Defra minister Michael Gove has called for a funding shake-up to help land-based industries fill a skills shortage and close the productivity gap.
The Secretary of State said funding paid as apprenticeship levies by large companies in the sector should be diverted to help smaller operators and fix a ‘fragmented’ skills provision through greater collaboration.
He toyed with the idea at a skills summit organised by the National Land Based College, Stoneleigh, where he told about 70 delegates the UK was falling behind international rivals.
“Some of those paying the levy do not always have the capacity to train the numbers they are paying for,” Mr Gove said.
“Finding a way to get some of that levy cash further down the supply chain would be helpful. The money is there for training and should be spent on that.”
Mr Gove outlined government goals would only be achieved by working in partnership with the entire land based sector and admitted Defra needed to ‘facilitate and support’ to reverse its trend of being ‘unnecessarily framed in bureaucratic terms’.
He added: “What we want to do is move to a different method of support – and it may well be the case that there are business models that will need to change.
“Sometimes in the past I know that the relationship between Defra and its predecessor departments and farmers has been, if not antagonistic, then sometimes unnecessarily framed in bureaucratic terms.
“The men and women from the ministry dictate, interfere and regulate rather than working with, facilitating and supporting.
“I want to make sure we do everything we can in the weeks, months and years ahead as we face a specific set of challenges and opportunities to work together.”
Lord Curry of Kirkharle said improving skills was key to closing a productivity gap and work must start immediately to align with developments in Technical Education.
“As the minister said, the industry is preparing rather than prepared, for the changes ahead,” he added.
“It is so important that we are able to develop the skills to allow us to compete in terms of productivity, whereas we have been falling behind in recent years.
“We have to find a way forward which allows us to grow our productivity and also appeal to young people as fulfilling a worthwhile industry in which to make a career.”