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Firms are victims of learning account fiasco

Yvonne Gill writes an open letter to education and skills ministers

Small private learning providers have been devastated by the sudden withdrawal of the Individual Learning Account scheme. But the article ("Collapse prompts urgent inquiry", TES, January 18 2002) focused more on the "overspend" and fraud, implying that every bona fide trainer has been fully paid and that anyone who hasn't is under investigation for fraud.

People such as me worked hard to build up businesses offering excellent training. Through no fault of our own, we face cash problems.

The Government has not paid us for training started after November 23, even though we were told we "are not under investigation".

We were assured that courses booked on the ILA website before the 23rd would be funded. They wrote before Christmas to say they were trying to validate claims and would get back soon. So far, I have heard nothing.

The Government owes me pound;5,000. To a small business like mine, it can mean bankruptcy. I can only continue trading because some suppliers will wait for payment. My MP Jonathan Shaw says no one can say when I might be paid. Before Christmas, three of our 50 centres shut down. Unless the Government pays us, other centres may be forced to close.

The Government has not been upfront with us. To say it only found out about the fraud in November is nonsense. I wrote letters to the Department for Education and Skills, the ILA Centre and my MP as far back as October 2000 because I was concerned about abuse. I wrote again in May 2001 when my town centre was besieged by street-corner salesmen offering "free" training.

I was personally approached by someone who said he could help me make "a fortune" out of the scheme. All this information was passed to the relevant authorities.

I have a letter dated August 8 from Estelle Morris to Ann Widdecombe (who enquired on my behalf what was being done to tighten the rules). Ms Morris wrote: "The purpose of registering providers is for administrative purposes only. The Department does not approve training providers, nor does it monitor providers whose trainees have used the ILA scheme to help pay for their training. Given the substantial numbers of private-sector training providers in this country, and the fact that ILAs can be used by British residents to purchase courses in other countries, to attempt to do either would simply not be practical. The responsibility for choosing a course and a training provider rests with prospective trainees..."

I was not impressed by the reply or the attitude. I felt as though I had been told to mind my own business. I am very angry and disappointed that they "shut the door after the horse had bolted". I am a qualified and experienced teacher and I am totally fed up with the inability of this Government to grasp what "teaching" is all about.

I and hundreds of others in my position are asking: "When will I get the money I am owed?" If they are about to renege on the agreement, they should do the decent thing and tell us.

Yvonne Gill,is proprietor of Best Computer Training, Maidstone

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