Skillseekers gets a cautious welcome from watchdog

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
THE Skillseekers training programme has received a mixed review from the National Audit Office, Westminster's spending watchdog. Funded by the enterprise agencies to provide vocational qualifications for 16-24s, 140,000 young people took part at a cost of pound;70 million in 1998-99 but many dropped out.

The increased volume of training took place against a background of a pound;25 million cut in Scottish Enterprise expenditure over the previous three years. The Audit Office inquiry did not cover training funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Eight out of 10 employers and trainees in central Scotland rated Skillseekers as good or very good. But the report says up to three-quarters of trainees would have received some training anyway in the absence of the programme, although they would not necessarily have been working towards a vocational qualification.

The majority of vocational qualifications achieved have consistently failed to rise beyondlevel 2, a problem which Scottish Enterprise has already identified. This also varied across local enterprise companies from 39 to 74 per cent of trainee starts getting to level 2. The Audit Office says some variation can be expected but not to such an extent and there was not enough information or benchmarking of LEC performance to know why this should be so.

A sample of trainees also found that half had not even achieved a VQ at level 2 within three years of starting. This costs the equivalent of up to pound;14 million a year, of which up to pound;3 million is accounted for by those who drop out at the very early stages.

The NAO report will be the last value for money study covering one of the responsibilities of the Scottish Executive. These areas will in future be scrutinised by an Auditor General for Scotland who will report to the audit committee of the Parliament. The committee will take evidence on the Skillseekers report on April 4.

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