Businesses renege on promises

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Lord Robert Smith blames the current economic climate as few training places are secured

Big names in Scottish business who promised to secure hundreds of training places for youngsters not in education, employment or training have failed to deliver.

The Smith Group, which was set up in 2006 and included Lord Robert Smith of The Weir Group plc, Sir Tom Hunter of West Coast Capital, Jim McColl from Clyde Blowers and Chris van der Kuyl of Tayforth Consulting, has delivered just 10 per cent of the training places it committed to during the Smith Challenge, which began in 2007.

In Glasgow, the group set itself the target of raising an additional 400 training places in the private sector for young people, which would be matched by the public sector. Only 40 training places were secured.

The picture was equally bleak in the other areas of the scheme, said Lord Robert: Dundee, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire and West Dunbartonshire. He blamed the current economic climate: "There are going to be three million unemployed over the next six months, two major Scottish banks are down and under government ownership, and the rate of company failure has gone vertically upwards.

"It's a very difficult time to say to the private sector to take on people, never mind the sort of people not in education, employment or training. At the moment, they may be thinking of reducing staff."

The emphasis of the Smith Challenge has now switched from training places to work experience and mentoring. "What we must not do, is stop the whole thing," Lord Robert insisted. "We have got to reach out to these youngsters because they are not going away and, at some point, it will pick up."

Various initiatives to increase training places for young people were launched in 2007-08. The most "high profile and aspirational", according to a report by Maureen McKenna, Glasgow's executive director of children and families, was the Smith Challenge. "This initiative did not deliver any significant number of training places, which resulted in a number of young people who had been prepared for these opportunities missing out," she said.

Alternative opportunities for them were ultimately secured through the city's regeneration agencies, Career Scotland and further education establishments. Some also returned to school.

The Smith Group was set up to work with schools on motivating people from deprived backgrounds.

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