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NAO questions value of Train to Gain programme

Financial mismanagement, over-ambitious initial targets and inconsistent implementation over the lifetime of the scheme reduced its efficiency, finds Audit Office report

The National Audit Office is calling for evidence that the Train to Gain programme delivers value for money and that operational inefficiencies have been ironed out since the scheme started in 2006.

In a report – Train to Gain: Developing the skills of the workforce – it cites a succession of poor practices for the programme’s claimed failure to provide taxpayers with a return on a £1.5bn investment.

“Inconsistent management contributed to a slow start to the programme, followed by rapid growth and now the risk of demand exceeding budgets,” wrote Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office (NAO) in the report’s conclusion.

“We also need to see evidence that money is directed more to areas of greatest need, with training providers who do the best job for their learners and on bringing the whole range of business benefits to employers.”

The report added that initial targets were “unrealistically ambitious” and that inconsistent implementation reduced the efficiency of the programme.

The NAO’s report did offer praise for some areas of the scheme:

  • learners benefitting from improved work skills at a basic level, where surveys of employers provided evidence of improved business performance;
  • a boost in self-confidence for the learners: many of the 554,100 learners achieved a qualification for the first time;
  • many of the 143,400 employers who provided advice on skills training were with ‘hard to reach’ businesses that had previously provided little or no training for staff.

However, the report concludes that the programme should focus on improvements in its management and communication among employers, training providers and brokers to avoid a repetition of the mistakes it said hampered the programme’s value.

Additional findings

  • Take-up was much lower than expected at first, leading to under-spending and the need for changes in eligibility to increase learner numbers
  • IT problems meant budgets were allocated prematurely due to a lack of reliable management information for the 2008/09 academic year
  • Learners’ success rates varied between training providers. In 2006-07, success rates ranged from 8 to 99 per cent for the largest 100 providers. Most training providers are above the ‘minimum standard’; however, one quarter of the largest providers was performing below the minimum
  • A half of employers whose employees received training would have arranged similar training without public subsidy
  • The Department and the Learning Skills Council must avoid disruption from the transition to the Skills Funding Agency, a new body which will become responsible for distributing government cash to colleges and other training programmes