The baking industry should be allowed to decide how new funding for skills, recently announced by government, should be spent, as the head of the UK’s food and drink sector skills council accused the government of “clinging onto the purse strings”.

Improve chief executive Jack Matthews welcomed the government’s pledge of an additional £260 million, but criticised the ringfencing of the funding for only training under-25s, stating that funding for skills would only work if it was left to industries to decide where it should be deployed.

Individual sectors including bakery were in “dire need” of direct assistance to help fund solutions to training and skills shortages, he added.

Matthews also argued that “rapid-response” strategies were needed to retrain and relocate workers in areas where their skills were needed. “This can’t happen while the government clings onto the purse strings and attempts to micro-manage where funding is allocated,” he said.

Justine Fosh, director of the National Skills Academy for bakery, said: “The funding available for training is tightening and often being redirected towards these kinds of generic initiatives [under-25s training]. The profile of the workforce is largely older in the bakery sector, so this initiative misses the target. There’s a need to ensure the bakery sector has a skilled workforce that will help drive it forward.”

Matthews also urged the baking industry to train those older workers coming onto the labour market who had lost their jobs or who were seeking a career change, and not just young people.