Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500-516)

MR PADDY DOYLE, MR SIMON PILLING AND MS DENYSE METCALF

WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002

  500. But you are saying that from the lessons learnt, what the Government ought to have done was got alongside you, or they do need to look at, something out there like a company or a tenderer, some organisation providing them with educational expertise, additional to anything that they had in this round?
  (Ms Metcalf) Yes. They let a contract for the operation and administration of the ILA service, to us. They did not let a contract to us for us to make any judgement on the educational content, because it was an administrations contract for which we tendered.

  501. If I look down the rest of the list of lessons learned, again in line with the Chairman's comment originally about "It's not our responsibility", we then go on to the "Authentication of an individual's existence". Was that part of your contract, or would that have been somebody else's?
  (Ms Metcalf) The issue of self-certification of membership—ie not to have proof of an individual's existence—was one of those amendments which was introduced in May 2000, so that it was no longer deemed necessary for people to provide additional documentation to prove they existed.

Chairman

  502. Sorry, let me deal with that. That was in May 2000, at the very time you said you were first getting your real concerns about what was happening in the scheme?
  (Ms Metcalf) Sorry, Chairman, May 2000, prior to the ILA going live. In point of fact, as the scheme developed and problems arose, it was in September 2001 when we were talking about the withdrawal of the non-personalised application form to make more emphasis on the individual telephoning and contacting. That was a proposal which was accepted and introduced by the Department.

Valerie Davey

  503. It would take rather a long time, I think, to go through the list, but by the time we get to the last page we are at last talking about "A review of the computer system", which I think you have quite clearly said is under your remit, "and business process requirements to balance speed and openness of access with probity and control". Are you able to tell us, in the review of that computer system, how you would now improve that system?
  (Ms Metcalf) I think it might be more appropriate for Simon to deal with this.
  (Mr Pilling) In relation to what we have heard today, we would assume that the learning providers are not in that bona fide group, so we would be looking at how can we handle the account number processing, we would look again at the usage of the system and the system monitoring, who is actually coming into the system, on a much more regular and frequent basis, and provide that information obviously to ourselves and to the DfES so we have a more rapid route to identify issues as they are happening.

Mr Turner

  504. As far as you are concerned, is the contract with the DfES still live, or has it been terminated?
  (Mr Doyle) It is suspended.

  505. What about the information that you hold on behalf of the DfES? Do you still hold that information, or have you wiped it all clean, as it were, and passed it to the Department?
  (Mr Doyle) We are still carrying out some work, so there are still calls coming in to the call centre, there is still some processing taking place, there is still an element of work to be carried on and we are carrying on that work.

  506. As if the contract were not suspended?
  (Ms Metcalf) On a much smaller scale. There were courses booked prior to the scheme being suspended that then would be commencing, and those commencements are still valid, therefore that process of going through that exercise is still continuing.

Chairman

  507. I do not think the witnesses heard the question about the data.
  (Ms Metcalf) The data is obviously still there and still held.

Mr Turner

  508. It is still there and accessible?
  (Ms Metcalf) Yes.
  (Mr Doyle) Yes.

  509. Why should somebody from the Department have written to learning providers to say, "We are still unable to reopen access to the ILA website"? Why should a learning provider say, "We have been

 allowed a brief one-day visit to the ILA website to access information with regard to our students' details and status. It was only by chance that we realised that we could access our information"?

  (Ms Metcalf) I am sorry, when I said "accessible" I thought you meant to the Department. It is accessible to the Department, not to the providers and the individuals.

  510. So how come the second provider is able to say, "It was only by chance that we realised that we could access our information" and that they were allowed a brief one-day visit to the ILA website?
  (Ms Metcalf) I am sorry, I do not know the timing of that.

  Mr Turner: Again, it is 11 weeks since the sudden shutdown of the ILA scheme. I cannot do the arithmetic in my head, but it means quite recently, does it not?

Chairman

  511. Can you check on that?
  (Mr Doyle) Again, I would like to check, yes[3].

  512. Mr Doyle, I know you are enjoying this, and I think we are going to have to have you back again, but can we conclude this morning, as time is going on, by my asking you, what do you think the Government got for its money from your contract, what was the guts of what they got from it?
  (Mr Doyle) I think it got them out of a system in a reasonably short space of time. It got the system up and running. It allowed ILAs actually to be in place, and it allowed the scheme to evolve and be as successful as it has. Again, as I said earlier, today—and quite rightly so—we are concentrating on the elements of seeing what went wrong, but there was an awful lot that went right, and I think it would be very sad for us to lose that.

  513. Of course, but how much has it cost the Government so far?
  (Mr Doyle) To date?

  514. How much capital have you received from the Government for running the scheme to date?
  (Mr Doyle) Do we have that number? We do not have that number.

  515. Is it £50 million or less than £50 million?
  (Mr Doyle) No, the £50 million is over five years.

  516. It was not clear from your earlier answers, was that number being pushed up because it was a much larger scheme than anticipated?
  (Mr Doyle) It will have gone up, but it will not have gone up pro rata, so to speak.

  Chairman: We are hoping that you will be able to come back another day. You do not have to be exactly the same team, but the relevant team. Thank you very much for answering our questions. We have learnt a lot, but there are some other things which we would like to probe. Thank you very much for your attendance.






3   See supplementary memorandum 27 February 2002. Back


 
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