An opportunity lost

by Steve Nash
13 Dec 2018
An opportunity lost

By the time this magazine reaches you we may actually have finalised a Brexit deal - or not, as the case may be. In the short term, we do at least know what came out of the chancellor’s autumn budget which, as always, was a mixed bag for our sector.

Of note were the changes around apprenticeship funding. For larger employers, particularly those in manufacturing and engineering, it is now possible to donate 25% of their levy funds to their supply chain. This seems like a bold move, but dig a little deeper and prior to the budget it was already possible for larger employers to do this with 10% of their entitlement - yet only 1% of the funds has been used in this way…

The other big apprenticeship news was that the contribution towards apprentice training for non-levy paying employers – many of whom are smaller dealers and independent garages and repairers in the automotive sector - was cut from 10% to 5%. This is essentially good news but, bizarrely, the chancellor announced that this would come into effect from April 2019 rather than immediately. A very strange decision given that such an announcement was highly likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what was intended in the short term.  Who in business would announce that they intended to reduce prices four months in advance and not expect their current business to decline sharply?!

Given that the overall levy pot is still only around 15% committed, I believe that the chancellor could have done much more to stimulate the uptake of the new apprentice standards. Firstly, he could have temporarily extended further the duration of availability of employers’ levy funds which are currently lost if not used in 24 months. I believe that he could also have reduced the contribution for non-levy paying employers to zero, without risking any government funds – at least within this parliament – given it would take a massive increase in the use of existing funds by levy payers to use all the funds available over the next 2-3 years.

It should be clarified that all of these points principally relate to England with the devolved administrations applying their own rules locally. So for the many businesses who operate across the UK this could lead to sundry complications.

The other seemingly strange decision was to remove the subsidy on the purchase of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles and to reduce the funding for full electric vehicles (EV) just as the demand is starting to take-off – a move bound, in the short term, to discourage those seeking an alternative to diesel away from PHEVs.
Despite this retrograde decision, the march of electrified vehicles shows no sign of slowing (VW Group plans to launch one new EV every month from 2019 through 2021, with other manufacturers following suit), and we are continuing our work with government to establish minimum safe standards for those who work on repairing and maintaining these vehicles. We have gained acknowledgement from the HSE that the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 do have specific clauses which will apply to employers and individuals working with high-voltage electrified vehicles, and we are ensuring that the standards we have already established through our EV qualifications and accreditations will keep employees safe from harm and their employers safe from potential prosecution.

In the same vein, our recently launched ADAS accreditation is aimed at ensuring those who come into contact with these increasingly ubiquitous automated driver assistance systems during repair or maintenance can demonstrate their capability to ensure their continued safe operation.

We may not yet know the outcome of Brexit negotiations, but we do know that 2019 will see a marked increase in the number of vehicles coming onto the market with electrified drivetrains, ADAS, and other automated or autonomous systems. As the industry’s professional body we aim to provide the tools for those working in our industry to assimilate these important technical developments and to be able to demonstrate their ability to continue to work safely, and within regulations, to keep these vehicles operating correctly.

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Wendy Hennessey

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