Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
600. I have to.
(Ms Metcalf) I beg your pardon. I meant in terms of
looking at an individual case. What is important to understand
is how that particular instance arose and whether it is an instance
people can piggyback on. There can be an isolated instance of
abuse, but there can be an instance of abuse where if you stop
it on case number one, you actually prevent the following several
hundred cases. You cannot afford to say it is going to cost £300
to clear an abuse of £200, therefore you are not going to
do it, because that £200 is just one case and as we found
with the ILA, it was such a large scheme that relatively small
amounts of money soon multiplied up to large amounts. We would
look more at understanding the nature of how it occurred and preventing
it for the future rather than saying it is not cost effective
to do it at that single point.
601. I am confused about the contractual position.
Are you expecting to be engaged in the next scheme? Do you know
you are going to be engaged? Is there no question of you being
engaged? I got different messages from Mr Doyle and Ms Metcalf.
(Mr Doyle) As far as the next scheme is concerned,
we have not been told that there is absolutely no way that we
will be involved in the next scheme. That is a definite. As far
as our involvement is concerned, we have not been told. That is
a definite. We are working away. We would hope to be involved
in the next scheme, but we have to prove our worth and that we
are going to add value to the next scheme.
602. We do not want to improve your share value
which I see from the Financial Times is doing all right
for the moment, but with regard to my original question as to
why you are not battering down the door saying "Come on.
Fix this", would it not be good for you to go in there knocking
on the door?
(Mr Doyle) Of course it would. I tried to say that
earlier on. I said that it would be good for all of us and from
Capita's point of view first and foremost we do not find ourselves
in this situation very often, thank goodness, otherwise our share
price would not be as healthy as it is. We are embarrassed to
be in this position. We want to work as hard as we possibly can
to get it out there now. First and foremost that is about getting
an ILA 2 scheme out there which everybody can be proud of and
which works very well. Secondly, to us as a company, of course
there will be nothing better for our credibility in the marketplace
than to be a part of that scheme and to show that we can do what
we set out to do.
603. I got the impression that you were going
soft on your criticism of the detail of the scheme at our last
hearing because you had an eye on your future contractual relationship
with the DfES.
(Mr Doyle) No, I do not think that is right. We were
not going soft on it because of that. The DfES is a customer of
ours and we work very closely with them.
604. So it is because they are a customer that
you were going soft on them.
(Mr Doyle) I do not think I was going soft on them
at all. It was not for me to go soft on them or not. We find ourselves
in a difficult situation and as I tried to explain last time nobody
set out when we pushed off on this scheme thinking this was going
to be a disaster. Nobody started there. We would not have started
if we felt that. As the thing went on, we went through nine months
when things were looking very good and we lose that now. For nine
months certain decisions were taken by the Department, which we
were concerned about at that time and we shared those concerns.
For nine months they were right and we were wrong.
605. It seems to me that from the evidence you
gave last time you were here you felt that the learndirect
relationship was a means of accrediting providers and Ms Metcalf
has now spoken about the need for pre-accreditation of providers
as a means of quality control. Yet Mr Healey's evidence yesterday
was that learndirect is not an accreditation process, it
is not a quality control process, it is just a process for getting
names into a hat. Which of those is correct?
(Mr Doyle) We have a difference of opinion and that
happens. There was no difference of opinion in that there was
always an intention. learndirect was an example of a way
in which we could get some kind of method of finding that we had
bona fide providers coming through onto the system. That
was always our belief. We believed that was part of the original
specification and I believe the Department believed that as well.
Where the difference of opinion comes in is that we actually believed
that would help get accredited suppliers into the system. The
Department believed that would not, that it was a weak way of
doing it. We were concerned about that and we put actions in progress
to monitor what was happening around learning providers. For probably
the first nine months of running the scheme it looked as though
the Department were right and it looked as though we were wrong.
In the first nine months, we were getting no evidence of learning
providers misbehaving or not getting the right calibre of learning
providers through, the volumes were right, the level of complaint
was low. It looked sensible. Unfortunately in the spring or so
of last year, some learning providers seemed to cotton onto the
fact that there was some gain to be had and suddenly we started
to see evidence coming through that you have already seen. As
soon as that happened, we picked that up, we went to the Department
and they took action.
