MPs criticise management of ‘Train to Gain’ programme

21 Jan 10
The Public Accounts Committee has slammed the financial management of the government’s £2bn flagship workforce training programme
By Lucy Phillips

21 January 2010

The Public Accounts Committee has slammed the financial management of the government’s £2bn flagship workforce training programme.

The MPs said the Learning and Skills Council ‘mismanaged’ Train to Gain from the outset. The programme started ‘badly’ in 2006 with over-ambitious targets and under-spending. It became unaffordable in its third year after eligibility rules were relaxed during the recession, creating too much demand from employers, the January 21 report added. 

PAC chair Edward Leigh said spending needed to be brought under control.

‘In the light of the experience gained over the past three years of what courses and qualifications have proved most valuable, funds need to be directed at the training [areas] and sectors with the most acute needs,’ he said.

The findings back up a report published by the National Audit Office in the summer that concluded that the £1.47bn spent on Train to Gain up to March last year had not been used effectively. The NAO showed that, by the end of 2008/09, half of the employers who used the £900m funding from the programme to train their employees would have done so anyway, without taxpayer subsidy. Leigh said this finding was ‘sobering to say the least’.

The Association of Colleges echoed his concern and called on the government ‘to ensure that management of the programme does not induce over-commitment in colleges and other providers’.   
Skills minister Kevin Brennan said: ‘We don’t agree that our targets for Train to Gain have been unrealistically ambitious… Over 850,000 [qualifications] have been completed since 2006.

 ‘Evidence shows employers and employees alike value the programme. Although some employers said they would have offered training to their staff, not all do and the training may not be of the same quality as Train to Gain and lead to a qualification for their staff.’

A recent report by Right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange said the government should scrap its ‘wasteful’ Train to Gain programme and give money directly to employers to set up their own apprenticeship schemes.
Ralph Hartley, a research fellow in Policy Exchange’s education unit, told Public Finance: ‘Train to Gain is a perfect example of what is wrong with the current approach to skills provision in this country. It is characterised by centrally set targets, determined by what the government (and not employers and individuals) think is valuable and worthwhile training.’

The Conservatives have not yet confirmed if they would scrap Train to Gain altogether but have pledged to divert much of the programme’s funding towards apprenticeships.    

The LSC is to be abolished in April, with its responsibilities handed to local authorities and a new Skills Funding Agency.

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