Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 167)

WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002

MR JAMES REES, MS LIZ SMITH AND MR BERT CLOUGH

  160. Surely the lesson from that is that there should be greater government consultation with your bodies to ensure that the Mark II, when it does finally appear, is better shaped for the future? Would that not be an obvious lesson?
  (Mr Clough) I have every confidence that the Government is going to consult on this. There is a wealth of information on the pilots in the past and the Government should actually be able to identify good practice from the past, not reinvent the wheel and basically develop a new Mark II around good practice.

  161. Are you not worried about the time that this is taking? We have a critical stake here with a number of very good quality ILA providers probably going out of business, certainly a number who have not been paid and the Government seems to be dragging its feet on this.
  (Mr Clough) Well, Mr Baron, I totally agree that there is urgency. At the same time as people have indicated in their evidence to you that the new system must be a robust system and basically a Mark II must have these safeguards and any announcement by the Minister at Easter or even before would have to have a scheme based on that, but, as I say, I think the Government does have to act to quickly in identifying good practice and in identifying the safeguards.

  Ms Munn: I just love it when a Conservative Member of Parliament discovers the value of the trade unions. It has made my morning!

  Mr Baron: Don't worry, we recognise it sometimes, but it is not universal!

Ms Munn

  162. The area that I wanted to explore is about the future and I think you have already identified a number of the key elements, so I do not want to take up the time going back over that. Given that we are looking at moving to hopefully a second ILA Mark II scheme, if I can say this just to the TUC to make it short, what would be the three key elements that you would want to see in a Mark II scheme, given that not necessarily everybody who is coming forward for an ILA would be in a position either because they are non-unionised workplaces or they are not even in work to benefit from the kind of help that you have been able to put in place for people who are represented by a trade union?
  (Mr Clough) As I said earlier, niche marketing of those target groups, those that have not got any qualifications up to Level 2, those that might have those qualifications, but are vulnerable to unemployment, those employees who might be freelance workers, et cetera, who find it very difficult to access training because basically they are self-employed, niche marketing of those groups is essential. Related to that is very good advice and guidance so that they have the information about which providers to go to, et cetera, and, most importantly, they choose the right courses because people might open ILAs, but the big issue is whether they continue in those courses because we want value for money. Thirdly, obviously, there should be some sort of robust system whereby when you actually go to a provider, you know that there are certain guarantees that that person will give you impartial, independent advice and provide courses which meet your needs at a certain value. All sorts of ways of doing that have been put to the Committee and we would not necessarily wish to choose which one, but, nevertheless, that is essential.

Mr Shaw

  163. Your members have embraced the ILAs and that is something that your members are familiar with. Do you think the brand image is still there? When you go to your meeting in February, will you be discussing a new name, "The new improved ILA", or "ILA—we're back"? Do you think the brand image of the name will retain confidence?
  (Ms Smith) I think actually within unions, there is a sort of positive view of the brand of ILA in that it helped us. Whether that necessarily means that the brand "ILA" is right for the new scheme I think is a different matter because obviously there have been an awful lot of very serious problems, so I think it would be difficult to comment beyond TUC experience.

Chairman

  164. We have to finish now, but I have to press you in a sense. Here we have three of the most experienced people in the field. You have enormous knowledge and experience, but you have obviously also got a great deal of political nous. I know that because I know the three of you. I know, Liz, you got the OBE for your services to continuing education in 1999. You have a great deal of political nous as well as educational nous. Come on, tell us what you believe. Did this ILA scheme get closed down because it was too popular, it was running too fast and costing the Government too much and is this just a scapegoat, that the few frauds which have actually been pursued are just a fig-leaf of the Government closing down something which was getting out of hand in terms of expenditure? What is your gut feeling?
  (Mr Clough) It is difficult to second-guess what the Government's actual reasons for closing the scheme down were.

  165. But you would agree that there have been very few prosecutions for fraud and they are becoming less by the day?
  (Mr Clough) That is certainly true, Chairman. Reading the evidence of the witnesses last week, it seemed to indicate that the situation, however, was getting worse very quickly and I think that the Minister, therefore, felt the need to act in an effective way and if he had not, then maybe you might have asked the Minister different questions than you asked him.

  166. Can I press you on the fact that what was becoming apparent was that the number of people taking up ILAs was growing apace and whether there is real evidence of fraud growing apace is not yet proven. Is that not true?
  (Mr Clough) All that I can do is obviously to read what was said by Ministers and civil servants, et cetera, and certainly if you are talking about actual cases as opposed to concerns over various learning providers, there is a difference, but certainly it is absolutely true to say that there was a huge increase in the numbers of people taking up ILAs. This might look good, but the important thing is the extent of this deadweight which is certainly a considerable problem, so there is this problem of so many ILAs being taken up and in the increase in deadweight and obviously the impact that might have on public expenditure, but I could not basically weigh up which of the two issues in the end made that decision happen by the Government.

  167. But you would be very cross as the trade union movement if you found out that there had been an excuse made to close down a very successful scheme which was benefiting your members?
  (Mr Clough) Well, Chairman, we have every confidence that whatever happened in the past, the new system will actually have safeguards in it and that the trade union movement will be able to ensure that their members have greater access to ILAs. If that was not the case, we would not be very happy.

  Chairman: Bert Clough, I remember your diplomatic skills and I thank you for them. Thank you very much for your evidence.





 
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