Viewpoint

A disingenuous piece of government newspeak was thrust at a fiasco of its own making last week.

In April, MPs on the education and skills select committee reported on what they called "the failure of a government flagship education project", the individual learning accounts scheme. Designed to widen participation and help with costs, it offered to pay a substantial percentage towards courses.

Unfortunately the system set up was so flawed that it collapsed in a shambles of fraud and abuse in October 2001. Thousands of jobs were lost among learning providers, FE students were let down and there was an overspend on the pound;200 million budget of between 25 and 50 per cent.

The committee's report was honest and hard-hitting, but the Government's response is a travesty.

First, instead of apology or admission of fault, the report is full of phrases like "with hindsight" and "clear from our experience". The scheme was closed "because of the serious flaws we identified", the botched date of closure having been "decided on police advice".

This suggests that months of searching analysis by ministers and officials had been spent in advance of its launch, closing every conceivable loophole. Then the gremlins of unexpected bad luck had intervened and the plucky Government, reluctantly under instructions from the Bill, acted in the nick of time to close the scheme and save us all from further ruin. This is nonsense.

The scheme collapsed because the Government plucked a target for success out of thin air, and every civil servant engaged on the project then knew the price of failing to meet the target. It collapsed through problems warned of by a whole battery of advisers. Quality controls were so lax that even now police cannot easily disentangle fraud from sailing close to the wind.

Second, although the report recommended the Government pay limited compensation to learning providers, it has refused. This ignores its own admission that it deliberately created a market by bringing new learning providers into it, to satisfy the demand created by its own target, and the brave assertions of Labour backbenchers of a "moral duty". Jobs and businesses have been lost, and the Government could not give a toss.

Third, despite urgent demands from teachers, learners and MPs, there is no announcement date of a new scheme. Money is being saved all the while, and when a new scheme is announced, will it have the same budget? Take a guess.

Alistair Burt MP is shadow minister for further and higher education and lifelong learning

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