Train to Gain targets were “unrealistically ambitious” and the government initiative to boost employees’ skills has been “mismanaged” since its launch in 2006, the Public Accounts Committee said today.
Although the programme had been successful in supporting roughly five per cent of the workforce since last summer, Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said there had been “serious weaknesses” in the way it was managed by the Learning and Skills Council.
“Funding to training providers has been stop-start, with many now having to run down the capacity they had been encouraged to build up. Employers with new requirements are being turned away,” said Mr Leigh.
The report found Train to Gain underspent by £151 million in its first two years, against a budget of £747 million.
The Government was forced to defend accusations of wasting vital resources after it was also revealed half of employers taking part in the programme would have arranged similar training without the public subsidy.
Kevin Brennan, Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, rejected criticism of the multi-million pound programme.
At today’s joint Association of Colleges and Association of Learning Providers skills conference, Mr Brennan defended Train to Gain, saying its success had “led to quality training and qualifications for a lot of people who wouldn’t have received it.”
Although later funding cuts to the programme were not ruled out by the Minister, he cemented its future in policy, saying: “Train to Gain remains a big part of the skills landscape as far as I’m concerned and as far as the Government is concerned.”
What to do with the controversial scheme is fast becoming an intensive election battle line, with the Conservatives signalling their intention to scrap it.
David Willetts, Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills, told the same conference that the committee’s report supported his arguments to shift funding from Train to Gain to “better priorities”.
Mr Willetts said: “We have identified that Train to Gain is, we believe, currently the least effective part of the [skills] programme, and that’s why we are trying to use some of the Train to Gain funding to support Apprenticeships and more pre-Apprenticeship training and places in FE colleges.”
Mr Brennan, however, argued that Labour’s investment in skills had already made a significantly positive impact on the nation.
“Apprenticeships were withering on the vine before we came to power,” he said.
“There’s over three-times more apprentices now in the UK. The rate of success in Apprenticeships was about a third previously, it’s now reached – for the first time – over 70 per cent. This shows there’s been an improvement both in quantity and in the quality around Apprenticeships. And … big investment in Train to Gain. We’ve been criticised for making that investment but I think our investment was very important.”