Millions spent on apprentice firms without scrutiny

  • 2 April 2012
  • From the section UK
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Prime Minister David Cameron meets apprentices
Image caption Boosting apprenticeships has been a key coalition government initiative

Huge amounts of public money have been handed to private companies to train apprentices with little scrutiny over how it is being spent.

BBC Panorama found that nearly £250m worth of contracts went to large subcontractors in 2011 which have not been inspected by Ofsted.

This is because of a loophole in the government's £1.4bn training scheme.

Some of the companies involved did not even have jobs to offer young people who signed on as apprentices.

The programme also found evidence of a training firm forging paperwork to try to gain accreditations.

Gold standard

In 2011, the government in England spent £1.4bn to create more than 450,000 apprenticeships, a 63% rise on the previous year.

In order to meet demand for apprenticeships, further education colleges are increasingly subcontracting work to private training firms.

Unlike colleges, these firms are not subjected to regular inspection.

In the case of one subcontractor, Forward Thinking Training Solutions, a painting and decorating apprenticeship for an NVQ was to be delivered in 16 weeks, rather than the year that industry experts say it should take to properly train an apprentice.

The company went into administration last month.

Scott Upton, vice principal of Sandwell College in Birmingham, said a formal apprenticeship is the "gold standard of vocational training" and rushing candidates through an apprenticeship programme will devalue the entire system.

"When you get new entrants into the market wanting to put people through as quickly as possible without providing the highest quality, that's got to be a cause for concern."

At another firm - JML Dolman in Wolverhampton - Allan Middleton, who left the firm 5 weeks ago, was an internal verifier for apprentices.

Mr Middleton said he understood the company was being paid £9,000 for each apprenticeship completion award issued.

It was his job to verify the apprentices' work had been done, which would allow JML Dolman to draw down more funding. He said he refused to do so but found evidence it was happening anyway.


But in a statement to Panorama, JML Dolman denied the £9,000 per apprenticeship figure, calling it "substantially inaccurate".

The firm went on to state: "Mr Middleton was a disgruntled ex-employee (who) was in large part responsible for the very issues he is now seeking to highlight."

JML Dolman said there had been no deliberate attempt to deceive or mislead: "There were administrative failings which resulted in mistakes being made. These were genuine errors.

"As soon as these anomalies were identified... those responsible were dismissed and systems put in place to ensure there could be no recurrence of these problems.

"With regard to those cases mentioned…none of these individuals ever received certification and we claimed no payment."

The company added that an inspection undertaken by an external verifier gave JML "a clean bill of health".

But a current employee has told the BBC that the problems still exist.

The whistle-blower told the programme that paperwork obtained by Panorama that shows apprenticeships as complete, could not have been at the time they were signed off because the firm did not employ an assessor then.

In their statement to the programme, JML Dolman said: "At no time has there been any hiatus in the provision of assessors at JML."

John Hayes, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, said the government will act on subcontractors.

"The crackdown on subcontractors that aren't delivering will be relentless," he said. "This is not something we were not aware of in terms of the overall picture, the character of subcontracting is something that I was sufficiently concerned about, in order to insist that we tighten the screw."

Panorama: The Great Apprentice Scandal, BBC One, Monday, 2 April at 20:30 BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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