Train to Gain axe threat sparks rush
With Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both proposing significant cuts to Labour's flagship training scheme, providers are already preparing for dramatic changes.
The Tories are planning to "refocus" pound;775 million, most of the Train to Gain budget, to pay for an extra 100,000 apprenticeship and pre- apprenticeship places a year. Liberal Democrats hope to save more than pound;325 million a year by ending support for large companies, while extending free level 3 courses to workers of all ages at smaller firms.
A spokesman for the Association of Learning Providers said it had already advised members to look for other kinds of work because of the possibility of a significant shift in funding. He said: "We've known about the proposals to get rid of Train to Gain to fund the switch to apprenticeships for a long, long time. The question is how much the budget will be reduced.
"But one of the things we've been urging providers to do is become basic skills providers under the flexible new deal."
Graham Hoyle, the association's chief executive, said many providers already ran apprenticeships, so they would be able to adapt to new funding priorities more easily.
He said those most at risk were new, small providers which had entered the market when Train to Gain launched, and which he said were responsible for the lowest success rates.
"The Ofsted chief inspector's report said that lowering levels of achievement lay squarely at the door of newer, smaller providers," he said.
He said he also expected "run-down" contracts to ensure nobody already on Train to Gain lost funding mid-course.
"There will be hell to pay if a new government comes in and just cuts particular individuals' courses. That would be pretty unprecedented," he said.
Opposition parties' plans for Train to Gain are influenced by a National Audit Office report last year which criticised the wildly variable success rates, with the 100 largest providers having between 99 per cent and a mere 8 per cent of trainees completing the course and passing.
It also found that the programme is laden with "dead weight" provision that employers would have paid for themselves, with the most recent assessment estimating it as about half of the provision.
While the programme has also been criticised for merely accrediting existing knowledge, its defenders argue that it has provided tens of thousands of people with qualifications for the first time, transforming their relationship with the education system.
Asha Khemka, principal of West Nottinghamshire College, said many providers were facing Train to Gain cuts whatever the outcome of the election, with her budget falling by about a third.
But she said that she did not expect significant job losses as a result of the changes, because the college was already preparing for increased apprenticeship work through its new group training association. She hoped Train to Gain assessors could transfer over to work with apprentices.