As with all aspects of the new Government’s reform agenda, the future of work based learning is as much the subject of shake up as any other area of public services. The future of Train to Gain has been a talking point since 2008. It’s been perceived by some that it is little more than an audit of the nation’s skills, and challenged in terms of whether tax payers money is being best spent by confirming what employees can already do, and giving them a certificate to that end. Other critics have claimed that it replaces training that employers would otherwise by happy to directly fund. The Skills Funding Agency only came in to being in April, and is still finding its feet as the replacement agency to the Learning & Skills Council. Its existence may, however, be very short lived under suggestions to combine the SFA with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to create a single agency covering both remits. The Government does, however, seem keen to wait for the conclusion of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding being led by Lord Browne before making any final decision. In a letter to the Sunday Times last month Browne assured that “we have not yet reached any conclusions”. The agenda for change was further outlined by John Hayes, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, in a speech last week. Hayes made a clear call to reform what is perceived as a “bureaucratic, target-driven, top-down regime”. The challenge to Train to Gain doesn’t however detract from a government commitment to training in the workplace. Hayes noted that “vocational qualifications delivered in the workplace provide better wage returns on average than qualifications delivered in colleges, while apprenticeships offer the highest returns of all”. Business Secretary Vince Cable wrote today to Geoff Russell, the Chief Executive of the SFA, setting out how government funding for 2010-11 should be spent. This confirmed that nearly £550m will be spent supporting apprenticeships and another £757m on other forms of work-based learning. This will include careers guidance, work-readiness skills for the unemployed, improved employer engagement, community learning and a programme of Lifelong Learning Accounts. The reinvestment of £200m in Train to Gain funding to help create 50,000 new apprenticeships will, however, inevitably affect providers. Many small providers are heavily reliant on Train to Gain alone, and may miss out on any reallocation of funding, and an attrition of the smallest suppliers at the bottom end of the market may be unavoidable. Those who focus more squarely on apprenticeships may, vice versa, stand to do well. The SFA budget may sound generous, but is set against a context to deliver £240m in efficiency savings from participation budgets. The SFA is mindful that one third of its contracted colleges and training organisations account for less than 1.5% of total budget spend. The consequence of this is a minimum contract level and sub-contracting framework that will be introduced this year (notwithstanding the potential merger with HEFC). This will see a minimum contract value of £250k for those who only deliver Train to Gain. This is likely to see an escalation of prime contracting models to provide a continuing role for the smallest providers, drawing on the experiences of the Department for Work & Pensions. Liz Flynn, Head of Bid Services at Carley Consult, said: “There are many good providers out there delivering specialist and geographically targeted provision, but in comparison have small contracts and could not survive on further reduced funding. We are therefore in danger of losing some high quality providers, innovative delivery solutions and ultimately reducing the quality of delivery”.