Rishi Sunak is promising to create up to 20,000 more apprenticeships with a series of reforms including fully funding training for young people and cutting red tape for small businesses.

The government will pay the full cost of apprenticeships for people aged 21 or under at small firms from 1 April.

To enable this, it is pledging £60m of new investment for next year.

Labour said after 14 years of Tory “economic failure”, small firms were finding things “harder and harder”.

In a speech to a conference for small businesses in Warwickshire, the prime minister will set out a package of reforms he says will “unlock a tidal wave of opportunity”.

As well as funding the cost of apprenticeships, ministers will also raise the amount of funding companies who are paying the apprenticeship levy can pass on to other businesses.

The levy, which was introduced in 2017, is paid by large firms with the aim of creating more apprenticeship places.

But business groups have called for reforms to the levy, with millions of pounds said to be going unspent each year.

From 6 April, businesses will be able to share up to 50% of unspent funds, up from the 25% they are currently able to transfer to another employer.

Between the changes to the levy and the investment in training, the government expects to enable up to 20,000 more apprenticeships.

Mr Sunak said the government was “sticking to the plan and leaving no stone unturned to make the UK the best place to do business”.

“Taken together, these measures will unlock a tidal wave of opportunity and make a real difference to businesses and entrepreneurs across the country,” he said.

In a further reform Mr Sunak will also announce a 50% rise in the thresholds that determine a company’s size, which he hopes will make 132,000 more businesses qualify as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and therefore avoid non-financial reporting requirements.

A medium-sized business is currently defined as one which employs no more than 250 people and has an annual turnover of no more than £36m or a balance sheet total of no more than £18m, while a small business is one that employs no more than 50 people and has an annual turnover of no more than £10.2m or balance sheet total of no more than £5.1m.

Alongside other measures to streamline reporting requirements the government believes this change, which is expected to come into effect in the autumn, could save SMEs £150m per year.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said almost every job in the UK was owed to “what is, or what previously was, an SME”, describing them as the “engines of economic growth”.

She said the government was committed to doing “all it can to turbo-charge” small businesses.

Mr Sunak and other Cabinet ministers will meet business leaders at the conference which will bring together around UK 150 SMEs and business groups.

The prime minister will also announce an industry-led taskforce to bolster private investment in businesses led by women.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “After 14 years of Conservative economic failure, small business leaders tell us it is getting harder and harder to run a successful business.

“All this ongoing Conservative chaos comes with a cost as under the Tories we have a seen a record high in the number of businesses having to close their doors for good.”

He added that Labour would deliver change for business owners by “fixing business rates, tackling late payments, boosting exports and giving small businesses a fair chance at public contracts”.