Millions spent on apprentice firms without scrutiny

 
Prime Minister David Cameron meets apprentices Boosting apprenticeships has been a key coalition government initiative

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Huge amounts of public money have been handed to private companies to train apprentices with little scrutiny over how it is being spent.

BBC Panorama found that nearly £250m worth of contracts went to large subcontractors in 2011 which have not been inspected by Ofsted.

This is because of a loophole in the government's £1.4bn training scheme.

Some of the companies involved did not even have jobs to offer young people who signed on as apprentices.

The programme also found evidence of a training firm forging paperwork to try to gain accreditations.

Gold standard

In 2011, the government in England spent £1.4bn to create more than 450,000 apprenticeships, a 63% rise on the previous year.

In order to meet demand for apprenticeships, further education colleges are increasingly subcontracting work to private training firms.

Unlike colleges, these firms are not subjected to regular inspection.

In the case of one subcontractor, Forward Thinking Training Solutions, a painting and decorating apprenticeship for an NVQ was to be delivered in 16 weeks, rather than the year that industry experts say it should take to properly train an apprentice.

The company went into administration last month.

Panorama: Find out more

BBC Panorama logo
  • Shelley Jofre presents Panorama: The Great Apprentice Scandal
  • BBC One, Monday, 2 April at 20:30 BST

Scott Upton, vice principal of Sandwell College in Birmingham, said a formal apprenticeship is the "gold standard of vocational training" and rushing candidates through an apprenticeship programme will devalue the entire system.

"When you get new entrants into the market wanting to put people through as quickly as possible without providing the highest quality, that's got to be a cause for concern."

At another firm - JML Dolman in Wolverhampton - Allan Middleton, who left the firm 5 weeks ago, was an internal verifier for apprentices.

Mr Middleton said he understood the company was being paid £9,000 for each apprenticeship completion award issued.

It was his job to verify the apprentices' work had been done, which would allow JML Dolman to draw down more funding. He said he refused to do so but found evidence it was happening anyway.

Whistleblower

But in a statement to Panorama, JML Dolman denied the £9,000 per apprenticeship figure, calling it "substantially inaccurate".

The firm went on to state: "Mr Middleton was a disgruntled ex-employee (who) was in large part responsible for the very issues he is now seeking to highlight."

JML Dolman said there had been no deliberate attempt to deceive or mislead: "There were administrative failings which resulted in mistakes being made. These were genuine errors.

"As soon as these anomalies were identified... those responsible were dismissed and systems put in place to ensure there could be no recurrence of these problems.

"With regard to those cases mentioned…none of these individuals ever received certification and we claimed no payment."

The company added that an inspection undertaken by an external verifier gave JML "a clean bill of health".

But a current employee has told the BBC that the problems still exist.

The whistle-blower told the programme that paperwork obtained by Panorama that shows apprenticeships as complete, could not have been at the time they were signed off because the firm did not employ an assessor then.

In their statement to the programme, JML Dolman said: "At no time has there been any hiatus in the provision of assessors at JML."

John Hayes, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, said the government will act on subcontractors.

"The crackdown on subcontractors that aren't delivering will be relentless," he said. "This is not something we were not aware of in terms of the overall picture, the character of subcontracting is something that I was sufficiently concerned about, in order to insist that we tighten the screw."

Panorama: The Great Apprentice Scandal, BBC One, Monday, 2 April at 20:30 BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

 

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  • Comment number 232.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 231.

    I have to say that I'm not entirely confident that the Department for Work and Pensions is a proper organisation to monitor contracts. It's agenda is more about getting working people off benefits than it is about compliance.

    Perhaps there should be an office for due diligence and compliance of all government contracts.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 230.

    An apprentice is an apprentice, not just employee, nor just a student.

    An apprentice has always been:
    - a rookie employee who is
    - receiving on-the-job mentoring and assessment
    - from experts in their field
    - as they seek long-term employment
    - in the company where they are apprenticed.

    There should be external inspection of - and government funding for - all serious apprenticeships providers.

  • Comment number 229.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 228.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 227.

    The moment you start to involve private companies in the delivery of programmes you introduce the profit motive. From that point on training companies will be looking to circumvent the rules in order to increase their profits. Been happening since the '80's and Restart.

    If you want these things to be run properly you need to bring them back into the public sector.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 226.

    JB #224 is right.
    The issue here is about tax payers' money being passed to deregulated profiteers - A4e being a prominent and pertinent example.

    It doesn't matter that NL adopted duff tory policies like this and PFI - It's time to stop flogging the Private good Public bad horse - the private sector is failing us and needs just as much attention, if not more, than the Public Sector.

  • Comment number 225.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 224.

    @John_Bull - sorry but private involvement in unemployment training started in the early eighties with Thatcher not with Blair - anyone remember the scandal of YTS? Training firms have been ripping off the public purse for over thirty years now, it's a profitable racket.

  • Comment number 223.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 222.

    #219.news
    "This government has a responsibility to see that pubic money is spent wisely... But like all Tory 'plans', this government simply can't be bothered to do anything properly"

    I love that!

    Between 2001-08, Labour increased the ND by 200Bn without having anything to show for it, & now Labour voters (whilst moaning about cuts) chastise this govt for wasting their money!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 221.

    You give public tasks to private companies run for profit, then tell them they will only receive income if they achieve very narrowly defined standards. Why act so surprised when they make damn sure those outcomes are reported? Fraud in adult training run by private organisations has been happening since the 1980's. Get the private sector out of the business of adult education.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 220.

    #218.Big John
    "I state that training has been devalued in the UK for the last 2 decades"

    #215.Big John
    "Have any of these companies had afternoon tea with "Call me Dave" by any chance?"


    Certainly agree with the first bit, but since this particular "Dogma trumps common sense everytime."
    started under Blair, I'd start your 'afternoon tea' investigations there, Big John!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 219.

    Quote: "Huge amounts of public money have been handed to private companies to train apprentices with little scrutiny over how it is being spent."

    This government has a responsibility to see that pubic money is spent wisely and to monitor its use. But like all Tory 'plans', this government simply can't be bothered to do anything properly - except where their own cronies can benefit.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 218.

    As somebody who was a trainer in industry for over 25 years can I state that training has been devalued in the UK for the last 2 decades. The only UK companies to buck this trend have been Rolls Royce and BAE.
    Thank God the Japanese still beleive in training. Toyota, Honda, etc.

  • Comment number 217.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 216.

    Yet more ill conceived policy on the hoof from the pantomime horse coalition. The Tories are rotten to the core, that was never in doubt, the apprenticeship program serves those who would capitalise the taxpayer funded subsidy whilst getting virtually free labour to swell their coffers. Just remind me who "we're all in this together" with again would you? What a complete shower this government is!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 215.

    Dogma trumps common sense everytime.
    The only trouble is this is my money they are giving away!
    Have any of these companies had afternoon tea with "Call me Dave" by any chance?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 214.

    British Governments are so bereft of ideas about improving the employment situation for young people, they will clutch at any straw including the profligate handing over of hard earned tax payers' money to private companies too greedy and too profit obsessed to come up with their own apprentice schemes. If it wasn't so serious, the incompetence would be laughable.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 213.

    @212. Tagnuts
    Name one.

 

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