Failed football coaching scheme cost taxpayers £6m
- 15 January 2012
- From the section UK
A football coach training scheme which left hundreds of teenagers without qualifications cost the government's Skills Funding Agency (SFA) £6m.
The now-defunct scheme run by Luis Michael Training (LMT) was in operation at about 80 English and Welsh football clubs including Leeds, Millwall and Nottingham Forest.
LMT says it was not to blame for the project's end and denies wrongdoing.
The SFA says colleges have been asked to repay money given to them.
The LMT apprenticeship scheme promised teenagers the chance to gain coaching qualifications while learning in a football club setting.
Successive governments have been committed to apprenticeships as a way of tackling the problems of Neets - young people not in education, employment or training - and also providing the skills that employers want.
Those attending full-time apprenticeship schemes must work a minimum of 30 hours per week, and are entitled to a weekly wage - currently £2.60 per hour.
Teenagers signed up
In this case, LMT were sub-contracted by eight further education colleges to provide training paid for by the Skills Funding Agency.
In turn LMT sub-contracted other firms and football clubs to deliver on-the-ground instruction.
Around 2,000 teenagers aged 16 to 18 signed up.
Among them was 16-year-old Levi Bunce, who signed-up to the Luis Michael Training course at Portland United FC in Dorset, which was in turn run by yet another sub-contracted firm.
"They just wanted some people from round the local area to do the course," he said.
"We thought we were going to get a qualification out of it for football coaching - for when we're older to teach little kids how to play football."
However, Levi was not told he was on an official apprenticeship scheme or entitled to a weekly wage. In fact he should not have been eligible for the scheme anyway, as he was already in full-time education.
Portland United say they were promised £750 a week if they could recruit 20 teenagers to participate in the scheme. The club also says it was unaware that the scheme was an official apprenticeship programme.
Portland United say they withdrew from the scheme when apprentices were asked to sign a contract of employment and to give their bank details, despite having been told there would be no payment for taking part.
"All funds were to be used for community projects and funds to the club," says Steve Beasant, who managed the training held at Portland United.
"It was fully explained to all club officials that apprentices were raising and earning funds which in turn were going back into their club, so they gained qualifications plus better football and facilities," Mr Beasant said.
Not to blame
Luis Michael Training signed up hundreds of other apprentices through around 80 football clubs across England and Wales - although Welsh participants were actually ineligible as the SFA only funds training for English residents.
Sparsholt College in Hampshire was one of the colleges awarded money by the SFA, and the college sub-contracted LMT to oversee the training.
The college, which had been awarded £4m by the SFA, ended the deal with LMT after identifying what it called "irregularities".
Sparsholt College principal Tim Jackson said the college "deeply regrets that many apprentices were placed in uncertainty and difficulty.
"As soon as the college became aware of the irregularities, it immediately reported them to the appropriate authorities and has been proactive and co-operative in all investigations."
Sparsholt was one of eight further education colleges to sub-contract apprenticeship delivery to Luis Michael Training.
The vast majority of teenagers who undertook the training managed by Luis Michael Training have never received their qualification - although some have since managed to complete their coaching certificate through another training provider.
There have been questions raised regarding Luis Michael Training's track record and whether the company was capable of delivering apprenticeship schemes in such high numbers.
All of the colleges deny that they failed to carry out thorough due diligence on the company.
Repay the money
Ex-Middlesbrough player Paul Sugrue and former Wales international Mark Aizlewood are directors of LMT but insist they are blameless.
"Our reputation has been ruined because we were the name at the front of the programme," says Mr Sugure, who was Luis Michael Training director.
"But we still have not been told why the contract with Sparsholt College was terminated."
He added: "It wasn't our responsibility to pay the candidates' wages - it was the employers," added Mr Sugrue.
"If some candidates were not eligible, that's purely down to the college. All we could do was submit the applications."
All the colleges have been asked to repay the money they received from the SFA.
In a statement, a spokesperson from the SFA told the BBC that the colleges are "responsible for the full value of the contract with the Agency and all provision".
It added that all colleges "must repay any funding that was not utilised in accordance with the terms of the Agency's funding agreement".
5 live Investigates understands around 80 football clubs have been affected by the failed training scheme. Those who confirmed this include:
Accrington Stanley; Ashton United; Atherton Collieries; Bacup Borough; Barnet; Bournemouth; Bradford Park Avenue FC; Bury; Chorley FC; Curzon Ashton FC; Dagenham and Redbridge; Darlington; Dorchester Town; Exeter City; Formby FC; Hartlepool United; Huddersfield Town; Leeds United; Leyton Orient; Macclesfield Town; Millwall; Nottingham Forest; Oldham Athletic; Plymouth Argyle; Portland United; Ramsgate FC; Sheffield Wednesday; Taunton Town; Winsford United; Witton Albion