Train to Gain and the red tape bane

16th May 2008 at 01:00
The apparent failure of Train to Gain to hit the spot will come as little surprise to those who were deeply sceptical about the Government's scheme for matching public funding to vocational education

The apparent failure of Train to Gain to hit the spot will come as little surprise to those who were deeply sceptical about the Government's scheme for matching public funding to vocational education.

The Learning and Skills Council's report will provide evidence in many people's eyes about the rationale behind the scheme.

The idea of brokers for Train to Gain standing between employers and providers, including colleges, might be seen as creating something of a spiv's charter. Vectra man on the road, Ginster's pasty in one hand and steering wheel in the other, creaming off a nice little earner every time he makes an introduction, regardless of whether it leads to any meaningful activity. To be fair, only the second part of this characterisation of Train to Gain brokerage is accurate, in that the fees are paid for "engagement" with employers rather than training provided, which should be easy money.

Free consultancy, with the Treasury picking up the tab, is not a hard sell - and has indeed proved popular with employers.

So far as the Vectra driver is concerned, this may well have been the mode of transport in some cases, but the work was generally done by organisations with solid experience of the market.

The devil - as with so many well-intentioned attempts to introduce the rigours of the market into the public sector - was not so much in the detail as in the big picture. Train to Gain actually created more of the thing for which the public sector is so often criticised - red tape.

In principle, the brokers would achieve two things. Firstly, they would use their skills to get employers to carry out training which would not otherwise have taken place. In practice, the evidence is that, even when their efforts led to training, it would often have happened anyway.

Second, they would open up the market so that employers considered their options rather than heading for the local FE college by default. Fine - but since when did the Government become responsible for the marketing challenges facing private

companies? If there is demand for a service to make employers better- informed about training available to their staff, the solution should come from the private sector, not from a cumbersome policy initiative.

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