Training vouchers will be offered to school-leavers

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VOUCHERS for training, apprenticeships or A-level courses will be offered to school-leavers under the White Paper on competitiveness to be unveiled tomorrow by the Government.

The voucher scheme has been tested with 60,000 school-leavers. Ministers are poised to give it the go-ahead after a consultation period to apply across the country to all Training and and Enterprise Councils (Tecs).

The Department for Education has had reservations about the plan, but John Major appears ready to support its expansion. It would enable 16- to 19-year-olds to buy education in a sixth form, technical training, or an apprenticeship with an employer.

'The notion is that it would give young people a greater interest in the choice of training or education and it underlines the vital importance in investing in skills. It will give youngsters the power to invest in their own education and training,' one official said.

The White Paper will be announced to the Commons by Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, in a statement to MPs. But the Government intends to emphasise the training package with a second statement by David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr Hunt's package will include tougher rules for unemployment benefits. The jobless will be required to accept any job after a period of time or risk losing benefit.

The requirement that the jobless have to 'actively seek work' to qualify for benefit will be tightened to require them to 'seek work actively and widely' and to 'make substantial efforts to find work'.

The Government is also preparing the ground for a British version of the United States' system of 'workfare' under which the jobless have to work for benefit. But the cost of the US scheme has deterred ministers from copying it in this country.

The British scheme, on which ministers are still working, is likely to be delayed until 1996 when unemployment benefit is replaced by the 'job seeker's allowance'.

Most of the money for the training and employment schemes will be taken from existing budgets. An extra pounds 350m is likely to be provided by the Government for non-vocational training and work experience schemes.