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Ministers still back son of ILA

Steve Hook reports on continuing attempts to uncoverthe lessons of the individual learning account fiasco.

DETAILS of a replacement for the scrapped individual learning accounts scheme are expected in the autumn.

New adult skills minister Ivan Lewis told the House of Commons last week that the Government's commitment to son-of-ILA is "as strong as ever".

"The ILA programme was a bold and virtuous attempt to expand adult learning and open up opportunities to many people who had consigned learning to a dim and distant childhood memory," he said.

There were renewed calls for compensation to be paid to providers who lost out because of the sudden closure of the scheme. It was due to be closed on December 7 last year but the plug was pulled on November 23 because of renewed fears that the system was open to fraud.

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Holmes said: "As a result of the sudden closure of the scheme, legitimate training providers lost jobs and money, and some went bankrupt. Some companies are pursuing claims for compensation by various means and have complained to the ombudsman. A particularly legitimate claim for payment can be made by companies and FE colleges that continued to complete and deliver courses that learners had begun before the sudden closure of the scheme last November despite the fact that the Department for Education and Skills would not honour the ILA payments for those legitimate bodies to provide that training."

The Government has denied keeping MPs in the dark over the real reasons for scrapping ILAs. In its response to the inquiry by Parliament's education and skills select committee, it says ministers went beyond the call of duty in answering questions. "We have been open in the provision of evidence, going beyond customary expectations set out in guidance," said the response, published by the DFES.

The report concluded that it was difficult to assess the part fraud and abuse as opposed to overspending played in the ILA closure, without details of DFESTreasury discussions.

The scheme, which gave people up to pound;200 to spend on a course of their choice, was very popular before it collapsed last October.

The DFES and John Healey, who was adult skills minister but has since moved to the Treasury, insist there was no pressure from the Chancellor's office to pull the plug on the scheme.

The DFES rejected a key criticism of the committee that in designing the ILA system it had failed to learn the lessons of franchising and demand-led funding.

"It would be wrong to draw too-close parallels between demand-led element funding and ILA funding because of their very different context and environment," it said, as ILAs were a new way of stimulating training and nothing quite like it had been tried before.

But it added: "All parties now agree that there was a higher level of risk than was anticipated."

The DFES plans "more robust" checks of learning providers and to employ more people to monitor providers. According to DFES forecasts, the final overspend for ILAs, for 2000-1 and 2001-2, is pound;93.6 million.

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