MP upset by 'pitiful' recovery of mismanaged millions

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Just pound;1.5 million has been recovered out of the estimated pound;97m lost under the mismanaged individual learning account scheme that was abandoned two years ago, the Government has admitted.

The figure was greeted with dismay by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, chairman of the education and select committee, when provided with the details by FE Focus.

He said: "It is a pitiful amount. We are talking about money that could have been spent on other educational courses.

"The Government shouldn't think we are going to forget about this. They have gone very quiet, but we are going to keep ministers on their toes over this issue."

Earlier, Mr Sheerman had clashed with adult skills minister Ivan Lewis over the ILA issue when he appeared before the committee to give his ministerial review of the work carried out by the Department for Education and Skills.

He told Mr Lewis: "This committee has looked closely at the ILA scheme and every minister that has come before us has promised we will get the money back.

"But we have yet to see a single story about a successful prosecution about a large-scale provider."

Mr Lewis replied: "We have never said anything other than that the ILA scheme was anything but a disaster.

"The principles were right. But unfortunately, in the design and the delivery, the principles were undermined."

He added: "We have successfully chased many of the providers that were overpaid. We have recovered quite a significant amount."

Mr Sheerman told FE Focus: "We were always told there were going to be major prosecutions and the big players behind these rackets were going to be brought to book.

"Lights should be burning at Sanctuary House (the Department for Education and Skills' headquarters) throughout the night and every night until this promise is kept."

ILAs were intended to help adults who wanted to improve their basic skills or to learn how to use a computer, with subsidies available to meet the cost of the training.

The scheme was scrapped in November 2001 amid allegations of fraud and widespread abuse. The pound;199m budget for the first two years was overspent by pound;93.6m.

Late last year, junior education minister Baroness Ashton of Upholland told the Commons that the scheme could have cost the taxpayer up to pound;97m in fraudulent claims.

She said it could take up to two years to establish the full extent of fraudulent claims by education providers and students.

The DfES said it is continuing to investigate complaints made against providers and has so far referred 106 cases to the police where fraud or other criminal activity is suspected.

The police have made 91 arrests resulting in charges against 31 people, of which eight have been convicted and 16 are awaiting court appearances.

A spokesman added: "The department will continue to seek the recovery of any payments made on accounts that do not comply with the rules for the programme."

Mr Sheerman also expressed dismay that no replacement for the ILA scheme had yet been installed. "The Government also told us that they were going to fill the gap very quickly, with a new ILA two," he said. "But there is still no sign of a substitute."

However, the DfES said there will not be a successor scheme, and has instead integrated the elements of the ILA scheme that were successful in "the broader strategy, particularly through our proposals for new entitlements to free learning at level two".

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