Train to Gain is spending pound;91m on training that companies previously paid for themselves
The flagship scheme for boosting the UK's skills is wasting more than pound;90 million a year on training that used to be paid for by employers.
That is the finding of a Learning and Skills Council evaluation of Train to Gain, the two-year-old scheme that will spend pound;524 million this year on GCSE-level work-based training for England's businesses.
The report, based on a survey of employers, said there was little evidence that the skills brokers, who are responsible for recruiting new companies and linking them with appropriate colleges or training providers, were targeting employers with no recent experience of training their staff.
More than two-thirds of the businesses taking up training had arranged courses themselves in the previous 12 months, despite the fact that attracting "hard-to-reach" companies was one of the original aims of the scheme and one of the justifications for its pound;36 million-a-year brokerage system.
Less than half of the businesses contacted by skills brokers went on to carry out any new training.
Alison Birkinshaw, principal of York College, the only institution to be both a training provider and skills broker, said establishing relationships with businesses without a track record of training was a lengthy process.
"Sometimes the preparation work that needs to take place in building a relationship - doing the analysis, gaining trust and working with the employer to emphasise the benefits - can take six months or a year," she said. "The brokerage service hasn't been running in those terms for that long."
Other employers were quick to realise that the scheme could pay for their existing training and brokers would not turn them away.
Dr Birkinshaw explained: "A broker is almost duty-bound to work with employers that approach them. You don't want to disappoint employers who contact you to say they are keen and interested."
The report's findings mirror concerns about the employer training pilot, the forerunner of Train to Gain, which was also criticised because more than 85 per cent of its work duplicated training that businesses would have paid for themselves anyway. The Government had pledged it would make changes to better target its spending.
But the report said that just over 17 per cent of the training provided - equivalent to pound;91 million of this year's investment - now substitutes what employers would have funded for themselves in the past.
Spending on the Train to Gain scheme is due to rise to pound;1 billion within two years.
A plan for growth, published at the end of last year, pre-empted the latest criticism by offering yet more changes to Train to Gain, such as recruiting more large companies to boost trainee numbers and ensuring brokers could offer a specialist service focused on particular industries.
Employers say they are pleased with the free service, with 80 per cent saying they would recommend it to other businesses - far more than actually took advantage of the training on offer.
Trainees on the programme were also positive about the scheme, with nearly three-quarters saying their new skills helped them to do their job better. Four in 10 had received a pay rise as a result.
Contrary to employers' fears that better-trained workers would leave for other jobs, 70 per cent planned to stay put.
The scheme has also succeeded in attracting older students - 30 per cent were over 45 - as well as those with lower skills levels - three-quarters had left school at 16 or earlier.
Leading article, page 4.