11th December 2015 at 00:00
Syddall me this…

Boom and bust

Anyone with even a passing interest in the recent history of the apprenticeship programme will know Gerard Syddall’s name.

The former director of Elmfield Training gained infamy during 2012 and 2013, owing to widespread concerns about the firm’s delivery of apprenticeships, particularly for supermarket giant Morrisons. The firm received more than £100 million in public funding before it went into administration in 2013. Shortly after, the majority of Elmfield’s business and assets were sold to EQL Solutions.

It has now come to FErret’s attention that Mr Syddall has been declared bankrupt. An official announcement about the “self-employed freelance training consultant” was published this summer.

The most recent report on Elmfield by the administrator, published in September, concludes that it does “not anticipate there will be sufficient realisations from the bankruptcy to repay the shortfall to the secured creditor”. Therefore there is little prospect of other creditors seeing any of the money they are owed – including about 21 former Elmfield employees owed money for unpaid wages.

All this is a far cry from the days when Elmfield was the fastest-growing provider in the land. Back in 2011, TES revealed that the firm had in 2009-10 paid the bulk of a £3 million dividend to Mr Syddall, its majority shareholder at the time. It also used company funds to buy family homes worth £6 million.

Elmfield’s 36 per cent profit margin in 2009-10 attracted plenty of attention. In 2012, Mr Syddall told the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills select committee: “The state was paying too much money because it didn’t realise that there were efficiencies in this kind of delivery model.”

The following year, the BBC’s Panorama made serious allegations about Elmfield, including that it had placed thousands of learners on apprenticeships who did not want to undertake the training programme. Ahead of the film being broadcast, the firm announced that Mr Syddall had quit as a director of the company.

A subsequent investigation by the Skills Funding Agency highlighted “weaknesses” in Elmfield’s controls, but concluded that Elmfield didn’t receive “any funding to which they were not entitled”. The revelation that Mr Syddall has been declared bankrupt is yet another twist in a remarkable tale, which reflects the teething troubles caused by the rapid expansion of the apprenticeship programme. And, with a target of creating 3 million more apprentices by 2020 on the table, who knows where the next story will emerge?

Make it snappy

Officials at one FE college have been getting hot under the collar about students using photo-sharing app Snapchat. The West Briton reports that Truro College has restricted learners’ use of the app, which has been widely linked with the somewhat risqué practice known as “sexting”.

A statement from the college reveals that use of the “growing and dynamic mobile-based application” has been causing some disruption to classes by eating up its internet network.

“The college has restricted access to Snapchat over the college’s wi-fi and computer network due to the impact of its use on the college’s bandwidth,” a spokesman explained.

The move hasn’t gone down too well with the student body, with one learner taking to Twitter to describe it as “a joke”. In any case, it all sounds jolly distracting, and we wholeheartedly support the college’s stance on this issue.

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