Exclusive: Approved for apprenticeships – while being investigated for fraud

Training provider removed from apprenticeship register after Tes informs Department for Education of ongoing police fraud investigation

Julia Belgutay

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A training provider was approved to deliver apprenticeships by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), despite being the subject of an ongoing fraud investigation by police.

A total of 12 individuals with links to UKRS Training, which delivers training for the railway industry, have been arrested by British Transport Police, 10 of whom on suspicion of “supplying articles to commit fraud”.

The force says the investigation is ongoing, and that the individuals have been released on bail until next month. The provider has also been suspended from delivering rail safety training by Network Rail since March. But UKRS was added to the ESFA’s register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP) on 17 May, making it eligible to deliver apprenticeships using the Department for Education’s apprenticeship service.

‘Serious concerns’

The DfE has refused to disclose whether it was aware of the criminal investigation when the provider was added to the register. But after Tes provided this information to the department, UKRS Training was removed from the register on Monday.

Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden described the case as “extremely concerning”.  “I will be writing to the secretary of state and the skills minister, as I think this is a very important issue that has the capacity to damage the reputation of the register,” he added.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the case raises “serious concerns” about the RoATP vetting process.

UKRS offers apprenticeships and training for the rail industry, and was in January 2017 listed on the former Skills Funding Agency’s subcontracting register. The LTE Group (formerly known as The Manchester College Group) has confirmed that it used UKRS as a subcontractor of its apprenticeships unit from July 2014 to July 2016. “This contract was monitored in line with our quality-assurance processes,” a spokesman said.

Documents from the Competition Appeal Tribunal from October 2016 reveal that UKRS was at that point under investigation by British Transport Police. Asked about its investigation of UKRS, British Transport Police says: “To date there have been 12 arrests and enquiries are ongoing at this time.”

The police add that 10 of those people had been arrested on suspicion of “supplying articles to commit fraud”, and all have been bailed to return in August. Two women were also “released under investigation”.

‘Major non-compliances’

Neil Robertson, chief executive of the NSAR, independent auditors of training and assessment for the rail industry on behalf of Network Rail, says the academy had recommended UKRS’ suspension for “major non-compliances…associated with the highest-risk activity”. The suspension was subsequently lifted following a court order; the case is currently being dealt with by the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

A Network Rail spokesperson says that after an extensive investigation into allegations of non-compliance of training delivery, it has, following a hearing on 17 March, suspended UKRS from delivering rail safety training. UKRS is appealing the decision, but remains suspended pending the appeal.

According to Lee Bowen, a director of UKRS, six of the people arrested were either directors or employees of the firm, and two of them have since been removed from the BTP investigation. He adds: “We are [being] investigated for alleged ID fraud, but to date BTP has failed to produce any evidence on this allegation…We are confidently expecting all charges to be dropped and no more investigation.”

A spokesman for the DfE said: “We regularly review providers’ eligibility to be on the register and will remove any that no longer meet our criteria. All providers on the register must also re-apply on an annual basis.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 21 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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