Chancellor Philip Hammond has confirmed the launch of a national retraining scheme to help workers build the skills they need for the future economy in his 2017 Autumn Budget.
“We need to help people to retrain during their working lives,” he told the House of Commons in his Budget speech. “Ensuring that our workforce is equipped with the skills they will need for the workplace of the future.”
The plans include a partnership between the government, the CBI and the TUC to set a strategic direction for a national retraining scheme.
"Its first priority will be to boost digital skills and to support expansion of the construction sector," said Hammond. "And to make a start immediately we will invest £30 million in the development of digital skills distance learning courses, so people can learn wherever they are and whenever they want."
Hammond also announced an extra £20 million to help colleges prepare for the introduction of T-Levels – a practical alternative to A-Levels due to be introduced in 2020.
When it came to the apprenticeship levy, Hammond suggested that he was considering a review to allow businesses more flexibility on how they spend their funding. However, no further details were given.
Hammond also said he wanted to increase the number of students studying maths, and teachers who specialise in the field. Schools will be offered a £600 premium for every student who chooses to study a maths A-Level, and £40 million will be invested in training maths teachers. Additionally, the number of computer science teachers will be tripled to 12,000, said Hammond.
“More maths for everyone,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you I don’t know how to show the nation a good time!”
Hammond described productivity trends as “disappointing”, and announced that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) had lowered its predictions for productivity growth. “The OBR now expects to see GDP grow 1.5% in 2017, 1.4% in 2018, 1.3% in both 2019 and 2020, before picking back up to 1.5% [in 2021], and finally 1.6% in 2022,” he said. “The OBR has assumed at each of the last 16 fiscal events that productivity growth would return to its pre-crisis trend of about 2% a year, but it has remained stubbornly flat.”
The National Minimum Wage will rise next April from £7.50 to £7.83, Hammond said. Personal allowances are also to be raised in April 2018 to £11,850 for the lower-rate threshold and £46,350 for the higher rate. “The typical basic rate taxpayer will be £1,075 a year better off compared to 2010,” said Hammond. “And a full-time worker on the National Living Wage will take home more than £3,800 extra.”
Noticeably absent was discussion of the gig economy or any mention of IR35, which was rumoured to be extended to workers in the private sector. It had also been predicted that pensions salary sacrifice schemes were to be scrapped, but this also did not feature in Hammond’s speech.
“We resolve to look forwards not backwards... To embrace change, and not hide from it,” he concluded.