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The trouble with Train to Gain

In a perfect world, any money not needed for Train to Gain would be returned to the further education pot with a letter of apology from ministers. Despite the warnings, they simply overestimated how much money was needed for an initiative employers have been reluctant to embrace.

In fact, all colleges have been left with is the opportunity to say "I told you so" while they watch the cash go to higher education.

In FE, there were plenty of worthy destinations for the pound;280 million. Under-paid and over-managed lecturers - now subjected to stricter professional standards and compulsory teaching qualifications - certainly deserve the reward which would come with improved earnings.

That great British institution, the leisure courses aimed at keeping our minds active in older age, could do with a boost; adult education having been curtailed in favour of vocational provision, including Train to Gain itself. Colleges could also reasonably expect help with the "increased flexibility" scheme - under which they provide vocational training for school pupils, often without being able to recover the full cost.

Of course, where there are some "extra" resources floating about, there will always be a long queue of claimants for the cash. The more fundamental question is: what went wrong? Train to Gain has been a success for many individuals and companies, but there is no disguising ministers' frustration about slow take-up.

John Denham, the Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said: "Some employers are failing not only to spend their own money on staff training, but also failing to spend ours as well."

Far from "failing", these organisations are merely saying No to the proposition because they don't believe the scheme is in their interest. Ministers should take the hint. Companies are not in the habit of taking business advice from politicians.

The Confederation of British Industry has already made clear it regards the scheme as a work in progress, held back by red tape. As John Cridland, its deputy director general, has already said of Train to Gain: "It is not the finished article."

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