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At a cost of £1.47 billion by March 2009, Train to Gain had supported employer-focused training for over one million learners, and had developed a skills brokerage service with which a majority of employers was satisfied. But while Train to Gain has achieved undoubted benefits for employers, the NAO has concluded that over its full lifetime the programme has not provided good value for money.

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Unrealistically ambitious initial targets and inconsistent implementation reduced the efficiency of the programme. Take up was much lower than expected at first, leading to underspending and the need for changes in eligibility to increase learner numbers. The now strong demand for training needs to be better managed, to make the programme sustainable while avoiding overspending this year.

Learners have nevertheless benefited from improved work skills at a basic level, and surveys of employers have provided evidence of improved business performance from the training. For many of the 554,100 learners who achieved a qualification it was their first qualification, giving them a boost in self-confidence as well as new employment skills. Some employers have reported that the training has led to improved business performance. Many of the 143,400 engagements with employers to provide advice on skills training were with ‘hard to reach’ businesses that had previously provided little or no training for their staff.

Learners’ success rates have varied substantially between training providers. In 2006-07, success rates ranged from 8 to 99 per cent for the largest 100 providers. So while some training providers have been doing a very good job and most are above the ‘minimum standard’ that is being introduced, one quarter of the largest providers were performing below the minimum. A half of employers whose employees received training would have arranged similar training without public subsidy.

The report concludes that the now strong demand for training should be used as an opportunity to focus resources on the areas of greatest need and on training with the highest quality providers. The Learning and Skills Council is taking steps to improve its management and communication of the programme – which has previously led to confusion among employers, training providers and brokers – and the Department and the LSC must be alert to the risk of disruption of these efforts by the transition to the Skills Funding Agency.

"Train to Gain is achieving growth in training that employers value, but taxpayers have a right to expect that much more than half of the public funding should result in training that would not otherwise have occurred. Inconsistent management contributed to a slow start to the programme, followed by rapid growth and now the risk of demand exceeding budgets. We also need to see evidence that money is directed more to areas of greatest need, with training providers who do the best job for their learners and on bringing the whole range of business benefits to employers."

Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office


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