Colleges warn that Secretary of State's targets for 'world-class' Scotland are in doubt.
The national training budget for school-leavers and adults is to be cut by almost Pounds 20 million in central Scotland, it emerged this week. The news comes barely a month after the Government endorsed education and training targets to produce a "world-class Scotland" by 2000.
The reduced spending on training is part of a Pounds 30 million reduction in the Scottish Office budget for Scottish Enterprise that has been passed on to the 13 local enterprise companies.
Sir Donald MacKay, Scottish Enterprise's chairman, was reported to have privately agreed to cuts totalling 6 per cent over dinner with the Secretary of State.
Scottish Enterprise is adamant that it can absorb Pounds 4m in economies for 1996-97 by what it describes as "further savings on delivery costs and judicious cash management which allow a greater part of the training budget to be allocated to the point of delivery".
But there is now considerable scepticism about the Government's commitment. John Sellars of the Association of Scottish Colleges commented: "The ability of the various training providers to meet the Government's education and training targets must be in serious doubt." Allowances for adult trainees are being cut by almost Pounds 6 million, a 15 per cent reduction.
The only Lec to have escaped the cutbacks is Lanarkshire Development Agency. But its 9 per cent increase is purely a result of changes in the Lec boundaries to bring them into line with the new councils. Lanarkshire has gained Cumbernauld and Kilsyth from Dunbartonshire and Rutherglen and Cambuslang from Glasgow.
The Lecs this week echoed the Scottish Enterprise line that "good housekeeping" would protect the national training effort. But the Stirling-based Forth Valley Enterprise, which is worst hit, admitted that its 8 per cent reduction was greater than expected. A spokesman said the Lec would have to dip into its reserves of Pounds 1.6 million.
Forth Valley was adamant, however, that it would meet its targets of achieving 136,740 training weeks for young people and 29,148 training weeks for adults in the year from April. The Lec also aims to achieve employed status for 50 per cent of those taking part in Skillseekers, the national scheme for school-leavers.
Renfrewshire Enterprise, whose budget is also being cut by 8 per cent, warned that some activities would have to be "reprioritised or scaled back". Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise was similarly anxious. Dunbartonshire Enterprise described its allocation as "tight but manageable".
Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is responsible for the training budgets of the eight Lecs in the north of Scotland, will not announce its spending priorities until the end of the financial year in March. Its cash allocation from the Scottish Office has been cut by Pounds 3 million, or 4 per cent.
Scottish Enterprise says the share-out to the Lecs has been based on the companies' own bids as well as local factors such as changes in the numbers of school-leavers and those out of work. A drop in long-term unemployment, for example, is cited as the reason for reductions in spending on adult training. But a spokesman admitted that this was based on an anticipated fall not actual figures.
Sir Donald urged his critics to concentrate on training outcomes rather than on the actual sums spent. A record 12,000 people would emerge from training next year with Scottish Vocational Qualifications, he said, six times the figure of five years ago.