The current Individual Learning Accounts scheme has collapsed amid a fiasco of criminal allegations and recriminations. But many training professionals hope that its principles can be salvaged from the wreckage to rebuild a better structure. Elaine Essery reports
Disappointment, but not surprise, seems to be the consensus reaction to the suspension of Individual Learning Accounts.
As details of the extent of the fraud, the lack of budgetary control and the financial damage to genuine providers unravel, stakeholders are asking questions. What did the scheme achieve? Where did it go wrong? What should happen now?
It is almost inevitable that such an initiative will attract champions as well as charlatans in its early stages.
But because the ILA scheme failed to work initially does not mean that the idea is flawed.
The original concept was that ILAs were a partnership between the individual, the employer and the state.
The wider vision was that with appropriate checks and balances to support the disadvantaged, they would be the mechanism used largely to fund all post-16 - or certainly post-18 - education.
Most believe that the principle was right and the vision sound, even if the implementation proved faulty.
While no replacement is on the horizon as yet, there is widespread encouragement by solid guarantees from ministers that the spirit of ILAs will be taken forward.
"The principle of the ILA is great and the risk is that you throw the baby out with the bath water," says Michael Davis, MD of the Centre for Enterprise.
"What ILAs did - probably more symbolically than actually - was to allow individuals to be champions of their own learning, which is really powerful.
"The idea that you were going to be sent an annual statement saying how much you had invested in your learning over the last 12 months was, I think, terrific."
Mick Fletcher, research manager at the Learning and Skills Development Agency, agrees. "The one thing the Government got absolutely spot-on with ILAs was that it moved away from the idea that they were vouchers, but treated them as a cash-based account - just like an airline's account of someone's travelling, against which they give air miles," he says.
Fletcher believes the Government is right to suspend rather than abolish ILAs, although they may need relabelling