A Cumbrian academic has called on the new Government to consider changes to the apprenticeship levy system, after a leading trade body said it was in "urgent need of reform".

Professor Andy Gale, who is director of innovation for the Institute for Business, Industry and Leadership at the University of Cumbria, said there was a need to simplify the system to increase the number of businesses employing apprentices.

Last month, a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found only 31 per cent of levy-paying employers had increased spending on apprenticeships since it was introduced in 2017.

Official figures show apprenticeship starts fell by more than a quarter to 375,000 in the same period.

Prof Gale said the system and the apprenticeship standards on offer were "very complicated", which in itself discouraged take up.

"If you invent something that is too complicated to explain, then it is not well designed," he said.

He said there was also a need for a better awareness of the type of apprenticeships and careers on offer at schools, among teachers and careers advisers, to encourage young people to take them up.

At the same time there was a need for more flexibility, so people could complete shorter term professional development courses and still have them funded by the levy, he said.

"Say an SME needs staff to be level four in diagnostic skills," he said.

"That doesn't necessarily require someone to have a degree. It would require a module or 40 to 60 credits worth of training. At the moment that wouldn't be funded through the levy."

Under the levy, every employer with a pay bill of £3m or more must pay a 0.5 per cent tax on their payroll.

They can reclaim money through vouchers from the government to spend on apprenticeships.

They can also invest a quarter of their funds in training for members of the supply chain, who do not pay the levy.

"I don't think that's being taken up," said Prof Gale.

"The concept is fundamentally sound, but make it simpler and make it more flexible."