Apprenticeship funding and youth employment must be protected if training and development of the future hospitality workforce are to be a cornerstone of the country’s economic recovery, sector leaders have said.

In a joint letter to the Treasury, UKHospitality, The BBPA and over 70 cross-sector leaders have urged ministers to work with them to secure funding and ensure the sector can play a key part in rebuilding career pathways post-pandemic.

They have called for assurance that existing apprenticeships, suspended due to the pandemic, can be completed and that companies will continue to be allowed to access funding, as well as a 12-month freeze on the expiry of all Apprenticeship Levy funding for businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector.

The letter, which was co-signed by the likes of Azzurri chief executive Steve Holmes, Yo Sushi’s Richard Hodgson and Fuller’s Simon Emeny, follows a continued rise in unemployment caused by the pandemic.

Unemployment across the economy has increased to 1.74 million people, 5.1% of the workforce and up 454,000 in a year, with hospitality alone losing more than 500,000 roles throughout the crisis.

“As we look forward to rebuilding our businesses, our people, including apprentices, will be at the heart of our plans, and we have a track record on increasing apprenticeship starts each year since 2015,” the letter said.

“However, for us to be able to do this fully we need maximum access to the funds we have continued to pay through the Apprenticeship Levy. Over the last year of lockdowns and restrictions we have simply been unable to spend the levy funds on our apprenticeship programmes. These funds are now at risk of expiring and being lost to the purpose for which they were intended – upskilling the UK workforce.”