The number of apprenticeships started by people in Northumberland has dropped to the lowest level since a Government shake-up of the system, figures show.

HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said a national drop in new starts showed the apprenticeship levy introduced in 2017 had "failed on all key measures".

Department for Education data shows people living in Northumberland started 2,240 apprenticeships in the 2019-20 academic year.

That was down 17 per cent from 2,690 in the previous year, and a 39 per cent fall from the 3,700 in 2016-17, when the levy came into effect.

Across England, 322,500 apprenticeships started last year – dropping by 18 per cent from 393,400 in 2018-19, and more than a third from 494,900 in 2016-17.

The DfE cautioned that the latest figures – which cover the academic year from August to July – were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

But it said the number of apprenticeships started across England in the academic year up to March 22 last year was still seven per cent lower compared to the same period in 2018-19.

Critics say the apprenticeship levy - a tax larger businesses pay towards a national fund for the training of apprentices - has caused confusion for employers.

Separate figures from the DfE show the number of apprenticeship starts by business size, covering 93 per cent of placements nationally.

In Northumberland, small businesses – those with fewer than 50 employees – took on 41 per cent of apprenticeship placements in 2019-20, compared with 49 per cent in 2016-17.