Ministers 'in the dark' over Skillseeker costs

THE arguments over value for money on school-leavers' training projects broke out again this week following the report on Scottish Enterprise's Skillseekers training programme by the Parliament's audit committee.

The all-party report criticised both the management and the accountability of the pound;70 million programme and condemned the Scottish Executive for its "arm's length" approach to whether the training represents value for money. The committee has demanded an assurance by next April of more accurate management information, the inadequacy of which Scottish Enterprise was warned about in 1995-96.

The report states: "Throughout our inquiry we were struck by the historic lack of data underpinning Scottish Enterprise's expenditure decisions. Quite clearly, their management systems deliver insufficient information on the actual costs of training and the achievements of trainees."

The inquiry, which covers only lowland Scotland, was launched following a critical report by the National Audit Office which found that up to three-quarters of employers would have trainedyoung workers up to Vocational Qualifications (VQs) standards even without the programme.

The Audit Office estimated that half of trainees in a particular cohort had not achieved a VQ.

Scottish Enterprise responded: "The question of judging whether training would have taken place or not is difficult to assess, particularly as Skillseekers offers a guarantee of a training place to young people. However, we are confident that, even where training may have taken place anyway, it would not have been provided to the same quality without Skillseekers support."

The agency added that the quality of training had improved since 1992, when only 18 per cent were achieving a recognised qualification compared with 50 per cent now - despite a pound;25 million reduction in spending on the programme in the past three years.

The audit committee wants the attainment targets tested and improvements made to the follow-up survey of trainees who leave the programme before their training is completed. Scottish Enterprise says that a progress report will be provided next year.

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