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MSPs to scrutinise learning accounts

LEGISLATION that gives ministers power to introduce individual learning accounts (ILAs) passed through its first parliamentary stage last week and now goes for detailed scrutiny to the enterprise and lifelong learning committee.

MSPs on the committee largely welcomed the new Education and Training (Scotland) Bill but complained there was insufficient detail about how the new accounts would work.

Nicol Stephen, Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, agreed with John Swinney, the committee's chairman, that new accounts must be opened by those least likely to learn if the initiative is to be a success, not just by those in a job or in training.

But Mr Stephen opposed the use of quotas and said effective marketing through learndirectscotland and the active involvement of local enterprise companies was the way ahead.

Ministers have put up pound;23million to persuade 100,000 people to open learning accounts by 2002. The Executive will give pound;150 for every learner who contributes pound;25.

There will be learning discounts starting at 20 per cent and rising to 80 per cent for basic courses in numeracy, literacy and computer skills.

Mr Stephen announced, however, that learners would not be forced to open special bank accounts following experience of pilots in Grampian and Fife which showed this would put off many potential beneficiaries from disadvantaged areas. Grampian had 100 account holders initially but, after the bank requirement was dropped, numbers grew to more than 2,000 within five months.

He also promised Fergus Ewing of the SNP that he would look at the possibility of providing help with learners' travel and child care costs, which are already a feature of another ILA pilot in Lochaber.

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