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ILA training providers appeal for explanation and compensation


This letter, written by Roger Tuckett of on behalf of over 1,000 training providers, was presented to the Prime Minister yesterday.

Dear Tony,

On your return from the European Council in Barcelona, you will be fully aware of the importance of education, training and lifelong learning. Also IT skills needed to support the digital economy and avoid social fragmentation. In your own Government, education and lifelong learning take a high priority. So too does the digital economy initiative and the work of the e-Envoy. This is welcome.

But I urge you to look more carefully at the devastation that has been caused by the Individual Learning Account (ILA) fiasco. This letter is sent to you on behalf of over 1,000 learning providers throughout the country, many small, whose operations have been savaged by the suspension of the scheme in October/November last year.

The ILA scheme started around September 2000, and replaced a variety of vocational training funding schemes which had been in place on a continuous basis since 1992. The circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the scheme are now under investigation by the National Audit Office, and in Parliament by the Education & Skills Select Committee, by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and also (I understand) by the Public Accounts Committee.

There is no doubt now that there were serious errors involved in the setting up of the scheme in 2000, and serious failures during 2000 and 2001 to recognise that problems were arising, and that changes were needed. John Healey has accepted responsibility for the problems, whether or not the blame lies within DfES or its subcontractor/partner, Capita.

Put simply, learning providers are now expecting recompense for the damage which the Government are now recognising has been caused by the failings of either their staff or their subcontractors, and for which they have accepted responsibility. Nothing has yet appeared.

- No clear explanation has been given why the scheme needed to be closed in Oct/Nov, rather than modified, and suspended for a limited number of providers. John Healey states that the Government’s primary duty is to safeguard public funds and to look after the interests of individual learners. This is correct but incomplete. The Government’s response (in closing the scheme) appears to be disproportionate to the problem.

- Very general Ministerial statements have been made about concern for the fate of learning providers. But no serious attention has been given to their plight. Even now, no impact assessment has been attempted. £50million of funding has been removed from the sector over 6 months. Jobs have been lost and businesses destroyed. The Government claims there is no contract with learning providers (although perversely there is a learning provider agreement), and so by implication no responsibility to them. ILA learning providers are highly disillusioned.

- Learning providers are angry at being told it was their decision alone whether to participate in the scheme. All earlier funding schemes had been rolled into the ILA scheme, and no longer exist. Learning providers already in the market had no choice whether to participate. New learning providers were encouraged. Furthermore, the introduction of the scheme involving 80% funding for IT basic skills severely distorted the market, and set expectations with learners. No other general Government funding exists today for basic IT skills training for those operating outside the traditional college system.

In my evidence to the Select Committee in January, I predicted that between 25 per cent and 60 per cent of IT training centres would close within 6 months, with 2,000 to 5,000 job losses. Many of these job losses appear unnoticed as a large number of small training providers each shed a handful of training staff in an effort to survive. But they are real and cause individual misery. My own non-profit making community training centre was forced to close in December. I lost my own job, and several months unpaid salary.

A more recent survey of over 200 training centres shows that the level of IT training has fallen by 42% in February 2002 on a year on year basis. Revenue to IT training providers in the period is reported to be down over 55%. These figures are devastating.

The impact of this debacle is much wider than the loss of jobs and businesses. John Healey has recognised that it is necessary to rebuild the confidence of the sector, learners and learning providers alike, in order to relaunch the ILA scheme. He may fail to achieve this.

Furthermore, IT basic skills training, a topic at the core of the digital society initiative, has suffered. And at a time when new IT users (workers or citizens) require more rather than less support to get started. The capability (and willingness) of the private learning providers to provide it is in jeopardy. I trust the apparent shift in emphasis in the e-Envoy’s work from IT skills training to greater availability of Internet access points is not a deliberate shift in policy.

There are four matters on which I would request your immediate attention, to help the Government rebuild the confidence of learning providers, and maintain a base of training capability, particularly for IT basic skills, to deliver the Government’s targets for the digital society:

1. Ensure the payment of payments due to Learning providers is carried out more efficiently than at present. Deadlines are being missed; payments are being held up because of trivial administrative errors; reasons given for holding back payments are sparse or non-existent; Capita staff remain ill-informed; no complaints or escalation procedures appear to be in place.

2. Accelerate the timetable for announcing a new scheme. The commitment is “cast iron”, but these words are viewed, frankly, as a joke; trust in Government has been shattered. No date has been set for an announcement, far less a restart date. Many categories of providers are unclear whether they will be included (small providers, e-learning). No judgement can be made on the administrative burden of the accreditation procedure and other expected safeguards. No indication has been given of the discount levels to apply to particular courses. Will 80% IT basic skills subsidy continue? Providers are making decisions now on redundancies, house remortgages and business closures in an environment of huge uncertainty.

3. Commission an independent survey and assessment of the affect the ILA suspension has had on the learning provider community, on attitudes to training and on the capability of private (and community-based) learning providers to deliver that training in the future.

4. Address the issue of compensation, whether or not there is a contractual remedy, or a formal responsibility under maladministration. The Government should recognise that by its actions and acknowledged failings, it has caused grievous damage to the learning provider community, and needs to rebuild its confidence. Failure to do so will put its lifelong learning and digital society policy targets at risk. There are solid policy grounds for investing in the sector.

We met for 30 minutes in 1987 to discuss the Copyright Designs and Patents Bill. If a further meeting (on this matter) would be helpful, please let me know.

Yours sincerely,
Roger Tuckett

Details of protests against the handling of the ILAs can be found here.


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