The Government has set a figure for the first time on the education and training expenditure that will flow from the New Deal to get 18 to 25-year-olds off welfare and into work.
In an interview with The TES, Andrew Smith, the minister with responsibility for the initiative in the Department for Education and Employment, revealed the Government had set aside Pounds 700 million over the lifetime of the current Parliament as part of a Pounds 3.5 billion package that also includes subsidies to employers to recruit young people.
The Scottish Office was unable to cite the equivalent figure for Scotland but it is unlikely to be less than Pounds 70 million, almost a quarter of the total cost of the programme in Scotland.
Mr Smith said the scheme should be flexible enough to allow the jobless to study up to degree level, dispelling fears that it would be restricted to low-level training. "Where there is a demonstrable link between education and training for employability, leading to a job, there has to be flexibility to go to Vocational Qualification level 3 and beyond," he said. "There should be no limit."
Meanwhile the SNP criticised the compulsion involved in forcing young people to choose a New Deal option or lose benefit, which would also cause problems for those involved in offering guidance and counselling. The Liberal Democrats questioned the value of launching the New Deal pilot this week only three months ahead of implementing the full programme.
"Rushing headlong into nationwide implementation of welfare to work on the proceeds of a one-off tax before the project has even been properly assessed could be a very costly mistake," Sir Robert Smith, one of the Liberal Democrats' Scottish spokesmen, stated. Sustained funding was also required, Sir Robert said.
ANDREW SMITH INTERVIEW FE Focus, page 27