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Pilot scheme is the last hope

The training arm of the leading national organisation helping offenders get back on track faces closure unless a pilot Government scheme takes off, its director has warned.

NACRO, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, says its training programme helping 20,000 jobless people a year can only secure its future if new funding for those with special needs is made permanent.

NACRO's training wing, New Careers Training, has already been badly hit because its Government funding relies on trainees moving swiftly into work.

NCT specialises in programmes for people with special learning needs, such as ex-offenders who may take longer to find work, making their courses unviable.

Under pressure from NACRO and other voluntary-sector training agencies, ministers agreed last November to ring-fence Pounds 23 million of the 1996-97 adult training budget for new courses preparing people with special needs for Government Training for Work schemes.

The pre-vocational programmes, lasting around 20 weeks, will provide tailored support for trainees aged 18-plus with a range of learning difficulties, including poor reading and writing.

Voluntary agencies including NACRO hope the schemes will be a permanent cash lifeline so they can serve the neediest jobless people and still stay in business.

Mike Stewart, NACRO director of services, said unless agencies could convince ministers to maintain the funding "it will be the end of NACRO training. If we don't succeed we will go under".

Training organisations hoping to run pilot courses, including NACRO, have put in bids to training and enterprise councils, which last week submitted the proposals to the Department for Education and Employment. Bids have been made for 19,000 training places, of which about 8,500 will be funded.

The programmes must be running by April, and will be vetted by the education and employment department to determine if the funding will stay.

Voluntary training agencies welcomed the decision to finance support for those not ready to cope with full training schemes, but say ministers have made providers show preliminary programmes work. They will only get paid if a trainee moves to a mainstream scheme at the end of the course.

"We have to make sure the pilots are absolutely top quality," said Anne Weinstock, chief executive of voluntary-sector training group Rathbone CI which will not be under threat if the scheme folds. She said thousands of adults would be excluded from training and jobs if the pilot was discontinued.

The Government change of heart over training funding followed the publication last November of Winners and Losers, a report commissioned by TECs and the largest agencies, which concluded needy people were missing out.

It found that the funding system which linked rigid "outcomes" - jobs and qualifications - to payment for training-led providers to refuse people with special needs and cream off only those most likely to find work.

Dozens of small training groups went to the wall as a result, with NACRO alone closing eight of its 33 training centres.

The pilot is confined to adult training so far but providers are talking about extending it to disadvantaged 16-18s for Youth Training.

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