MINISTERS have come under fire for not providing enough leadership in ensuring the nation's workforce has the skills it needs.

The public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has produced the damning indictment of the Scottish Government which it said had to take "urgent action" to improve saying current arrangements are unlikely to achieve ambitions to bridge the country's skills gap.

The concerns arise from from a 2017 project originating from a Enterprise and Skills review led by the First Minister and which has led to the discovery of skills gaps in social care and a demand for new skills in digital and responding to the climate emergency.

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That involved the main public bodies responsible for providing access to post-school skills and knowledge, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) working together on skills planning and provision. Together they spend over £2 billion each year on training and post-school education.

But the new analysis reveals that a lack of consensus over the way forward between SDS and SFC emerged preventing effective joint working.

It said: "The Scottish Government did not provide the necessary leadership or oversight, with insufficient clarity on what it wanted to achieve and what success would look like. As a result, the benefits anticipated from skills alignment have not been realised.

"Existing obstacles continue to pose a risk to progress, and the Scottish Government now needs to take urgent action."

The watchdog said that from the outset ministers were "unclear about what it wanted to achieve and what success would look like".

It said there was no indication of the percentage reduction in skills gaps the Scottish Government was even aiming for.

There were also problems with appoitning a skills alignment director, first called for by ministers in 2017, to support the joint work of the agencies.

HeraldScotland:

Recruitment started in February 2018 and an interim director took up the role between October 2018 and March 2019. But a permanent director did not start work until August 2019, much later than the Scottish Government had initially intended.

The watchdog said that delays in appointing the permanent director "limited the extent and pace of progress" that could be made on skills alignment.

The skills alignment director resigned in February 2021 after less than two years in post and ministers decided it should not be re-filled.

While the SFC supported that decision, SDS was disappointed that the post was not retained to help maintain the momentum of skills alignment.

Audit Scotland warned that current arrangements are unlikely to achieve the Scottish Government's ambitions.

It said ministers should now clearly set out its strategic aims and objectives and set out how progress can be measures.

They should also agree with SDS and SFC how they will work together.

Five years ago, employability and skills minister Jamie Hepburn launched a £10m flexible workforce development pilot fund administered by the Scottish Funding Council focussing on the up-skilling and re-skilling of existing employees of any age.

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Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government recognises that workforce skills are central to inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and growth, but it has not provided the leadership needed to deliver on its skills alignment agenda.

"As a result, the anticipated benefits have not been achieved and opportunities for more efficient and effective investment have been missed.

"The Scottish Government now urgently needs to set out what it intends to achieve and how it will measure progress, as well as clarifying the governance and oversight arrangements for skills alignment activity."

Jamie Hepburn, minister for youth employment and training said both agencies accept the recommendations made by Audit Scotland.

"I will update Parliament in due course on how we will continue to work towards an ever more aligned skills system that is responsive to our social and economic needs," he said.

“Progress has been made in improving collaboration between SDS and SFC with more robust Scottish Government leadership, governance and accountability arrangements now in place. But I recognise more has to be done and I will be working closely with those partners who have a critical role to play in ensuring these positive trends continue.”

He added: “Good progress is being made to drive recovery from the challenges of the pandemic; we have invested more than £1bn in 2021-22 to support jobs and equip our workforce with the future skills it needs.

"The Scottish Employer Skills Survey 2020 shows the proportion of organisations reporting a skills shortage vacancy down to 3% in 2020 from 6% in 2017, and a reduction in the percentage of employers reporting skills gaps within their workforce over the same period."