By Daniel Hunter

As part of his continued campaign to boost employment opportunities in the capital the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has allocated £1.5m to help London-based small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) take on young people as apprentices.

With more than 800,000 SMEs and a combined turnover of £430 billion, the Mayor believes the SME sector is central to the continued strength of the capital’s economy and to ensuring that young Londoners in search of work are helped on to the career ladder.

The fund, approved by the London Enterprise Panel (LEP), means that SMEs will be able to apply for a £3,000 incentive payment through the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) — nationally the incentive payment available to employers is £1,500. It is estimated that the funding boost could help to create a further 1,000 new places in London. The news comes as the most recent employment statistics show that private sector employment is up by 6.5 per cent in the capital, compared with 3.2 per cent in the rest of the country.

The investment is part of a £111million pot secured by the Mayor from the Government's Growing Places fund to support the work of the LEP. The money is being invested in sectors the LEP has prioritised as vital for London's growth including support for small and medium businesses; infrastructure development; raising skills and employment opportunities; and boosting growth in digital, science, technology and creative industries.

So far the Mayor’s campaign with NAS has seen the creation of more than 100,000 apprenticeships in the capital since 2010 and, as outlined in his newly published ‘2020 Vision: Ambitions for London’, he has set an ambitious target of creating 250,000 by the end of 2016.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of the capital’s economy and central to providing employment opportunities for talented young Londoners. Companies that have already taken on apprentices know the difference they can make to the bottom line and so we want to encourage more firms to get on board. This incentive is aimed specifically at SMEs and I’m urging company bosses from all corners of the capital to check out how it can benefit them and the wider London economy.”

Vic Grimes, Divisional Apprenticeship Director, National Apprenticeship Service, London and the South East said: “Apprenticeships deliver for businesses, young people and the economy which is why we work extremely hard to help employers in the capital to expand their Apprenticeship offering. There has never been a better time to recruit an apprentice and we are delighted to welcome the additional incentive now available to SMEs in London, which will go a long way to achieving the Mayor’s ambition of creating 250,000 more Apprenticeships by 2016. “I hope more organisations will now be encouraged to consider the benefits offered by Apprenticeships and reap the rewards of a more motivated, skilled and qualified workforce.”

Tim Campbell, the Mayor’s Ambassador for Training and Enterprise, said “The welcome news that the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers has been increased to £3000 for eligible SMEs is exactly what will encourage more firms to take on their first apprentice. Building on the excellent recommendations from Jason Holt’s review last year, this enhanced payment will help us to tap into what is a really crucial segment of London’s economy and help get more young Londoners into work.

“SME owners who have already taken on apprentices have seen the huge value that motivated, productive and loyal young people bring to their small businesses and I’d urge more to step forward and make use of the financial support that’s available to them. Working with the Mayor’s team and the London Enterprise Panel we hope this announcement boosts the numbers of SME employers we can work with to take advantage of the wealth of emerging talent in the capital.”

Sue Terpilowski, London Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses and member of the LEP, said: “The Federation of Small Businesses supports the move to increase the employer incentive for taking on an apprentice to £3,000. Small businesses are keen to take on staff, especially apprentices, however the costs of operating in London act as a deterrent which is why we have long argued for the smallest businesses in the capital to be recompensed for employing staff.”

The announcement of the funding incentive for SMEs comes shortly after the Mayor launched a new concessionary travel scheme for apprentices, which allows anyone in the first year of an apprenticeship to get 30 per cent off adult rate Travelcards and Bus & Tram pass season tickets. The scheme is expected to benefit around 40,000 apprentices living and working in the capital and could save an apprentice up to £660 a year on the cost of an annual travel card.

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