Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
680. I notice from my briefing on the company
that Capita does not give very much to charity. It is very small,
one of the smallest in the FTSE100. Perhaps you will look at helping
the partnership with the Open University.
(Mr Doyle) We are very new to the FTSE100.
Chairman: Okay. You heard what I said.
681. Like Val, I feel a sense of desperation
but I do take your point that it is the DfES really which should
be establishing some sort of target for re-introducing this scheme
rather than yourselves, if I read you correctly. I am very concerned
that we are going to end up with a scheme which is very comfortable
and cosy for the public sector organisations whom Ms Metcalf trusts
so much, and very difficult if not impossible for the new innovative
providers whom you, Mr Doyle, have emphasised a bit more than
she did, and prior accreditation, yes, possibly, but prior accreditation
of each course is a very big hoop for people to jump through,
is it not?
(Mr Doyle) It is and this is part of the balance which
I am talking about. You have to move almost to what you would
do to make sure this never, ever happens again and you get a massive
long list of the hoops everybody has to go through. You almost
have to go there first before you can convince people of the practicality
of that, before you can start to move the other way. I believe
we are now moving back the other way. It would be a great shame
from a personal point of view in some of the learning providers
we have heard about and some of the positive entrepreneurial ways
they have gone about things. Looking on their website, where they
chat to each other, I picked up a comment on there that said "That's
it now. This will be closed down so tightly that none of us new
providers who have been doing these great things will ever be
able to get through the hoops to get there". It would be
a terrible, terrible shame for that to happen. What we have to
do is work very hard on convincing people that we can introduce
systems that limit the risk around having those entrepreneurial,
positive learning providers around the scheme.
682. I can understand that and I can understand
also that it is not in your gift, but one of the phrases which
has been used quite considerably over recent weeks has been abuse
of the system and nobody seems able to define what they mean by
it. As I said to the Minister yesterday, we think we know what
fraud is, but a few years ago it was abuse for a doctor to have
a sign outside his practice bigger than a certain site. Now we
take a different view on advertising professional services. Is
it abuse to sell door to door? Is it abuse to sell in supermarkets?
Is it abuse to sell distance-only learning? Which of these is
abuse and should therefore be ruled out?
(Mr Doyle) The word abuse started to be used really
because of not actually being able to put the finger on these
things and say it is fraud, but common sense told us that it was
not right, it was wrong.
683. So supermarket selling is wrong.
(Mr Doyle) No, not necessarily. I know there was some
conversation yesterday around this. Supermarkets, door-to-door
selling, are not wrong. There is actually nothing wrong with the
684. If the product is good.
(Mr Doyle) What is wrong is the product or the way
somebody goes about it. If they go heavy-handed to the door and
put people under pressure, even if they have a good product in
their hand, we do not want to see that. We do not want to see
an individual put under pressure. It is the way people go about
it and the product they have.
685. What I am not clear about is that we now
have a figure that the number of complaints is equal to 0.7 of
all account holders, that is not to say that 0.7 of all account
holders have complained. You receive these complaints. Do you
have any handle on how many of them are fraud, how many of them
are sharp practice, how many of them are administrative? If they
are fraud they are in a box and we know how to deal with them.
If they are administrative, they are in a box and you know how
to deal with them. If the "abuse" is actually a fairly
small proportion of those, then all this superstructure, pre-accreditation,
quality assurance of each course and so on, is unnecessary.
(Mr Doyle) Any numbers we gave you just would not
stand up. We struggle to establish what is fraud, what the police
would accept as being fraud and what is not. What I would say
to you is, if it helps, that my gut feeling would be that that
bit you are talking about as abuse would be quite a large number.
The ones which fall into the ones you can see, in my mind anyway,
are obviously fraud and may be smaller in number but can be quite
serious in content. My gut feeling would say that number in the
middle, where we would loosely use this term "abuse"
would be the larger number. It does need to be attacked.
686. I do not want to revisit earlier questions
but I just want to get some clarification on two issues to do
with the learning provider registration, firstly in terms of design
of the form on which the learning provider had to register. Was
it Capita's design or was it the Department's design? Who was
responsible for the original form?
(Ms Metcalf) We designed it and the Department approved
687. In terms of the accreditation of learning
providers, in the contract documents one of the specifications
is that the criterion for registering learning providers is that
they must be currently registered with DfES or the TECs or LSCs.
That clearly was not the case and therefore how was it that that
component of the specification was completely ignored? Have we
discussed that before, because I do not remember it?
(Mr Doyle) I think we have discussed it before but
quickly, it was not ignored, it was a decision which was taken
that we would not go down that route.
688. Who took the decision?
(Mr Doyle) The Department took the decision because
it was proving too difficult. It went against the spirit of openness
in terms of trying to make it an open scheme and they were not
convinced that this would solve this problem of accreditation.
We had our concerns about that and we actually put some process
in place which said we would keep checks manually on that. In
the early days we were proved to be wrong and they were proved
to be right.
689. Did anyone in the Department ever say they
wanted some quality checks built into the system, but the Treasury
(Mr Doyle) No, not to my knowledge.
690. If it was the Department's design of the
form and if they required the learning providers to be registered
with the FEFC, was there an earlier version of the form in which
there was a section to verify where the learning provider had
(Ms Metcalf) The form actually carries the registration
number anyway. The starting point of the form was that the registration
number of that previous registration would be there. That was
the way in which it was done. The form went through numerous drafts,
as forms do.
Chairman: Thank you very much again. May I say
in concluding that you have heard the Committee's sense of urgency
on this matter and we do hope perhaps over the next few weeks
you do talk to and perhaps even visit some of these smaller providers
who have been in so much trouble. I think you would learn a lot
from speaking to them. We have. Ross Cranston, the MP for Dudley
North brought to my attention CompuTeach, an excellent organisation
in his own constituency, who are going through great difficulties.
It just seems to me that if you talked to some people like that,
the very small and some of the larger ones, matched with the history
would be even better, it might ensure that you give really good
strong advice to the government both in terms of the urgency and
of getting a good Mark 2 up and running as soon as possible. Mr
Doyle, Ms Metcalf, Mr Pilling, it has been a pleasure to have
you here again. Thank you.