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Chancellor demands a kickback

The centrepiece of the Budget, the Pounds 3.5 billion welfare-to-work programme, vividly underlines the implications for education as the service becomes linked to the country's economic fortunes more firmly than ever.

Mr Brown declared: "We cannot run a first-rate economy on the basis of second-rate education. In general, economic success tomorrow will depend on investing in our schools today."

The Chancellor observed that many of the problems which the welfare-to-work programme will have to address in getting 25,000 Scots aged 16-25 off benefit and into jobs or training start in school.

The same theme was prevalent in the announcement of a national childcare strategy, which he said would no longer be an afterthought or a fringe element of social policies "but, as it should be, an integral part of our economic policy".

The Government's plans include the use of the windfall tax on the utilities to train 50,000 under-25s as childcare assistants over five years. Lone parents on benefit will also get help with childcare costs and lottery money will fund after-school clubs for primary-age children. Children in Scotland welcomed these moves.

Welfare to work, worth Pounds 350 million in Scotland over five years, will start in a number of "pathfinder areas" in Scotland in January before going nationwide in April.

Young people will be expected to take up the four options of a full-time education or training place, or jobs lasting six months with a voluntary organisation, the environmental task force or an employer that will be offered a Pounds 60 weekly subsidy per recruit. Although the 16-hour rule will be relaxed to allow young people to receive benefit while studying, state support will be reduced if they do not take up places.

The programme poses major challenges for the further education colleges and the careers service, which will have a role in the "gateway" induction process and in offering guidance once young people have been on one of the options.

But Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, warned that more money was needed, particularly if colleges were to help "more difficult-to-reach groups".

It was "perverse" to say that quality buildings, equipment and classroom resources were essential to learning in schools but not apparently in colleges.

But Dermot Dick, who chairs the Association of Careers Services in Scotland, warned: "The professional expertise is there but it needs to be freed up. We would not wish to serve new clients at the expense of our core service for schools and colleges."

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