More than 500 people at risk of long-term unemployment will miss out on places in a training scheme next year because of a funding shuffle between government agencies.
The Tertiary Education Commission has chopped places in the Foundation-Focused Training Opportunities scheme from 4194 to 3654 from next year.
General manager of tertiary investment Dr Grant Klinkum said the cut of 540 trainees was because the commission did not get enough funding to maintain current numbers when the former Training Opportunities Programme was split a year ago, with 60 per cent of the budget going to the commission and 40 per cent to the Ministry of Social Development.
But the charities and companies that provide the training say the cut will have a devastating impact on the unemployed and force courses in some rural areas to close.
The Salvation Army's Employment Plus division, which has been running the programme at 26 sites, will close its Balclutha branch and bus 10 Clutha trainees to Dunedin.
Hastings-based College of Future Learning chief executive Liddy Trotter said the cut would leave just six trainees at her Wairoa branch, jeopardising its future.
"Shutdown will result in Wairoa losing experienced educators, staff members and a resource centre this community accesses," she said.
Christine Clark, of the Association of Private Education Providers, said providers in other towns such as Dargaville and Whangarei were also threatened.
"There are going to be a lot of staff laid off," she said.
Salvation Army social services director Major Campbell Roberts said the cut seemed crazy at a time of both record youth unemployment and projected shortages of skilled workers for infrastructure projects and rebuilding Christchurch.
"What is most puzzling about this situation is that the public mantra is that returning to work and helping people to gain skills is seen as a very good thing," he said.
"These are the people who, for one reason or another, haven't made it through the school system. So they come to us and we are supposed to, in a very short period of time, turn that around.
"Funding has been frozen for the last five years and we just had to run a tighter and tighter ship. It becomes more and more difficult. So I think the message that we are hearing is that we are really not interested in this group of people."
A small company running training courses in a provincial centre has sent the commission a letter from its accountant saying the funding cut would halve the company's profit and threaten its viability.
The sole owner, whom the Herald has agreed not to name, said her company provided "a huge degree of pastoral care" for clients who are "mainly women ranging in age from 18 through to their late fifties, some of whom have been made redundant, others who have been on the DPB since a young age, with very little secondary schooling history, and now want to work".
Her company has operated since 1997 and has been told by the commission in the past that it was "a star provider".
"Why slap the people who have been around for years?" she asked.
Dr Klinkum said the commission maintained the previous numbers for a year to ease the transition to the new system.