Influential business partnership for Coastal West Sussex (CWS)  joined the Gatwick Diamond Initiative and hit out at a government decision which could see a drastic drop in the number of small firm apprenticeships on offer in the region.

Government has awarded no funding for the Universities of Chichester and Brighton to run apprenticeship schemes on behalf of small and medium sized businesses despite growing demand in the area.  The Further Education Colleges received only about 50% of their requirements.

The South East as a whole has fared badly in the funding announcement despite the universities and colleges working hard with local businesses to grow demand and offer apprenticeships particularly in the digital, construction and engineering industries.

Now CWS chairman Geoff Edwards has written to the government’s Apprenticeships Minister Anne Milton calling for an urgent rethink.

In the letter, which has also been sent to all MPs covering the Coastal West Sussex region Mr Edwards, Executive Vice President of UK Operations at the high-end audio company Bowers and Wilkins says he is “very disappointed” by the outcome.

“This curtailed funding will force education providers to work with just the Levy paying employers which, along the coast, are few and far between as only a small percentage of companies are large enough to actually pay the Apprenticeship Levy in this area,” he writes.

Director of CWS, Caroline Wood added, “This is extremely disappointing particularly given the hard work that has already gone into creating these courses and growing the demand,” said director Caroline Wood, “Some courses will have to be scrapped despite there being demand from local people and businesses.

“This is short-sighted thinking by the government ignores the very real need smaller businesses have in the Coastal West Sussex region for young people with new skills to help local businesses develop their markets.”

In particular the University of Chichester had been developing a broad range of  Degree Apprenticeships and is about to open a new, £38M Engineering and Digital Technology Centre in Bognor Regis which would also have offered apprenticeships including Digital Degree Apprenticeships for which there is a desperate shortage in the area.

Now with no allocation of funding those are in serious doubt.

Skills levels at apprenticeship level in the coastal area are 11% lower than the rest of the region and the CWS Partnership says the new Centre in Bognor Regis with strong links to local small and medium businesses offered career pathway opportunities to inspire local young people and support the wider education led regeneration of the area.

The nearest university to win funding is in Portsmouth making it very difficult and costly for new apprentices on day release to attend.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (Esfa) funding was announced just before Christmas with big differences in the regional winners and losers.

The figures are for non-levy apprenticeships which the government funds for businesses with an annual paybill of less than £3m. Levy employers, usually larger companies, will be unaffected by this move.

Coastal West Sussex Partnership has been very active in promoting apprenticeships and the importance of STEM educational subjects, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so that young people in the area can gain the skills needed by local businesses.

CWS is running its third Coastal STEMfest this year; an interactive series of events aimed at inspiring young people, particularly girls, to take STEM subjects to meet the growing national and local demand.

STEMfest culminates in the Big Bang at Butlins in Bognor Regis on March 8 – a whole day of exciting workshops inspiring  the scientists, engineers and mathematicians of the future.