Sunak pledges to create 20,000 apprenticeships and cut red tape for small firms

Rishi Sunak will pledge to create up to 20,000 more apprenticeships with plans to fully fund training for young people and cut red tape for small businesses.

The Prime Minister will set out a package of reforms he said “will unlock a tidal wave of opportunity” at a conference for small firms in Warwickshire on Monday.

Underpinned by £60 million of new investment for next year, the Government will pay the full cost of apprenticeships for under-21-year-olds in small businesses from April 1.

The move is aimed at reducing burdens for employers and providing more professional training places for young people.

Ministers will also raise the amount of funding that companies who are paying the Government’s apprenticeship levy can pass on to other businesses.

Business groups have long called for reforms to the levy – paid by large firms with the aim of creating more apprenticeship places – with millions of pounds said to be going unspent and returned to the Treasury every year.

The change means that from April 6, businesses can share up to 50% of unspent funds, up from the 25% they are currently able to transfer to another employer.

Combined, the Government expects these policies to enable up to 20,000 more apprenticeships.

Rishi Sunak in Yorkshire
Rishi Sunak meeting small business owners in West Yorkshire (Molly Darlington/PA)

Mr Sunak said: “Growing up in my mum’s pharmacy, I know first-hand how important small businesses are, not just for the economy, but as a driver for innovation and aspiration, and as the key to building a society where hard work is always recognised and rewarded.

“Whether it’s breaking down barriers and red tape for small businesses, helping businesses hire more young people into apprenticeships and skilled jobs or empowering women to start up their own businesses – this government is sticking to the plan and leaving no stone unturned to make the UK the best place to do business.

“Taken together, these measures will unlock a tidal wave of opportunity and make a real difference to businesses and entrepreneurs across the country.”

The Prime Minister will also announce a 50% uplift to the thresholds that determine a company’s size, in a move he hopes will make 132,000 more businesses qualify as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and avoid non-financial reporting requirements.

Alongside measures to streamline reporting requirements, the reform, expected to come into effect in the autumn, could to save thousands of UK SMEs around £150 million per year, according to the Government.

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Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch will unveil a £660 million ‘northern powerhouse investment fund’ at the conference (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “Almost every job in the UK is owed to what is, or what previously was, an SME. They are the engines of economic growth for this country.

“Whether it’s through cutting red tape, unlocking investment or lowering business costs, today’s announcements show that this Government is committed to doing all it can to turbo-charge SMEs so that they can go further and faster than ever before.”

Mr Sunak will also announce a new industry-led taskforce to bolster private investment in women-led businesses.

It will seek to raise a bespoke funding pot for female founder teams, who have received only 2% of equity capital investment for the past decade.

Barclays head of business banking Hannah Bernard, who will co-chair the panel, said it will address the “significantly higher barriers” female entrepreneurs face to get their businesses the support and investment they need.

Mr Sunak and other Cabinet ministers will mingle with business leaders at the conference, which will convene around 150 SMEs and business groups from across the UK.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “After 14 years of Conservative economic failure, small business leaders tell us it is getting harder and harder to run a successful business.

“All this ongoing Conservative chaos comes with a cost as under the Tories we have a seen a record high in the number of businesses having to close their doors for good.

“With our Plan for Small Business, Labour will deliver the change that business owners need to prosper and grow by fixing business rates, tackling late payments, boosting exports and giving small businesses a fair chance at public contracts.

“Labour is proud to back our small businesses and our plan is a serious blueprint to create the long-term environment businesses across the country are crying out for.”