A trial scheme to improve workplace training has been given an extra £40m in the Budget.
More firms will be paid for employees' training time
Chancellor Gordon Brown revealed that Employer Training Pilots (EMPs), which subsidise the firms involved for employee time lost, would be extended to six further areas of the UK.
This takes its total funding to £170m.
The scheme, started last year, already operates in Tyne and Wear, Greater Manchester, Derby, Birmingham and Solihull, Essex, and Swindon and Wiltshire
Under it, workers can gain qualifications up to GCSE level or equivalent.
It will now be implemented in Berkshire, east London, Kent, Leicester, Shropshire and South Yorkshire.
The chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, Bryan Sanderson, said: "This is great news for business, as it will allow the roll-out of pilots to many more companies around the country.
"The schemes are truly innovative. They reach companies that have never previously engaged in workforce training.
"Employers decide which type of vocational or basic skills training they require to improve business performance."
During their first five months, 1,500 employers and 7,000 have signed up to EMPs.
But the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Phil Willis, said: "The announcement is disappointing.
"The existing failure to address the skills agenda has left UK productivity levels way behind our main competitor, the US.
"Gordon Brown's sole contribution to redressing this imbalance is extending an existing pilot to six new areas. The extent of his oversight is astounding."
Paul Mackney, general secretary of the teaching union Natfhe, added: "The chancellor is taking positive steps to improve employee training and plug the UK's skills gap.
"Most of our European competitors understand that workers need time off with pay to train and update their skills.
"Hopefully this announcement is another step on the road to a fully fledged legal right for adults to take time off work to improve their skills."
In his speech, Mr Brown confirmed his promise to raise the government's total education budget from £45bn this year to £57.8bn by 2005-6.
For 2004-05, £10m has been made available for "enterprise advisers", who will work with secondary schools in deprived areas to help give pupils skills needed for employment.
The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said: "It is vital we get schools working more closely with business.
"The new enterprise advisers are an important part of this drive. We can raise young people's aspirations by giving them a taste of enterprise.
"We have consistently shown our total commitment to improving workplace skills."
But Mr Willis said: "Many schools were hoping that the Budget would bring a silver lining to what has been a dark month for finances.
"Despite considerable largesse in previous years, Gordon Brown has ignored the desperate pleas of schools in this buck-passing budget."
Mr Brown also announced a £3m increase in the Union Learning Fund, which allows trade unions to provide more vocational education for members.
The first pilot of a gap-year volunteers corps, supporting low-income school-leavers who give a year of their time to community service, will start next month.