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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 10:09 GMT
Job scheme lambasted by watchdog
Builders at work
The training scheme has been criticised
A Northern Ireland training programme has been described as one of the worst run schemes in recent years, by a parliamentary watchdog.

The Jobskills programme, run by the Department for Employment and Learning, began in 1995 and has cost 485m.

Public Accounts Committee chairman Edward Leigh said there was an "astonishing catalogue of failures and control weaknesses".

The scheme had a dropout rate of almost 50%, the committee said.

It also found that in many instances the skills young people were being trained in did not match those needed by businesses.

However, a quarter of employers were using the sheme on "a rolling basis" as a source of low-cost labour, according to the committee.

"While we readily acknowledge that it has to deal with some very difficult groups of young people, this does not explain the widespread shortcomings in supervision and control that existed," Mr Leigh said.

Glenn Barr, who has been involved in training programmes in Londonderry for 20 years, said he was not surprised at the findings.

Needs

"It certainly wasn't delivering the needs of employers in this area or delivering the needs of the young people," Mr Barr said.

"There is no logic in the way that this government, and the civil service in particular, are operating these training problems."

Bill Jeffrey, the former head of the Federation of Small Businesses, said successive employment and learning ministers had to take much of the blame.

"Over a period of 10 years there was a variety of our own ministers and fly-in ministers who were responsible for that," he said

"Their fingerprints are on it and I think every single one of them should be ashamed and worse than that I think their parties failed to call them to account."

He said the business community would be "appalled" by the report.

Jobskills focuses on people for whom an academic education is inappropriate and provides an alternative route to qualifications, through the attainment of National Vocational Qualifications.

In the Committee's opinion, this points towards a disturbing degree of incompetence, indifference or both
Public Accounts Committee

The programme is delivered by about 100 training organisations and by March 2003, Jobskills had catered for some 76,000 young people and 17,000 adults.

The committee's report said Jobskills had not received the senior management attention it deserved.

The committee said that one of the most damning aspects of the Department's handling of the programme was the extent to which a number of fundamental weaknesses - such as poor quality training and high levels of early leaving from the scheme - persisted over many years.

The report said there was "little evidence" of the department having tackled these problems with any great vigour, before a review by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

"In the committee's opinion, this points towards a disturbing degree of incompetence, indifference or both," the report said.

The MPs said the scheme had received "enormous" funding but concluded it provided "poor value for money" and said there were concerns "about the quality of training, the poor performance of a number of training providers, the limited employment impact of the programme and the substantial 'skills mismatch' between Jobskills and the needs of Northern Ireland economy".

The committee also criticised the "poor quality" of the Department's answers to a number of its questions.

"Too many responses either failed to properly address the question or sought to defend what was clearly indefensible," it said.

"The committee makes it clear that this is not acceptable and has asked the Department of Finance and Personnel to emphasise to all Northern Ireland Departments the importance which they attach to accurate and unambiguous responses to their enquiries."




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