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Skills funding described as ‘untenable’

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Government plans for funding workplace skills programmes need urgent clarification, a leading business organisation has said.

The EEF, the manufacturing employers’ group, has urged the government to spell out how much money will be available for training beyond the end of this year.

With firms beginning to look ahead to the recovery, there are worries that cut backs in the level of public funding for skills programmes, including apprenticeships, could leave employers short of the skills they need to take advantage of the upturn in the economy, the EEF said.

An EEF survey of 700 firms found that over half (55 per cent) are concerned about their ability to attract and retain skilled employees in preparation for the economic turn around.

A recent statement from the Learning and Skills Council that sought to make the position clear on the future funding of Train to Gain, the government’s flagship skills programme, and apprenticeships offered little confidence about the level of support beyond this year, the EEF warned.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is in discussion with training providers over the present scale of public funding but it has said that the huge demand from employers for help in improving workplace skills has meant that caps have to be imposed on how much money is available.

John Denham, the Skills Secretary, endorsed the capping: “It is good news that companies across England are maintaining their productivity and planning for their future by training their staff. We are providing nearly £1 billion of investment this year through Train to Gain. However, no budget is unlimited and it is important that we manage government spending properly.”

But Lee Hopley, who is head of economic policy at the EEF, argued that the “current position in untenable” and that “companies need a clear commitment to maintain funding in future years”.

He commented: “Programmes such as apprenticeships, including adult apprenticeships, are crucial in developing our future workforce, but any uncertainty, especially in this economic climate, will have consequences for meeting our skill needs – not to mention the government’s own targets.”