education and training as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, include through the ‘No Limits’ programme – funding 5 triage workers at SOFEA’s food larders across Oxfordshire – aiding customers with any skills and employability support they might require. The programme also offers IT equipment, as well as training and travel bursaries to support access to employment or training.
Another initiative available through the Social Contract is the ‘OxGROW’ mentoring platform, supporting those seeking employment with access to a host of experienced business volunteers, to support with skills and employability queries and knowledge-sharing.