Caps to be imposed on training funding

The amount of government money that goes into funding apprenticeships and training schemes is to be limited following the unprecedented level of take-up among employers.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is currently in discussion with training providers over the present scale of public funding but it has said that the huge demand from employers for help in improving workplace skills has meant that caps have to be imposed on how much money is available.

In a letter to training providers, the LSC wrote that the increases in demand for training were very encouraging, particularly at a time of economic downturn, but added that “left unchecked, Train to Gain and 25 Apprenticeship activity will exceed the budget allocations we have available in the 2009-10 financial year and create further pressures in the 2009/10 academic year and beyond”.

John Denham, the Skills Secretary, has endorsed the capping: “It is good news that companies across England are maintaining their productivity and planning for their future by training their staff. We are providing nearly £1 billion of investment this year through Train to Gain to support them. However, no budget is unlimited and it is important that we manage government spending properly.”

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills confirmed that talks between the LSC and training providers were taking place, although it insisted that the Train to Gain scheme, which is the government’s flagship skills programme, will not be put at risk by the funding restrictions.

A spokeswoman said: “The Train to Gain budget is not being cut, but increased demand means that we are reverting to the normal practice of asking providers to work within maximum contract values for the rest of this academic year.”

Nevertheless, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) voiced worries over the implications for investment in workforce skills.

The business organisation argued that the LSC’s ongoing message that it was imperative more firms invest in training, especially during a recession, had meant that large numbers of training providers recruited heavily amongst employers.

Now, the BCC said, there is a risk that some of those providers will not receive funding and will have to turn away employers who want to take part in apprenticeship schemes and the Train to Gain programme.

David Frost, the BCC’s director general, added: “Employers understand that investing in training is crucial, especially during a downturn. However, a failure in government accounting means many who seek public funding will be disappointed to find that the taps have been turned off.

“With training providers now having to turn away employers who wish to train their staff, many are asking how the LSC could have so badly taken its eye off the ball?”