Budget slashed for adult learning

20th April 2001 at 01:00
THE budget for work-based learning for adults (WBLA) has been cut by 20 per cent after being taken over by the Employment Service.

The programme, which has been allocated pound;287 million for 2001-02, is one of the few areas of post-16 education not inherited by the Learning and Skills Council since it took over the sector this month.

The Department for Education and Employment, which is responsible for the Employment Service, is clearly anxious to disguise the WBLA budget reduction at a time when the Government is placing a premium on its promotion of adult learning.

Advising the Employment Service press office how to respond to The TES's enquiry about the size of the WBLA budget, a DFEE official told his colleague to put out the actual spending figure for last year alongside the budget for this year, thus obscuring the 20 per cent budget reduction.

This, explained the official, in an internal email accidentally forwarded to us with the press office's official response, "paints a better picture".

WBLA was controlled by the training and enterprise councils until the shake-up of post-16 education aimed at widening participation and increasing basic skills and employability.

The budget reduction means pound;71m has been taken out of the WBLA programme. Government figures also show pound;62m of last year's budget went unspent, while the programme was under TEC control.

The reduction is balanced, says the Employment Service, by the doubling in size of the New Deal programme for people aged over 25, aimed at those who have been unemployed for more than 18 months, to pound;250m for 2001-02.

The Employment Service admits there will be "winners and losers" under the new arrangement for WBLA, which is for people unemployed fo less than 18 months, as the contracts which training providers had with the TECs are subjected to government tendering procedures.

An early casualty is Transed Europe, which trains lorry drivers in Kent and has been told its WBLA contracts will not be renewed, although it has retained its role in training young people.

Bob Piercey, managing director of Transed Europe, which operates 21 vehicles, said: "Transed applied to the Employment Service to become an approved supplier and we were approved.

"We then submitted our tender for the provision of adult training and were very disappointed to learn that we were not to be offered a contract."

The Employment Service says there has been a high standard of tenders, leading to tough competition for contracts.

"There have been a lot of frustrated work-based learning providers," said an Employment Service spokesman, "but we want to achieve the best possible quality at the right cost.

"The Employment Service has taken great care to ensure that the tenders were judged consistently and fairly. A number of high-quality tenders were received from providers who had already met very high-quality standards before submitting tenders. There was, as a result, a very high standard of competition in which not every provider could be successful.

"The Employment Service has been able to secure a wide range of provision which best meets the recruitment needs of employers and the needs of those looking for work."

It says an appeal process has been put in place for companies which feel their bids have been unfairly rejected. It claims the demand for WBLA has been squeezed by the fall in unemployment, leading to less demand for government-assisted training places.

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