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Rishi Sunak’s Budget received mixed reviews, but there’s good news on skills and jobs

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The 2021 Budget was always going to be difficult. As a result of the pandemic (and possibly the ongoing economic instability of Brexit, whether temporary or permanent), UK GDP shrank by 9.9% in 2020, the biggest fall in 300 years (though it grew by 1% in the last quarter of 2020).

According to the latest Office for National Statistics data, 18% of the UK workforce are still furloughed. Meanwhile, 45% of businesses currently trading and 66% of temporarily paused/closed companies have cash reserves of less than six months.

Yet there was plenty in the Budget for skills and jobs, with the extension of schemes to retain business stability and employment, and a gradual rolling out of skills training for the most precarious.

The Chancellor made the following announcements which will be of particular interest to those in the education, skills and employability sectors:

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough)

  • The Government is extending the CJRS for a further five months from April until the end of September 2021.
  • Employees will continue to receive 80% of their current salary for hours not worked.
  • There will be no employer contributions beyond National Insurance and pensions contributions required in April, May and June.
  • From July, the Government will introduce an employer contribution towards the cost of unworked hours of 10% in July, 20% in August and 20% in September as the economy reopens.


  • The Government will provide an additional £126 million in England for high-quality work placements and training for 16- to 24-year-olds in the 2021/22 academic year.
  • Employers who provide trainees with work experience will continue to be funded at a rate of £1,000 per trainee.


  • The government will extend and increase the payments made to employers in England who hire new apprentices.
  • Employers who hire a new apprentice between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021 will receive £3,000 per new hire, compared with £1,500 per new apprentice hire (or £2,000 for those aged 24 and under) under the previous scheme.
  • This is in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the Government provides for all new 16- to 18-year-old apprentices and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan, where that applies.
  • The government will introduce a £7 million fund from July 2021 to help employers in England set up and expand portable or flexi-job apprenticeships.
  • Employers will be invited to bring forward proposals. In particular, the Creative Industries Council will be asked to do so in recognition of the potential benefits of this new approach for the creative sector, where temporary contracts are the norm.

Low Pay Commission 2021 remit

  • The Government has published its remit for the Low Pay Commission (LPC) for 2021.
  • The remit asks the LPC to make UK-wide recommendations with the aim of reaching the Government’s target for a National Living Wage of two-thirds of median earnings, extended to those aged 21 and over by 2024, provided economic conditions allow.

High-skilled immigration

  • By March 2022, the government will introduce an elite points-based visa, with a ’scale-up’ stream enabling those with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa.
  • The government will reform the Global Talent visa to allow holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise to automatically qualify.
  • It will review the Innovator visa to make it easier for those with the skills and experience to obtain a visa to set up an innovative business.
  • A new Global Business Mobility visa is to be launched by spring 2022 for overseas businesses to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK.
  • The government will publish a delivery roadmap in the summer on modernising immigration sponsorship.

Alongside the Budget 2021, the Government has also published ‘Build Back Better: our plan for growth’, setting out plans to support economic growth through investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation.

The government still has a long way to go on skills, particularly to set out an overarching strategy on skills with a comprehensible policy roadmap for employers and learners supported by sufficient and long-term funding. But the breadth of measures shows that the government is taking skills and the scale of the emergency seriously – an important rung on the ladder to reskilling the nation.

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