Concerns over Train to Gain budgets and the impending machinery of government changes loomed over an otherwise bullish gathering of independent learning providers this week.
There appeared to be little comfort for delegates at the Association of Learning Providers' conference on the Train to Gain budget, with Sion Simon, the further education minister, expected to confirm the need for spending restraint next year.
Training providers have warned there may be fewer places next year because of anticipated reductions in their Train to Gain budgets, despite the programme's overall allocation being increased to Pounds 925 million. They had hoped for good news from Mr Simon on Thursday.
Speaking to FE Focus earlier in the week, Mr Simon confirmed the Pounds 925m funding and said: "No budget is unlimited, and it's important that we manage government spending properly.
"The Learning and Skills Council is working hard with providers to agree maximum contract values which will enable delivery of flexible support to employers."
In his speech to conference, Martin Dunford, the association's chairman, voiced members' frustrations over Train to Gain. "It was only after a totally unnecessary return of Pounds 100 million of underspend, together with increasing political embarrassment, that the LSC, in conjunction with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, decided last autumn to `cut and paste' the ALP's earlier proposals to produce their new flexibilities for the programme. Surprise, surprise, they worked."
Mr Dunford also voiced fears that independent providers will suffer a lower profile when the LSC is wound up next year and funding responsibilities are given to local authorities and the new Skills Funding Agency.
"Let's be quite clear, our view is that the changes overall are unlikely to be helpful. They have already caused huge concern," he said.
"Having fought long and hard to increase the visibility of independent providers to ministers, civil servants and the LSC, we are now having to replicate our case."
John Freeman, director of the Raising Expectations Action Programme (React) at the Local Government Association, told FE Focus that even the larger independent providers were invisible to many in local government.
"The challenge I am proposing to learning providers is to go and talk to local authorities and explain what you do. You cannot expect them to know about you," he said.
The ALP and React are developing a prospectus setting out what independent learning providers can deliver and a protocol of how arrangements should proceed between the new commissioning bodies and independent providers.