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Red tape blamed for axeing of IT courses for unemployed

By Donna MacAllister

Richard Laird
Richard Laird

Bureaucratic red tape has been blamed for the loss of a key worker in the city’s most deprived area.

Merkich Enterprise delivers IT courses for the unemployed but the training sessions are to be scrapped and a member of staff made redundant following a major shake-up of grants.

Merkinch SNP ward councillor Richard Laird said the adjustments were “a wonderful example of how to do something backwards and impede on important social programmes”.

Colin Downie, chief executive of Merkinch Enterprise said: “We are not going to close but we will no longer be able to deliver training for the unemployed.”

The Merkinch computer project used to apply through the Scottish Government for annual funding from the European Social Fund (ESF).

But in a significant shift, the funding will only be paid out if the group can demonstrate they have met targets and outcomes at the end of a project.

The council’s local employability lead, Bob MacKinnon, said the funding gap was being plugged by the local authority. But he said the mechanism by which the council will get the money back from the Europe Commission is still to be clarified.

Mr Downie said the new way of working meant that he could no longer retain staff for the IT programme that helps the unemployed because it was previously funded by the ESF.

He said: “The European money now goes to organisations such as Highland Council who then put it out to tender. We have to get contracted to deliver a particular service to get the money from the council. It means we can no longer retain staff.”

Merkinch Enterprise employs five staff. The IT training for the unemployed project is attended by about 15 people per week. A session also runs in Dalneigh and people from the wider Inverness area are invited to go along one day per week for support.

Councillor Laird said: “I am incredibly frustrated with how the ESF programme has gone forward. I find the European Commission’s approach that says ‘you do your programme, then we’ll look at it and we might give you the money’ to be a wonderful example of how to do something backwards and how to impede important social programmes.”

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