Since the increase was first announced in October 2016, Ibec has met the Minister for Education Skills, and his officials, on a number of occasions. We raised concerns on the lack of transparency and evaluation around how the €400m already collected through the levy is spent and the absence of employer input into identifying upskilling priorities. In its current configuration, the levy is little more than an ‘earmarked tax’.
We argued that there should be major reorientation of the Fund to demand-driven schemes that would enable business to source relevant state supported training services for existing and potential employees. Budget 2018 responded to Ibec’s concerns with some encouraging measures:
- An independent review of the National Training Fund to guide strategic decisions on its structure and future direction.
- Additional and refocused expenditure on programmes relevant to employers including extra €38m for apprenticeships and traineeships, and 19% increase in the allocation to the Skillnets enterprise led training networks.
- An increase in funding for “in employment” programmes to €153m in 2018 (from €106m 2017), and the transfer of €37 million funding for higher education programmes which are aligned with the needs of the economy into the NTF. Certain programmes, totalling on the order of €26 million, which are more closely focused on social inclusion will no longer be supported from the Fund.
- An NTF expenditure report will be published before 31 January each year, informed by consultation with the National Skills Council. This will include details of planned expenditure on each NTF supported programme, along with appropriate targets and indicators. An annual review paper will also be published within the first quarter of each year. A formal evaluation of at least one NTF supported programme will be undertaken each year.
These should be regarded as small, but significant, steps in the right direction. In his Budget statement, the Minister for Finance said that the final two levy increases will be subject to the implementation of the necessary reforms to ensure that employers have a greater role in determining the priorities and the strategic direction of the Fund. We will need more clarity on the precise role for employers and an agreed set of measures to assess the impact of these badly needed reforms.
Ibec Head of Education and Social Policy
Thursday, 12 October 2017