A flagship Government scheme aimed at improving the skills of workers, which has cost almost £1.5 billion, has not provided good value for money, according to an official report.
Unrealistically ambitious targets were set when Train to Gain was launched in 2006 and there were inconsistencies in its implementation, reducing its efficiency, said the National Audit Office.
Take up was much lower than expected at first, and learners’ success rates have varied “substantially”, it was found.
The NAO said the current strong demand for training needed to be better managed to make the programme sustainable while avoiding overspending.
But the report also said that Train for Gain had supported training for more than a million learners, and developed a skills service which had brought “undoubted benefits” to employers.
More than half a million learners achieved a qualification through the scheme, often their first one, while some employers taking part had not offered any training before, said the report.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “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.”
A Business Department spokesman said: “The NAO rightly recognises the huge achievements Train to Gain has made in training the workforce over the past three years, helping people with few or no qualifications to develop their skills and helping employers to improve their business by delivering the training they want in a way which suits them.
“We’ve already made significant reforms, with excellent feedback from employers, and the report makes useful recommendations for further improvements. But we disagree that Train to Gain has not delivered good value for money, particularly when the majority of employers report that Train to Gain has improved productivity.
“Since 2006, employees have started over 1.2 million courses, 143,000 employers have benefited and satisfaction levels are over 90 per cent.”