Independent companies reject doubts over ability to cope with Welfare to Work scheme
Careers officers hit back at claims of low standards this week and insisted the service would rise to the challenge of Labour's "new deal" for the young unemployed.
Senior figures in the independent careers companies rejected an attack last week by School Curriculum and Assessment Authority chairman Graham Mackenzie. They said they were well able to provide the four months' intensive careers advice central to the Government's plans to get jobless under-25s off welfare and into work.
Mr Mackenzie had claimed standards at some careers companies were "a disgrace", but careers officers insisted they were uniquely placed to offer advice to the 18 to 25 age group.
Privately senior careers officers are concerned that staff in the Employment Service, which runs job centres, will take the lead in giving advice to young people entering the Welfare to Work programme.
Ministers have promised that local partnerships will provide advice, education and training in the "new deal".
But careers officers are concerned that the message has not yet permeated all local job centres.
The Careers Service National Association, which represents careers companies, said the established careers outfits should co-ordinate the advice given to young people entering the "new deal". A report by the association states: "Careers services have the staff and management skills necessary for the successful implementation of the core guidance and advocacy functions."
Neil McIntosh, chief executive of the Council for British Teachers, which operates careers advice services in Berkshire, said some criticisms of careers advisers should be levelled at the Government regulations which govern what they do.
He wants a flexible series of partnership agreements to offer advice under Welfare to Work, to allow the best advisers in each area to do the job. He said: "Some careers services will be better than others, unquestionably, and some TECs are more focused on the labour market than other. The method the Government uses to identify who can provide advice and counselling in each area is very important."
Kevin McNeany, whose Nord Anglia group is Britain's largest private provider of careers advice, accepted there was room for improvement, but said local careers officers would deliver the service ministers required of them.
He said: "I don't mind a degree of competition for the work and we would have to show how we would provide a service of good quality. I'm not saying Mr Mackenzie is completely wrong - he has something when he says we can improve the service - but you have to bear in mind the progress we have made in the sector already."
Battles are already raging over control of the "new deal", with colleges, local authorities and training and enterprise councils appealing for a stake in the scheme.
Education Secretary David Blunkett is understood to favour the Employment Service to run the Welfare to Work scheme, but ministers are anxious to channel young people into agencies outside the Job Centre network.