Scottish Enterprise's long-awaited review of special training needs for school-leavers has rekindled its smouldering dispute with training providers over funding, although it has received a guarded welcome for finding ways of cutting bureaucracy.
Scottish Enterprise looked at 16 to 18-year-olds who fail to make it onto the Skillseekers programme. The SE board questioned the performance of training programmes, the funding and the paperwork involved in training someone.
The review recommended an improvement in the careers service and local enterprise company management information to help identify problems. It also wants a greater standardisation of practice among the Lecs and an improvement in assessment methods to tailor training to individuals needs.
Scottish Enterprise hopes that more specialised and effective training services can be offered by providers once they have more information and are relieved of administration duties.
Significantly the review does not suggest changing the funding system which allocates cash to trainees who reach a certain standard of literacy and numeracy, or get a work placement.
The report says that the charitable status of many STN providers and the donations that they receive from industry, should allow them to cover any additional costs of bringing trainees up to standard in the time allocated, which is usually six months. This is the gripe most frequently voiced by training providers.
Caroline Farquhar, director of Right Track, a training company based in Glasgow and director of the Special Training Needs Action Group, says that the funding system is still too dependent on trainees reaching targets unattainable in the time allotted and that the Lecs are not providing the cash to cover the additional costs involved in STN provision.
She says: "Training is supposed to be a Government responsibility. I get Pounds 80 per week from the Lec to train a young person but it costs me Pounds 113 to train them properly. When the money runs out, I have to rely on the goodwill of the private sector. Scottish Enterprise is talking about getting these young people into work placements but many of them are a long way from the stage where a company is prepared to invest time and money in them. "
Although the report calls for more independent monitoring and assessment of STN provision she maintains that her Lec, the Glasgow Development Agency, no longer comes out to visit her to do that as it no longer has the resources to provide support staff.
Colin Easton, head of vocational and adult training at Borders Council, is similarly critical and states: "The review really doesn't take us forward at all."
His service runs an innovative training workshop with money from the European Social Fund. He argues the skills that are taught there - being able to relate to adults and accept responsibility - are more important for these young people as they search for mainstream training places.
However, Scottish Enterprise denies that it has failed to address the funding problem. Sheila Aitken, the training manager who compiled the report, stressed Scottish Enterprise's commitment to STN. She added: "There will be a review of the amount of money on offer to Lecs in July. There is a growing recognition that more is required for STN. However, it will still be up to the Lecs how they allocate the money."
Many Lecs feel there must be attainment targets if training is to provide value for money. Doug Somner, head of training at Renfrewshire Enterprise, suggests that the proper balance has been struck between simply demanding attendance and insisting upon a basic level of output from trainees. He said: "I don't know if there will ever be enough money to cater properly for this client group."
Willie Fortucci, his counterpart at the Glasgow Development Agency, says the 23 per cent of his training budget that is allocated to the 14 per cent of trainees with special training needs, demonstrates a clear commitment to addressing their problems. "I think that output-related funding encourages proper assessment of the trainee and, if we attach that condition, then it's also an incentive to the training provider to ensure progress," he said.
As part of the review, Scottish Enterprise has held workshops with training providers to discuss the report which calls for standardisation of procedures across the Scottish Enterprise network.
Gerry Gallagher, director of Rathbone Community Industries, who run STN programmes across nine Lecs, says there is an unnecessary amount of paperwork involved in securing funding with each Lec having a different means of defining STN and what is required of a trainee.
"It gives me a headache having to deal with the different means of assessment that each Lec has. Also, there are some that pay you in arrears and some that pay you up front, so a lot of the time you're juggling with money." he says. But Scottish Enterprise has taken "steps in the right direction" by consulting with the providers themselves.
Figures from the two enterprise agencies show that almost Pounds 83 million is spent by Scottish Enterprise on training programmes for 16 to 25-year-olds in lowland Scotland. Some Pounds 16m to Pounds 20m of the total is allocated to special needs training. An estimated 12 per cent of the age group has special needs.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise has a Pounds 7.5m training budget for 16 to 25-year-olds in northern Scotland, of whom 14.4 per cent have special needs. Cash support for STN is put at Pounds 800,000 - one tenth of training expenditure.
HIE conducted a similar survey in the north last July. Bob Shanks, HIE's skills development manager, says its conclusions supported those of the review in the south - more systematic allocation of funds and better management information systems are necessary.