The company established by the government to deliver e-learning is making some progress, but is still failing to reach groups with the lowest skills levels, according to MPs.
A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee found the Learndirect service, operated by Ufi, has in seven years provided courses to 1.7m people, two-thirds of whom had not done any learning in the previous three years.
It also said that relatively few of the participants on the programme are taking up the level two courses aimed at tackling the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy skills.
The report noted that while 37 per cent of small businesses realise that Learndirect is intended to support them and their employees and only one-in-twenty-five are using it.
Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "The economic competitiveness of the UK is being damaged by relatively low levels of skills, literacy and numeracy among adults. A large proportion (about 40 per cent) of employers do not provide their staff with any training at all.
"These employers could take advantage of the extensive e-learning network established by Ufi. It is essential that this service is promoted more widely among employers and that it offers more business-oriented training."
The report recommended that Ufi should develop a strategy over the next two years to work more closely with employers.
This should include a campaign to highlight how Learndirect services could raise the productivity of businesses, MPs said.
The report also found that access to Learndirect was often limited in rural areas, but said that provision could be enhanced by providing services through online tutoring and within existing local amenities such as schools and community centres.
MPs were also concerned that Learndirect was still putting a heavy strain on public funding. Ultimately, Ufi should be self-funded, but by July last year it had recovered only £12m of commercial income compared with the £930m it has received in public funding.
One of the reasons for this, MPs said, was because up until last year, Ufi was spending one third of its budget on management and marketing costs. "Ufi should accelerate moves to cut these costs and channel the money towards learners," Leigh said.
Responding to the report, Ufi said it had introduced annual revenue of 44 per cent from the private sector between now and 2011.
Report: Extending access to learning through technology: Ufi and the Learndirect service (PDF: 413KB)
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