Boris Johnson’s pledge of free college courses to stem surging Covid-19 job losses will not kick in until next April, prompting criticism it will be too late.
It is also unclear whether any extra cash will be made available – as college leaders still wait for a £3bn pot for skills announced last year – and there is no decision on which courses will be funded.
The revelations fuelled suspicion that the measure had been rushed forward to give the prime minister relief from having to deliver a constant stream of bad news about the worsening pandemic.
Mr Johnson will make a speech in the south west of England this morning, pledging the help to adults without A-levels to improve their employment prospects.
But Kate Green, Labour’s shadow Education Secretary, said: “What the government proposes is simply a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April.
“By then many workers could have been out of work for nearly a year, and the Tories still think that they will need to take out loans to get the training they will need to get back in work.”
Gillian Keegan, the skills minister, did not deny that the lack of funding until April – after the expected second coronavirus spike – meant courses would not start until the following September.
Downing Street has said funding will be limited to courses that are “shown to be valued by employers”, but has yet to say wat they will be.
The money appears likely to come from the existing £2.5bn National Skills Fund – even though an extra £3bn, promised by the Chancellor a year ago, remains “unspent”.
At present, the government pays for a first A-level equivalent qualification at up colleges to the age of 23.
From April, this will be extended to all ages for courses deemed to be valued by employers, with loans also made more flexible, the government says.
That is intended to allow people to split their studies into segments, transfer credits between colleges and universities, and enable more part-time learning.
Promising a “lifetime skill guarantee”, Mr Johnson is expected to say: “As the chancellor has said, we cannot, alas, save every job.
“What we can do is give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs. So my message today is that at every stage of your life, this government will help you get the skills you need.
“We're transforming the foundations of the skills system so that everyone has the chance to train and retrain.”