APPRENTICESHIP funding left unspent by Shropshire Council is to be transferred to county businesses to help bolster their workforces as they recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The council estimates it could lose out on up to £246,000 of ring-fenced funds this financial year, and wants to transfer some to other employers rather than see it retained by government.

The council pays around £600,000 a year into an Apprenticeship Levy Fund, a government scheme that requires employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million to commit 0.5 per cent of their pay to the delivery of apprenticeships. The government also provides a 10 per cent top-up to each levy-paying employer.

Unspent money expires after two years, but since April last year organisations that pay the levy have been permitted to transfer up to 25 per cent of their fund balance to other employers.

A report to cabinet ahead of a meeting next week says more than £90,000 of the council’s fund had already expired by June this year, with a further £156,000 expected to expire by next March.

The report, by Michele Leith, the council’s director of workforce and transformation, asks cabinet to agree to the transfer of unspent council funds to ensure they are spent within the county.

It would mean the council could transfer up to £149,542 this financial year, contributing towards 25 apprenticeships.

The report identifies the health and social care, engineering and manufacturing, digital and creative, construction, visitor economy and education and childcare sectors as those from which applications will be prioritised.

Applicants will also be given weight for providing apprenticeships for people who are unemployed or have been made redundant due to the pandemic, those in protected characteristic groups and those who are at risk of social exclusion, such as care leavers.

Ms Leith’s report says: “It would be a missed opportunity for not only the local authority but also our communities, particularly our employers and priority groups within our county.

“This could enable employers to access different opportunities, create new jobs and upskill people to plug skills gaps within some of our key sectors.

“It could inspire our young people to take different and varied routes of employment and stay within Shropshire whilst developing and enhancing their careers.

“It would be an unmissable opportunity to work with employers to support those who have been most affected by Covid-19 and having access to this bespoke and accessible funding could help us drive skills in some of those key sectors where they are needed in this recovery phase.

“The recent government announcement of additional incentives for employers for the recruitment of new apprentices at all ages will spur employers on to consider this a viable route for their organisations.

“As a local authority, we have the means to support this via transfer of levy funds, and proactively support and engage with our communities at this time of crisis.”