606. Schedule 2 of the specification at MAB/P/00240
talks about bulk learning provider registration. Then at MAB/F/00250
it talks about learning provider registration which judging by
the context is not bulk, in other words is individual. So you
knew at the beginning, or at least you knew when you signed up
to this, that there would be two processes of registration or
rather you expected that but then the Department was unable to
deliver on the first. Is that correct?
(Ms Metcalf) Yes; effectively. At the outset we had
thought we were going to get a database transfer in terms of numbers
of existing providers and there is perhaps a tendency to confuse
the database transfer, which I believe also involved learndirect
as one of those and perhaps one of the FEFC databases as another
one. So as ILA was launched there was a knowledge that a number
of learning providers in the country, who already existed, were
already on databases and one simple way of kick starting the ILA
database for providers was to lift those databases across. There
was an incompatibility of those databases so in fact individuals
came on a direct link. I made the point last time that that was
only all those providers who were in existence at the time and
therefore there was a mechanism for people to come through to
607. Indeed. I understand that. Thank you. Forgive
me for moving on. The question is: how loudly did you shout to
the DfEE before the delivery of the contract began about the weakness
that you were placed in by the lack of any system that might be
described as a pre-accreditation of providers?
(Ms Metcalf) Timing again plays quite an important
part in this. It was quite late in the timing cycle when we discovered
the incompatibility of the databases. From memory, I think we
are talking about May. The scheme was due to be launched in June.
"Shout" is not the right term. We raised the issue with
the Department and in fact it looked as though our concerns were
not going to be justified. For quite some time we had this open
registration approachif I could use the word "open"
carefullybut it seemed to be working. The growth of providers
seemed to be sensible, there seemed to be very sensible use of
the system and I suppose our concerns backed off a little because
we were proved to be wrong; everything looked very, very positive
and everyone seemed to be behaving in an appropriate way.
608. Before they knew or at least thought they
were right, how did the DfES respond to your shouting or your
(Ms Metcalf) I cannot recall the particular conversations,
so I can only record it in outcome terms. They convinced us that
they felt that it was not a fundamental problem.
609. The last time you gave evidence to the
Committee you were questioned about who ran the accreditation
process in the Scottish scheme and you were unclear whether it
was learndirect or not. Could you clarify that issue now?
(Ms Metcalf) Yes. I believe now that it is the University
for Industry for Scotland who actually run the accreditation process
610. Given that we already have an accreditation
scheme running in Scotland, do you have any views in terms of
how the new accreditation process should run in ILA 2 and who
should be the players in that process? You seemed to be leaning
towards local Learning & Skills Councils in one of your earlier
(Ms Metcalf) I put that forward as an option. What
I would suggest is that it ought to be an organisation which has
the skills base to make those educational quality judgements.
The University for Skills in Scotland does it up there and there
is an equivalent organisation in England. It could be done on
a local basis. If one looks at the earlier research there was
a great deal of pressure to have a local based scheme. That is
something which would be outside our remit. I am simply saying
that so as not to lose the flexibility of having a national ILA
scheme, it is useful to have a national database, but there several
possible mechanisms and it does not have to be a single universal
mechanism from pre-accreditation. There might be opportunities
in the public sector to use the existing framework, opportunities
perhaps in the private sector for different types of organisations.
I know that one of the large concerns is the distance learning
organisations. It might be appropriate to have a completely different
level of checking and pre-accreditation for that sort of organisation
than perhaps another. That is pre-accreditation. It is important
not to place the whole emphasis of quality assurance on pre-accreditation.
It is one aspect of the whole quality methodology which needs
to be brought into ILA 2 in terms of auditing providers and spot
checks and ensuring that even though the providers themselves
are checked the whole product is worthy of public sector funding.
611. Do you have any views in terms of whether
you think it should be one organisation totally involved in the
accreditation process or should there be more than one organisation
involved or would that create problems in keeping an eye on the
new system, shall we say.
(Ms Metcalf) First of all it is not my call to make
that judgement. I would be more concerned that the output was
of a sufficient standard rather than the mechanism relating to
the inputs. I would be quite comfortable to know that there was
a mechanism there that could be universal or selective or whatever,
but that the provider reaching the database would have gone through
an appropriate route, appropriate to the type of provider perhaps.
