National has accused the Government of letting trades training take a back seat while millions of dollars are wasted on "dodgy" tertiary courses such as those offered by Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

The electrical industry has complained to the Government about a lack of funding for apprentices, in a letter released by National's education spokesman, Bill English.

The letter to Education Minister Trevor Mallard from Electrical Contractors Association general manager Ray Barbara expresses concern that despite telling the Government in September of a crisis nothing had been done.

It said the Electrotechnology Industry Training Organisation (Etito) stopped allocating off-job training until this year.

"Today, six weeks into 2005, the industry is unable to place any additional apprentices," the letter said.

The industry did not have enough skilled people and not only was work being turned away, some projects were not even starting.

Mr English said it was "ridiculous" that there was endless money for self-esteem, twilight golf and phantom computer courses but not enough for a young person to learn a trade.

The electrical trades had seen an upsurge of interest in the second half of last year.

"But because the Government is spending millions on dodgy courses at the wananga and other polytechs, the electrical trades have had to stop taking on apprentices and cap the number an employer takes on."

Mr English, who is trying to keep up pressure on the Government over the quality of tertiary spending, said rationing was so tight that some apprentices in Marlborough had been laid off until more public money became available.

Mr Barbara said yesterday the Government had its priorities all wrong. The whole construction industry was booming and shortages of tradespeople did not just affect electricians.

"The only way we can meet demand over a period is to produce more tradesmen. But the Government has said, 'I'm sorry but we're happy to give plenty of money for community education'. That's the money that organisations like the wananga get."

Mr Barbara said total trade training funding from the Government was about $100 million a year - but the wananga alone got $239 million in the 2003-04 financial year.

Mr Mallard released figures yesterday showing the Etito funding was up from $8.1 million to $9.5 million this year.

Etito trainee numbers had also increased 11 per cent between September 2003 and last September, from 6495 to 7202.

Mr Barbara said the rises were insignificant compared with the millions being given to institutions such as the wananga.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet will today consider options for an inquiry into the wananga after allegations about its expenditure and some courses.

The Audit Office is already looking into allegations of conflicts of interest but on Friday the wananga said it had asked Mr Mallard for a commission of inquiry.

It also released a letter from wananga chairman Craig Coxhead to Mr Mallard showing the Government and wananga were negotiating over terms of reference for an independent review.

Training cash from Govt

* Electrotechnology Industry Training Organisation, 2005: $9.5m

* Total for all trade training: $100m

* Te Wananga o Aotearoa, 2003-04 financial year: $239m