Employability training services to grind to a halt after funding stream closed without warning

Written by Tom Freeman on 13 December 2018 in News

Exclusive: SCVO to write to ministers after Skills Development Scotland closes Individual Training Account applications months early

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A Scottish Government funding stream for training programmes has closed months early because demand was so high it has run out of money.

Individual Training Accounts, a personalised award which is administered by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), was closed on Friday 7 December, just hours after training providers were informed.

Third sector partners involved claim they were not previously informed the money was running out.

The Individual Training Account Programme, which replaced a similar Individual Learning Accounts scheme, was introduced to support more people to move into employment. 

It had a simplified application process and broader eligibility criteria than its predecessor, leading to a significant increase in applications.

On Friday the SDS website reported: “The early closure of the fund has been due to higher than anticipated demand. As a result, SDS met the target of 18,500 individuals in training ahead of schedule and we will now deliver approximately 22,000 places this year.”

However, Holyrood understands employability programmes supporting vulnerable people are now under threat for the rest of the financial year.

This includes Apex Scotland, which reduces re-offending by supporting individuals into sustainable jobs.

Chief executive Alan Staff said: “Not only does this impact on our clients who need qualifications to start work, but it also puts a significant strain on third sector providers reliant either directly on income from this source or on provision of training as part of their contracts.”

Anna Fowlie, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said she will be writing to ministers “in the strongest terms” over the issue.

“Skills Development Scotland gave no warning of the decision to close access to Individual Training Accounts, nor did they consult on the possible impact,” she said.

“SCVO’s members who are involved in employability programmes have been working in good faith to deliver on Scottish Government’s 'No One Left Behind' agenda and now find themselves unable to meet commitments to vulnerable people from our communities, or risk their own viability through shouldering the financial burden themselves.

“This short-term decision will have a long-lasting impact on people who are already significantly disadvantaged. For example, people who have recently come out of prison, for whom an accredited qualification would have been the first positive step towards meaningful societal re-integration have had that hope taken away from them.

“There are many others for whom employability programmes accessed through this fund offer a lifeline out of low-paid, precarious work have had their hope of a more sustainable future dashed.

"We all know that this is likely to result in re-offending, dependence on benefits and other welfare support, sometimes for the first time but often compounding past histories, which then become even harder to leave behind – all much more expensive to the public purse than ITAs.”

A spokesperson for SDS said providers had satisfied financial criteria before being approved to deliver ITA funded courses.

“Activity hasn’t stopped and individuals can still register an interest that will be picked up in the next financial year, subject to budget approval, meaning a delay in accessing funding, which the Scottish Government acknowledges may inconvenience some individuals,” they said.

“SDS worked closely with Scottish Government to extend the scheme and this was only finalised last week. We then initiated steps to suspend the scheme based on securing funding for an additional 3,500 applicants, safeguarding support for those already contracted within the system.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to delivering flexible learning opportunities that meet the needs of employers and learners.

“The Individual Training Account programme has been very successful and the Scottish Government will make significant additional funding available to ensure that Skills Development Scotland deliver 22,000 ITA starts in 2018/19 against the target of 18,500. 

“This additional funding will ensure that anyone who had verified training through an ITA will be able to access the programme this year.

“To ensure the sustainability of the programme SDS communicated that new learners accessing the programme will be able to do so from April 2019 and the Scottish Government have asked SDS to ensure that individual learners and training providers can continue to register interest in accessing training from that point.”

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