One is always conscious, picking up the earlier point, that the
amount of cost that goes into a scheme in administration must
not outweigh the benefits of the delivery. We have within the
ILA, particularly in ILA 1, the intent to broaden the education,
the number of education providers, to broaden out the marketplace.
It is fair to say that the sort of scrutiny one might want to
apply to an existing further education college might be quite
different to a very, very new distance learning provider, so perhaps
we need a mechanism that encompasses that vast range of learning
612. I was interested in your earlier comment
about the need to monitor the product and that element is genuinely
significant and has only come out of the discussion at a later
stage. It also begs the question of whether the emphasis in the
original specification and your administration of it was leaving
more to the openness to get more providers in or more to extending
the range of the learners. Where do you think the balance lay
originally in those two very important concepts?
(Ms Metcalf) I am not sure I can answer that one at
all. Both were seen as objectives. To widen the involvement of
individuals in education was a clear objective and in particular
in terms of technology, which is why the balance in terms of the
funding went towards those technology and mathematics courses
but also there is a recognition that to do that, to broaden the
breadth of individuals coming into education, there might need
to be new mechanisms and therefore new providers. I have no notion
of the balance.
613. Do new mechanisms inevitably mean new providers?
(Ms Metcalf) Not necessarily; I suppose not.
614. Where was the research done? Are you aware
where the research was done to back up these concepts?
(Ms Metcalf) No, I am not.
615. The element I am still concerned about
is how we match the needs of the broader based learning group
with the quality product they actually need. How do we match on
the ground? You have a national database and I think that is right.
I think people ought to be able to go nationally to a database
of providers. We are widening the incoming learners. Who is going
to match the quality product that the wider range of providers
is giving with the needs of this group of learners whom we have
now accepted and you have accepted this morning may need more
help than the scheme originally anticipated?
(Ms Metcalf) That is one of the issues the Department
have been considering. All we can do is conjecture in the sense
that a number of bodies have been involved in discussions about
quality products and about the quality of education delivery.
There are several mechanisms which could facilitate this such
as the national database, focusing in on complaints, producing
management information which allows for targeting of audit. Who
carries out those audits, who would carry out spot checks on new
providers, that is something very much in the Department's court
in terms of the decision.
616. And in your experience would need to be
localised rather than national.
(Ms Metcalf) Localised is an opportunity, but it would
work equally well nationally. What is important is that the dialogue
is there, so that you can focus either through complaints or simply
a rolling programme of management audit on where you would go.
I have simply suggested that in a risk register approach there
are some organisations one might want to visit more frequently.
Certainly as one looked at the registration mechanisms you could
highlight those organisations and therefore you could provide
whatever third party with the sort of data that gives them a nice
rolling programme of audits at the right sort of frequency levels
to balance the risk with the universality of the offering.
617. The Scottish scheme allows you to get help
and advice in choosing your course. That was not allowed in the
English system. You were working for the Scottish scheme. Did
you never suggest that it would be good to carry over to the other
two areas where you were working in England and Northern Ireland?
(Ms Metcalf) I am a little embarrassed but I might
need to pick you up on that. Through Learning Skills the individual
could get advice about their courses and could get information
about their course. That was one of the areas that even in England
did work. The difference between the two systems was the pre-accreditation
issue, not the availability of access to information by individuals.
If a provider were registered in England and had registered their
courses, then individuals could ring up learndirect, get
some information about a course and they automatically dropped
through to the ILA. For courses which were registered there by
providers who happened to be registered they could get information.
It was not a universal database, so you could be a member of an
ILA scheme where the provider was not registered with learndirect.
I am sorry if that is not terribly clear.
618. That is interesting. We will check that.
The information which came to us was that the schemes in Scotland
and England were distinct in that case.
(Ms Metcalf) The Scottish scheme was more universal
in that all were registered, whereas in England not all providers
were registered and therefore the facility was limited to those
619. May I ask again about the quality processes
and the monitoring of quality? From the documentation we have,
there seems to have been an annual quality review at the end of
the first year of the contract and then quarterly reviews, then
monthly reviews. We have a sample of one of the monthly reviews
here. What happened to those reviews? When Capita produced the
monthly review what then happened, what discussions took place
and what action took place following that?
(Ms Metcalf) There was an annual review which was
undertaken by the Department. We never saw the final report from
that annual review.