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Call for 'Interpol' to detect fraud

Top government advisers called this week for a new-style "Interpol" to cut across departmental boundaries to police post-16 education and training initiatives.

Geoff Hall, of the Learning and Skills Council, said he had warned the Government "at the highest level" in May 2000 that there was a risk of abuse of individual learning accounts.

Mr Hall was speaking at the Commons education select committee where the LSC unveiled draft proposals for the "Mark 2" accounts, a government flagship scheme for widening participation.

The initiative was scrapped in November - 18 months after Mr Hall issued the warnings - amid allegations that the scheme was riddled with fraud and bogus learning providers.

Mr Hall told the committee the "scams" were not new. They had blighted initiatives including the European Social Fund and franchising. The next target, he warned, would be "e-learning", the latest scheme to attract learners.

"There seemed to be a group of people who had a profound understanding of the funding and spotted an opportunity for quick earnings. My recommendation to government departments is that we need a kind of Interpol that cuts across funding frontiers. We have to bring together the best people from regulatory agencies."

The LSC Mark 2 proposals are more like the original model for ILAs, with a three-way contribution from individuals, employers and the Government.

They would be seen as a longer-term savings account to promote the habit of investment in learning - like a mortgage or pension plan - not a pound;150 quick fix. This, the LSC says, would attract backing from banks and finance houses not interested in the current scheme.

Accounts could be held in cash or vouchers, or even in "learning miles". All providers would be subject to rigorous quality controls.

The Association of Colleges told the committee a survey of colleges who are under no suspicion of fraud, showed average losses of pound;25,000 after the plug was pulled. Preston College, the biggest provider, had to find pound;260,000.

Further report: www.tesfefocus.co.uk

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