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Justifiably, trainers may be shy

The looming of a new version of individual learning accounts will be greeted with some trepidation. While colleges will see it as a welcome opportunity to open their doors to previously reluctant students, private training firms will not be so quick to jump.

The first scheme's faults went far beyond it being open to fraud. It was perfectly possible, within the rules, for unscrupulous firms to use it as a way of getting their hands on taxpayers' money in exchange for sub-standard or inappropriate training.

The scheme was, of course, popular with the public. All forms of education, however spurious, become more attractive if they are provided at taxpayers'

expense. Partly for this reason, individual learning accounts expanded and expanded before exploding like a giant rotten marrow.

When ministers pulled the plug, the damage was as severe for those firms which were providing quality training as for those less deserving of the Treasury's largesse.

Here was a case of private training firms grabbing a Government policy with both hands and getting horribly scalded in the process. The then permanent secretary for education, David Normington, bluntly told them there would be no redress as they were responsible for their own risks. He was, of course, stating a fact of business life.

Another truism is that, having had your fingers burnt once, it is wise to think hard about grabbing a similar opportunity when it comes around.

For private trainers to take part this time, the DfES will have to do more than apply tougher quality standards. It will have to convince them that civil servants have been considerably more intelligent in designing the scheme than they were last time.

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