Page last updated at 02:53 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Training scheme was 'mismanaged'

The Train to Gain scheme aims to improve workers' skills

A £1.5bn government initiative to improve the skill levels of employees has been heavily criticised by MPs.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said England's Train to Gain scheme was "mismanaged" since its launch in 2006.

The MPs said the targets set were "unrealistically ambitious", leading to a £150m under-spend in the first two years and then an over-spend of £50m.

The Learning and Skills Council who ran the scheme denied any over-spend, saying budgets had been re-prioritised.

But in a report published on Thursday, the committee said there had been "serious weaknesses" in the way the LSC had managed the scheme, which comes under Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The report acknowledged that the programme had helped 1.4 million learners - about 5% of the workforce - by the summer of last year summer.

Employers and employees alike value the programme
Skills minister Kevin Brennan

But unrealistic targets led to an under-spend of £150m (out of a budget of £747m) in the first two years; the following year, a failure to anticipate increased demand because of the recession led to an overspend of £50m.

Success rates for too many providers had been lower than expected, the MPs' report said.

It also said £112m spent on skills advisers was not good value for money.

Half of the employers whose staff received training under the scheme said they would have arranged similar training without the public subsidy, the report said.

It is not the first time the LSC has come under fire. Last year its chief executive resigned over accusations of mismanagement of another government programme - a scheme to rebuild college buildings in England.

'Unrealistically ambitious'

Committee chairman Conservative MP Edward Leigh said: "Despite providing work-based training for around 5% of the workforce, the Train to Gain programme has been mismanaged from the outset.

"In the face of evidence of what was achievable, targets for the first two years were unrealistically ambitious. The number of learners, the level of demand from employers and the capacity of training providers were at first all overestimated.

"By the third year, demand for training, fuelled by substantially widened eligibility for the programme and by the recession, had increased to the point where the programme could no longer be afforded."

Mr Leigh said funding to training providers had been stop-start, with many now having to run down the capacity they had been encouraged to build up.

He said spending must be brought under control and funds directed at the training and sectors with the most acute needs.


However, the LSC said the scheme had been made more flexible to meet the needs of employers during the recession

A statement said the LSC had reprioritised budgets to provide an additional £50m of funding for the programme in 2008/9.

"This action ensured that the LSC kept a firm grip on demand and spending, meaning that at no point did the LSC overspend its budget.

The LSC added: "We recognise this has presented difficulties for colleges and training organisations to manage their contracts and to maintain their relationships with employers.

"However, the programme has enabled 70% of employers to access training for staff who they had not trained before; and 69% trained more staff than they could have otherwise.

"The report acknowledges that learners and employers have seen direct benefits of the Train to Gain service."

1.4m qualilfications

It added that research had shown employers were very supportive of the scheme which had increased productivity in their businesses which would be invaluable when the upturn emerged.

Skills minister Kevin Brennan defended the scheme, saying it had benefited thousands of workers.

"Train to Gain has increased the productivity of businesses, and given tens of thousands of employees the opportunity to improve their skills," he said.

"This is particularly important during a recession which is why the government responded quickly and flexibly to adjust the Train to Gain offer.

"We don't agree that our targets for Train to Gain have been unrealistically ambitious. Over 1.4 million qualifications have been started through Train to Gain, and over 850,000 have been completed since 2006. Evidence shows employers and employees alike value the programme."

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