PROVISIONAL figures released by the Skills Funding Agency have mixed news when it comes to apprenticeship starts between August 2015 and July 2016.
Nationally, there were more than 500,000 starts for the first time since 2012-13.
However, across many areas of the South East there were dramatic decreases on the previous year.
“These figures are incredibly disappointing,’ said Matt Garvey, managing director of West Berkshire Training Consortium.
“They are collated by constituency boundary and Newbury saw 13 per cent fewer apprentices on the previous year.
“This is a surprise, given the growing economic confidence within our area.
“However, it was mirrored in Reading and, to a lesser extent, in Basingstoke.
“Apprenticeship starts nationally increased by one per cent, to cross the psychological mark of 500,000 per year.
“However, this is far short of the Government target of 600,000 per year.
“Given the momentum behind apprenticeships and the Government focus, I had expected that the rate of apprenticeship starts would pick up last year.
“It now appears less likely that the target of three million starts this parliament will be achieved.
“With a series of profound changes due in April, the biggest of which is the Apprentice Levy, there is a danger that take-up of apprenticeships could fall further.
“There are increasing calls for the apprenticeship changes to be delayed or phased in to ensure that employers remain confident in the programme.”