Scotland would be “entirely bankrupt” and probably “scuttling” for help had it secured independence, a business minister has claimed.
Conservative frontbencher Nick Boles told MPs he would use a meeting with oil and gas companies to discuss not only concerns over an apprenticeship tax but also their views on the SNP’s oil revenue predictions ahead of last year’s independence referendum.
His criticism came after Hannah Bardell, the SNP’s business spokeswoman, warned the Government’s apprenticeship levy could result in oil and gas firms being charged twice when it comes to training.
During last month’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced a levy on companies to fund apprenticeships will be set at 0.5 per cent of an employer’s pay bill.
This will come into force from April 2017 and is expected to raise £3 billion in an attempt to fund three million apprenticeships.
The Government says the levy will only be paid on employers’ pay bills over £3 million, resulting in fewer than 2 per cent of UK employers paying it.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Bardell told Mr Boles: “As you will appreciate, the oil and gas industry faces its own distinct challenges at present and I know from my engagement with companies in the sector that there is significant concern that this levy may represent a second charge, with many oil and gas companies already paying levies to industry trading bodies.
“It also represents an additional cost to these companies at a time when controlling business costs is of paramount importance.
“Will you commit to meeting with I and my colleagues and a delegation from the industry to hear their concerns and discuss how the apprenticeship levy scheme can be designed to take account of these circumstances?”
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Mr Boles replied: “Of course I’ll be delighted to meet you and that delegation.
“But I’ll be asking them what they thought of your party’s plans for Scotland’s economy that rested upon oil prices at a 100 (US) dollars a barrel, which would now see an independent Scotland entirely bankrupt and probably scuttling to the IMF (International Monetary Fund).”