Published: 09:50, 25 January 2021
| Updated: 10:14, 25 January 2021
The Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce has hit out at changes being made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to the much-trumpeted Kickstart scheme.
Launched in September, it is designed to fund job placements and essential job skills for 16-24-year-olds currently claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment as a result of the pandemic.
Employers offering positions would receive a £1,500 training grant from Whitehall in addition to the state subsidising wages for six months.
When announced, firms could apply directly to the Department for Work and Pensions if they had at least 30 vacancies available.
For those wishing to hire smaller numbers, potential recruits could be accessed via 'gateways' - often collaborations between local business organisations and educational institutions.
In Kent, it was announced in October the Kent Invicta Chamber, which represents businesses across the county, had teamed up with the EKC Group, MidKent and North Kent colleges to serve up the programme with a view to offering the best possible support and training.
Gateways would receive £300 for each placement to cover administration costs. Gateways and employers were free to come to "suitable arrangement" on how the training support would be provided.
But the Treasury has now scrapped the 30 vacancy limit - claiming some gateways were charging the employers the full £1,500. It could now mean firms circumnavigate the gateways to access the funding.
And that has left the gateway set up by the county chamber and our colleges fuming after they invested considerable sums to "do the right thing" and help ease a growing youth unemployment crisis.
Jo James, CEO of the Kent Invicta Chamber said, “This is very disappointing to hear that other gateways have failed to see the principle beyond this scheme and instead have put their own interests first.
"We've invested a lot of time, money and effort in setting our gateway up because we believe it is the right thing to do to help young people.
"The chamber has always accepted that this scheme is designed to tackle what will be a growing issue of youth unemployment over the next few years as we recover from the economic crisis and it is paramount that the needs of the employer and the young person are at the heart of any gateway offer.
“When we registered as a gateway, we made sure the employers have a choice of organising their own employability skills training and retaining the full £1,500 grant or contributing £300 to access extensive wrap-around support from the further education colleges in the county with the option to access additional funding programmes.
"Despite the Chancellor’s statement we will continue to work with employers and FE colleges to offer a great value for money service and ensure we play our part in supporting the Kent economy to come back better”.
The chamber’s gateway offer has already secured over 600 placements from nearly 400 employers and will continue to be open to all.
The chamber chief added: "This scheme was announced by government without the systems in place to deliver and this has caused fustration for business and to us as a gateway. I’m pleased to say working alongside DWP in Kent we have sorted out all the processes and applications are now being processed and young people getting into work, which is what the scheme is all about."
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Young people are among the hardest hit in times like these, which is why we’re doing everything we can to ensure they’re not left without hope and opportunity. The Kickstart scheme is central to this.
“With £2 billion available and no limit on the number of places, it’s now easier than ever for businesses across Great Britain to take part.”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey added: “Kickstart has moved up a gear and I encourage employers to join us and invest in the next generation of talent by joining our Kickstart scheme.
“By removing the threshold of a minimum 30 jobs for direct applications, we are making it even simpler to get involved.
“Now is the time to prepare for post-lockdown placements and employers will now have a choice to apply direct or through one of our 600 fantastic Kickstart gateways who may be locally connected or sector-specific providing that tailored support.”