01/02/2012 02:04 GMT

Apprenticeships Could Provide Better Value For Money, NAO Report Finds

The government could get more value-for-money from adult apprenticeships, according to a report by spending watchdog the national audit office.

The body said the department of business, innovation and skills (BiS) over-estimated the amount of money their spending returned, through over-estimating the amount of money employers contributed to training.

The NAO said BiS could get more out of their scheme, which currently returns £18 for every £1 spent on it, through targeting resources.

Last year there were 442,700 apprenticeships, 314,400 of which were taken up by adults - an increase of 140% since 2006/7, with £500m per year spend on the programme.

However the majority are at a "lower level" than in other countries, with a third at advanced level in England compared to 60% in France.

NAO head Amywas Morse said BiS "needs to target resources more effectively, confirm the training provided is in addition to what would have been provided without public support and make sure that the funding system is informed by robust information on the cost of delivery."

Margaret Hodge, chairperson of the public accounts committee said there were "troubling signs" the market for apprenticeships was not working as intended.

"Many employers are not paying their share towards training costs, the payments made to providers do not always reflect the costs of delivering training, and apprenticeships are concentrated in a small number of areas.

"We will want to know how the Department is making sure it targets its resources towards those areas and qualifications that have the most impact on the economy."

Skills Minister John Hayes said: "Unprecedented investment, backed by tough new measures to ensure that quality matches quantity, has helped make apprenticeships the gold standard vocational qualification.

"So I am delighted that the NAO has recognised the progress we have made and that they identify the extraordinary economic benefits of apprenticeships. Few, if any, other Government programmes produce anything like the return of £18 for every £1 spent, let alone the still greater return that our economists estimate."

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Further Education, Skills & Regional Growth said the report showed the department for education needed to cooperate more with BiS.

"This is something which Labour has long been arguing for, with our call for colleges and businesses to be given a much bigger say in boosting growth in the regions and jobs for young people on the back of expanded apprenticeship take-up.

“The latest quarterly apprenticeship figures show that the Government is still struggling to achieve any significant increase in apprenticeships for young people in crucial 16-24 age range at a time when youth unemployment has risen above 1 million. We have called on Ministers to back our plans to boost apprenticeship numbers, particularly for young people, including through smarter Government procurement.”