Examination of Witness (Questions 380-388)|
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER
380. Indicating serious flaws in the design
and the operation of the scheme. So what steps were being considered
to deal with the issues brought out by these 10,000 complaints.
(John Healey) No, the 10,000 complaints, if I may
be clear, were not necessarily indicating flaws in the design
of the scheme. These were simply the sorts of customer complaints.
381. It is a high number of complaints, is it
(John Healey) Just over a quarter related to activity
that suggested non-compliance with the rules of the scheme and
therefore grounds for closer examination and investigation because
there could have been misuse.
382. But there were 7,500 complaints. That is
a very large number.
(John Healey) 2.5 million punters. I would suggest
to you that that is really a rather small proportion of what is
a very large programme. Had we had no evidence of misuse, had
we not had a problem with this small minority of ILA providers
that were mis-selling ILAs, misrepresenting the Department, frankly
offering bogus training propositions to individual account providers,
we would not have withdrawn anybody's support, we would not have
withdrawn the scheme. If we had been dealing with the issue of
overspending the original budget allocations, that is something
we would have dealt with as a discussion within the DfES about
where we should locate any priorities for additional spending,
and I probably would have been through the Chancellor's door to
argue for support to continue what would have been a very successful
scheme as it was, but one in very different circumstances without
the flaws and abuse that unfortunately crept into it.
383. Quite apart from the overspendand
the overspend is significant, 2.5 million against 1.1 million
ILAs predicted, and an amount that has been paid out in discounts
that is impossible to calculate at the momentquite apart
from that, do you not accept that there were flaws in the original
design of the scheme that led to so much of the budget being allocated
to people who would already have been prepared to buy that training?
This is what I am interested in getting at, which is the flaws
in the original design of the scheme. Do you think there were
flaws, or were you content with the original scheme? Could I make
a supplementary before you answer the first question, in order
to clarify this? We hold you accountable, and we do not envy you,
having come into this post at this time, to be held accountable,
but I am curious as to where the responsibility lies. We do not
hold you responsible, but I think it is important, if the Committee
and the Department are going to learn the lessons in designing
a new scheme, that we find out who was responsible for the flaws
in the original scheme and what are considered to be the flaws
in the original scheme.
(John Healey) I am concerned to assess the flaws in
the scheme. I am also concerned to rethink and redesign the policy.
If I may say so, I think you are returning to the territory that
you were enquiring about before, which is less to do with the
flaws in the scheme, the operation of the scheme, and more to
do with question-marks over whether making it a universal offer
was the right policy approach. I would argue that at that time
to introduce something that simply was innovative and a total
departure from anything that we had introduced before, that we
did not know how it was going to operate, was quite a reasonable
decision to take at that time. Now we are in a position to learn
significant lessons both about the design of the policy for any
future scheme and indeed to deal with flaws in the scheme itself
and the system for delivering it.
Chairman: Minister, we are running out of time.
I promised three colleagues very brief questions.
384. ILAs were a runaway success partly because
of the training schemes investing millions of pounds in marketing
and recruiting people onto these schemes. They have now lost quite
a lot of that investment because of the Government's sudden decision
to withdraw the whole scheme. Will there be any compensation for
legitimate losses incurred as a result of the Government's decision?
(John Healey) No, not in those terms.
385. The good news this morning is that you
have got people in the Department planning the new scheme. Are
they different people from the people who planned the last one?
(John Healey) The official who is leading the development
of the policy work was not involved and did not do this job 18
months ago when the previous programme was designed. Had he been
in that position, I do not think that would necessarily have disqualified
him from doing the job he needs to do now. You could argue that
actually he might be in a better position than anyone to do the
Chairman: It is said that the best person to
invest in is someone who is in their mid-30s and has been bankrupt
386. Very quickly, you are clearly going to
take advice from our own experience, from Scotland, from Wales
and from Northern Ireland. Is there anywhere else in the world
that has a similar scheme that we could look to to get some good
ideas to restart our scheme, very literally yes or no?
(John Healey) Very literally and very briefly, there
is some similar experience in Europe. We are in fact leading a
group that is trying to connect up the experience in that. We
have had more experience than any other European countries in
this, but they are just as interested as we are in what the sort
of future of this type of policy and scheme could be.
387. Lots of government schemes are abused.
You do not close the housing benefit system because it is abused.
What is the proportion that you think in financial terms has been
misspent, or might have been misspent, of this scheme?
(John Healey) I cannot give you a financial answer
to that, but it will be based on the proportions and perspectives
that I have already explained about the breakdown of complaints
that relate to misuse and breakdown of providers. We do, after
all, have more than 8,500 registered providers under this schemethe
breakdown of providers about whom we have got serious concerns.
Until we, frankly, have investigated any concerns and allegations
and then done all sorts of financial background work on that,
it is simply impossible to give you an answer on that.
388. Minister, this has been a very valuable
session for this Committee, and I thank you for your patience.
The good news is that because we have not covered most of the
topics, we are looking forward to seeing you again. Thank you
for your attendance.
(John Healey) I am very much looking forward to seeing
you as well.