MPs call for £2bn to hit skills target

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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said £3.7bn had already been spent under its skills-for-life scheme. It warned that an extra £2bn would be needed to hit the Government's targets to improve the skills of 2.25 million adults by 2010.

The committee, which reviews the way public money is spent, hailed the aim of improving numeracy and literacy as "laudable" but said the task ahead was "huge". Edward Leigh MP, the chairman of the PAC, said the low level of literacy and numeracy in the adult population was bad for national productivity and for those individuals struggling to cope with work and daily life. He said: "No one knows exactly how much more money will be needed from 2006 to 2010 - on current patterns, perhaps more than £2bn. The Government must harden up its estimates of future costs and must also zealously hold the line against any dilution of qualification standards."

The PAC praised the Department for Education and Skills for hitting its first milestone of 750,000 adults achieving qualifications by July 2004 but said the future targets were "challenging".

It said that if the targets were to be met, the Department should ensure that employers of people with low skills identified employees who needed help to improve; companies encouraged people to take up appropriate training; people continued learning as their personal circumstances changed; better joined-up working between government agencies; and collaboration from employers.

But the Government insisted it was too soon to see progress because the strategy started from such a low base.