THE number of apprenticeships started by people in Bradford has dropped to the lowest level since a Government shake-up of the system, figures show.

Department for Education data shows people living in the city started 3,110 apprenticeships in the 2019-20 academic year.

That was down 23 per cent from 4,030 in the previous year, and a 42 per cent fall from the 5,350 in 2016-17, when the apprenticeship levy - a tax larger businesses pay towards a national fund for the training of apprentices - came into effect.

Additionally, small businesses in Bradford – those with fewer than 50 employees – took on 30 per cent of apprenticeship placements in 2019-20, compared with 40 per cent in 2016-17.

Bradford Councillor Imran Khan, executive member for education, employment and skills, said: “The fall in apprenticeship starts is a national issue due to the recent reforms and impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The reduction in the figures in Bradford is broadly in line with national and regional figures.

“A key partnership priority of the District’s Economic Recovery Plan is to boost apprenticeships.

“The SkillsHouse Partnership supports local people to find work (including apprenticeships) and businesses with their workforce needs from recruitment through to bespoke training.

“Apprenticeships are also at the heart of Bradford Council’s own workforce development.

"We are proud that since April 2017, 654 employees have been set up on apprenticeship training.”

The DfE cautioned that the latest figures were impacted by the pandemic, but said the number of apprenticeships started across England in the academic year up to March 22 last year was still seven per centra lower compared to the same period in 2018-19.

Critics say the levy has caused confusion for employers. When introduced, the Government said it would give employers greater control and generate more money for training.

Mark Goldstone, head of business representation & policy at the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “One of the trends we have noted is the disproportionate drop in intermediate and advanced level starts compared with higher level and degree apprenticeships.

"We believe that some of this is due to companies looking to spend their levy contributions by investing in existing staff, putting them through higher level programmes.

"In effect apprentice levy contributions are being stripped from what would previously have been covered by training budgets.

"This is one of the more worrying concerns for me and which is hidden within the overall numbers as we know that intermediate apprenticeships have been a fantastic enabler of social mobility over many years."

Recently in the Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced more cash will go to businesses for each apprenticeship started and a new “flexi-job” apprenticeship would become available for trainees to work with a number of different employers in one sector.

Mr Goldstone added: “I still think the value of apprenticeships and the career pathways it opens up is not fully understood by many.

"For too long vocational pathways, which apprenticeships offer, have been viewed as a second class option compared to academic routes.

"However, lots of good work is already happening with schools across the district to dispel these myths.

"I am very hopeful that as we move towards economic recovery firms will once again look to rebuild their workforce and that young people are fully aware of the amazing opportunities which will exist across the Bradford District.”