Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 10 of Session 2005-06, dated 3 November 2005


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"Jobskills is one of the worst-run programmes that this Committee has examined in recent years. We noted a quite astonishing catalogue of failures and control weaknesses, all of which pointed to a disturbing level of complacency within the Department. While we readily acknowledge that it has to deal with some very difficult groups of young people, this does not explain the widespread shortcomings in supervision and control that existed."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 10th Report of this Session, which examined the administration and effectiveness of the Jobskills programme in Northern Ireland. This is the Department for Employment and Learning's largest training programme. Introduced in 1995, it aims to raise the skills levels of participants and their employability. Jobskills focuses on people for whom an academic education is inappropriate and provides an alternative route to qualifications, through the attainment of National Vocational Qualifications. The programme is delivered by around 100 'Training Organisations'. By March 2003, Jobskills had catered for some 76,000 young people and 17,000 adults at a cost of £485 million.

The Committee's Report examined four main issues: the quality of training; the effectiveness of the programme; the targeting of skills needs; and financial monitoring and control.

It was clear to the Committee that Jobskills had not received the senior management attention that it deserved. The Committee considered that one of the most damning aspects of the Department's handling of the programme was the extent to which a number of fundamental weaknesses - such as poor quality training and high levels of early leaving from the scheme - persisted over many years. There was little evidence of the Department having tackled these problems with any great vigour, prior to the C&AG's review. In the Committee's opinion, this points towards a disturbing degree of incompetence, indifference or both.

The Committee noted that the funding provided to Jobskills since 1995 - half a billion pounds - has been enormous. Given the serious and ongoing concerns about the quality of training, the poor performance of a number of training providers, the limited employment impact of the programme and the substantial 'skills mismatch' between Jobskills and the needs of Northern Ireland economy, the Committee concluded that, in far too many respects, Jobskills has provided poor value for money.

One of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the Committee's review was the poor quality of the Department's answers to a number of its questions. Too many responses either failed to properly address the question or sought to defend what was clearly indefensible. The Committee makes it clear that this is not acceptable and has asked the Department of Finance and Personnel to emphasise to all Northern Ireland Departments the importance which they attach to accurate and unambiguous responses to their enquiries.

The Committee welcomed the Accounting Officer's assurance that he has accepted all of the recommendations in the C&AG's Report. However, the Committee warned that the Department should be in no doubt that they want to see a much improved performance when the C&AG next examines this or any other scheme for which it is responsible.

Click here to view Report