IT MAY now be a year since the Government's New Deal was launched but the row over its effectiveness shows no sign of abating.
Official figures show that in the past year, more than 50,000 young people have been helped to find work through Labour's welfare-to-work programme.
But a report by the Foyer Federation, which provides rehabilitation and training for the homeless, claims young people choosing the education option are being told "no deal" when they try to gain access to higher level learning.
The New Deal offers anyone under 25 who has been unemployed for six months the option of full-time education, a place on the environmental taskforce, or work in the private or voluntary sector.
The report, Foyers And The New Deal - Six Months On, found that New Deal clients are being prevented from starting two-year college courses, even when they agree to find part-time work to support themselves during the second year of study. In some areas, the New Deal has reduced the number of college courses open to the young unemployed. And the courses that are available do not always correspond to the needs of the local labour market.
"One young man wanted to take a fork-lift driver qualification, because of the jobs for qualified drivers but was told it wasn't an option, although longer and more expensive courses were on offer," the report says.
Caroline Hayman, chief executive of the Foyer Federation, said: "The benefits to the economy of young people remaining in education may well outweigh those of them starting work earlier."
The report was one of three published over the Christmas period which paint contrasting pictures of the success of the New Deal.
Research by the Unemployment Unit and Youthaid found that the New Deal is "delivering better outcomes than any previous government scheme".
Almost one-quarter of the 168,000 young people who joined the programme have already left - mainly getting jobs. A further 18 per cent have started one of the four options and just over half are still at the initial advice stage.
However, the first New Deal league table also highlighted wide regional variations and showed that units which are led by the private sector are performing poorly.
Paul Convery, director of the Unemployment Unit, said: "Some of the worst unemployment hot-spots in the country have achieved job entry rates that outstrip the economically more buoyant areas. Areas such as Sefton and Durham, for example, have beaten every part of London."
In a pamphlet published by the Centre for Policy Studies, Damian Green, Conservative MP for Ashford, claimed the cost of finding a young person a job was pound;11,333. Employment minister Andrew Smith maintained that the true cost was only pound;1,000.