Government plans to spend up to pound;70 million of a new pound;670m skills training budget on "brokers" have been criticised by college and training company leaders as "unnecessary" and "a bureaucratic waste of money".
The new scheme called Train2Gain is modelled on the Employer Training Pilots, which for three years have provided free courses to help employers improve workers' basic skills.
Ministers have committed pound;40m next April to ensure "smooth transition" from the pilot programme. There will then be pound;230m for Train2Gain in 2006-7 and pound;400m in 2007-8. But 10 to 12 per cent of the cash will go on brokers or go-betweens to link employers with colleges and training organisations.
Leaders of the Association of Learning Providers rejected the broker system as "nonsense" at their annual conference in Hinckley, Leicestershire, this week. Plans for the new programme were unveiled by the Department for Education and Skills at the conference.
The Association of Colleges has also described the spending of cash on middlemen as "a foolish waste of money".
Both organisations say it will divert cash from where it is most needed - teaching and training. They are urging Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, to think again before publishing the full details next week.
Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the ALP, said: "We want to see as much of the money from the Learning and Skills Council as possible opened up to providers. I have to say I am very sceptical about the value of brokers."
His concerns were shared by the majority of the 200 delegates. Hugh Pitman, director of JHP Training, said: "We do not need a brokerage system taking 10 per cent. All they will do is foul-up relations we have with employers - and we already deal directly and effectively with 600 employers."
Individual college principals also expressed fury at the brokerage system, saying it will top slice pound;25m, around 12 per cent, of funding for the first year.
Sue Dutton, the association's deputy chief executive, said: "Our argument is that if the Government is going to reach its targets for ETP, you don't need a highly bureaucratic system of brokerage.
"It would be foolish to have a system where the existing relationships colleges have with employers have to be fed through an elaborate system of brokers."
An evaluation of ETP carried out earlier this year showed that most leads for college business with employers came though the provider network, not brokers, she said. "It stands to reason that government targets for the ETP programme are not likely to be met if there is a cumbersome system of brokers," she added. "Around 80 per cent of the ETP pilots was just dead weight."
Ms Dutton insisted there was no objection to having brokers who brought in new business to colleges by finding employers not currently involved in workforce training. But there was no point in a system that "simply replicates what colleges and other providers are already trying to do".
In Wiltshire, one of six areas where ETP was tested, several principals have strongly criticised government plans to use middlemen. Graham Taylor, of New College Swindon, said the money being spent on brokers would be better spent on restoring adult learning. "I just don't get it. We have got business development managers who are perfectly capable of bringing in businesses.Why do we need these middlemen?"
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