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ILA abusers face lawsuit

The DfES is exploring bringing civil proceedings against bogustraining providers. Steve Hook reports.

GOVERNMENT officials are considering suing bogus learning providers accused of syphoning off pound;67 million from the Individual Learning Accounts scheme.

Although police inquiries into the saga are continuing the charges that have so far been brought relate to the alleged theft of less than pound;100,000 of public funds. There has been only one conviction.

ILAs allowed people to buy government-subsidised training worth up to pound;200 and to spend it as they chosefe-sty.

The Department for Education and Skills, whose own "special investigations unit" has also been looking into possible fraud, is now seeking legal advice about the possibility of pursuing some providers through the civil courts instead.

The DfES would sue selected providers for its money back after they accessed funds through Capita, which ran the scheme.

This could have a greater prospect of success because the burden of proof in civil cases is less than that required in a criminal prosecution.

Nevertheless, the DfES says it expects its investigations will take two years to bear fruit.

It has also been announced that the replacement for ILAs, details of which were expected to be announced this autumn, will have to wait until at least June 2003, when the new skills strategy is due to be published.

New measures which are recommended in the review are expected to be in place by April 2004, although it is possible the second version of ILAs could be introduced before then, under the stewardship of new adult skills minister Ivan Lewis.

A DfES spokesman said: "We have decided it would make sense to go ahead with the full design and implementation of the new ILA scheme in isolation from the wider review. "We must ensure that the successor programme is fully integrated within decisions about our future approach to funding adult learning."

The special investigations unit is now looking at 151 learning providers. It says pound;67 million has been given to providers under suspicious circumstances.

The scheme, with a pound;200m budget over two years, had used up pound;273m of public money by the time it was closed in November 2001. Police are looking at 99 learning providers. Ten police forces are said to be involved. There have been 60 arrests, leading to 10 cautions and 13 charges.

Capita, which also administers the Criminal Records Bureau security checks on teachers, is expected to be in charge of running the replacement ILA scheme.

Mr Lewis said: "We are grateful for the partnership approach that Capita has adopted to the wind down of the ILA scheme and the development of a successor."

The DfES has been told by the National Audit Office it should review the way it works with Capita when the replacement ILA scheme comes into being.

Poor communication between the two organisations was one of the reasons cited by the NAO for the failure of the scheme.

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