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Firms barred from new learning accounts

Ministers this week ruled out letting private firms get involved with individual learning accounts, reborn this week after five years in the wilderness.

Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, confirmed plans for new-style ILAs to help pay for a new generation of skilled technicians.

The original ILA scheme - which paid pound;200 towards training for individuals - was abandoned abruptly in November 2001 amid allegations of fraud in excess of pound;10 million.

Mr Rammell admitted that the Government had "learned from experience" as he announced the new ILAs at the launch of the FE white paper.

Capita ran the original scheme and, though it was never implicated in the fraud, police said a flawed system had allowed bogus claims to be made to the company. A long-promised replacement, dubbed "ILA2", had been expected to be run by Capita - but never materialised.

The new scheme will be piloted in two regions under the Learning and Skills Council. Only LSC-accredited providers will be able to provide training.

Mr Rammell said: "Despite the problems, ILAs did galvanise learners. I have made very careful evaluation of criticisms of what the public accounts committee said at the time. It criticised us for moving too quickly from the pilot to full roll-out."

When asked by FE Focus whether Capita would be involved, he ruled them out.

"Payments will be made through the existing well-tried payments system, not an agency. We will be looking what has been developed in other countries including Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain," he said.

Rob Wye, LSC director of strategy and communications, said: "People who will be going for level 3 (A-level equivalent) qualifications are sophisticated individuals. There will be no flogging of level 3s on the doorstep."

Under the original ILAs, unscrupulous operators included a vicar who recruited members of his congregation as "learners" to gain cash for "parish activities".

In future, people will only be able to become account holders on getting a full level 2 (GCSE-equivalent qualification) and being recommended for a level 3 course by a careers adviser or union learning representative. The ILA will meet up to two-thirds of their training costs.

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