Initiatives such as apprenticeship levy lack focus, warns select committee  

The government’s flagship ‘Productivity Plan,’ a 15-point manifesto aimed at ‘fixing the foundations’ of the British economy, has been lambasted by the Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee – just six months after it was initially launched.
In a highly critical report, the select committee described the productivity blueprint as lacking clear and measurable objectives, and called the initiatives it promotes (including plans to boost apprenticeship numbers) a “vague collection of existing policies”.
Ian Wright MP, and BIS Committee chair, said: “As a committee, we welcome the government’s focus on tackling this crucial issue,” but he added that “rather than being a clear and distinctive roadmap” for improvement, the “milestones for implementing improvements are virtually non-existent”.
The committee was particularly unimpressed by the plans to boost apprenticeships to three million by 2020. It claimed businesses had not been properly consulted about the apprenticeship levy - including not explaining how sectors that do not use apprentices will be protected - and that the three million target was set “with no consideration for what type of training businesses actually require”.
As it stands, Wright said, the plan risks “collecting dust on Whitehall bookshelves”. He added: “We question whether the document has sufficient focus and clear, measurable objectives to be called a ‘plan’.”
This withering response follows hot of the heels of last week’s UK Commission for Employment and Skills report that revealed a quarter of Britain’s unfilled job vacancies are caused by employers being unable to find people with sufficient skills. UKCES also found 19 per cent of employers have at least one unfilled skills-shortage-created vacancy; up from 15 per cent the last time the survey was done in 2013.

In response to Wright’s comments, a BIS spokesperson said: “The reforms set out in our productivity plan are delivering a step change that will secure long term investment in people, capital and ideas.” However, BIS conceded: “boosting productivity is not as quick and simple as pulling a lever.”

BIS also said it would consider the recommendations of the committee before producing a formal response “in due course”.

In a letter to the Guardian, Ben Willmott, CIPD head of public policy, wrote: “The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee is right to flag shortcomings in the government’s productivity plan. Last week’s major skills survey published by the UKCES again suggests that poor management lies at the heart of the UK’s workplace productivity problem, with skills under-utilisation as big a problem as skills shortages.

"Until the UK develops a strategy for government to work with businesses – particularly small businesses - to address this, the evidence suggests we will struggle to compete on productivity with our international competitors.”

The government’s productivity plan was launched by business secretary Sajid Javid in July 2015, after he described the ‘productivity problem’ as the “challenge of our age”. He claimed that if British employees matched the productivity of their American counterparts, UK GDP would be boosted by 31 per cent - or around £21,000 per annum for every household.