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Learning accounts are back in Wales

WALES led the way in the UK this week by bringing back Individual Learning Accounts, more than a year after they were suspended because of fears of fraud.

The private training subsidies, once a flagship education project, were first withdrawn in England in November 2001 amid controversy over poor provision and allegations of fraud. Wales followed a month later and programmes were also scrapped in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In England, the scheme cost the Department for Education and Skills pound;273.4 million against a pound;199m budget. The Public Accounts Committee called the management of the scheme "risible" and said the DfES had cut almost all possible corners.

In fact, there was no incidence of fraud in Wales, but a spokesman for the Welsh Assembly said that after the scheme's suspension in Wales, "suddenly we had interest from providers on the other side of the border whom we had not heard from before. We were suspicious and we wanted our scheme to be watertight."

The new ILA Wales will be aimed at the most needy, in line with the Assembly's equal opportunities policy for learning. All applicants previously had to contribute to their training, but now students receiving income support or Job Seekers' Allowance, at level 2 or below, will be eligible for a maximum payment of pound;200. Discounts will also be available, according to benefits received and previous learning attainments.

The scheme, which will cost pound;2m for each of the next three years will be introduced in stages. First learner providers will be invited to state their interest, and only when these have been registered will individuals be invited to apply.

Education minister Jane Davison said students would have a wide range of options.

"This will provide financial help to those with no or low qualifications - those who missed out on learning earlier in their lives. Those least able to pay for learning will be given the most help," she said.

The rest of the UK is still waiting for replacement schemes.

The website www.ilawales.com will be live from February 27

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