Learning accounts frozen

The Individual Learning Account programme will be suspended
from 7 December.


Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris announced the
clampdown as Training Magazine was going to press. She admits to concerns that
some companies are abusing the scheme, but stresses that the Government’s
commitment to lifelong learning is cast-iron.


The news comes amid revelations that a number of learning
providers are being investigated for possible fraud. There is evidence that
large sums of public money have been squandered through unscrupulous providers
making bogus claims in respect of individuals for training courses that they
have not followed.


Describing the announcement as "regrettable", a
spokesperson for UfI says it does not come as a surprise.  "Since earlier in the year, we’ve been
aware of organisations using the learn direct brand in ways which, it seemed to
us, were to do with drawing down funding through ILAs. Clearly, when there was
such evidence about the way in which the scheme was being used, the Government
had to act," she said. 


"Our wish is that individual adults would continue to
be supported in learning by Government. We’re reassured to hear from the
Secretary of State that lifelong learning remains a Government priority and to
hear of her desire to find either another form of the ILA or something to
replace it."


ILAs have been criticised for not increasing participation
in learning among non-learners. Research published in September by the Learning
and Skills Development Agency found little evidence that they were being opened
by those not already engaged in learning. It recommended the development of
strategies for using ILAs and the adoption of more proactive marketing tools.


Philip Taylor of the TUC said, "It’s clear that a large
number of users would have done their training with or without an ILA. It’s
vital that any new system targets those who wouldn’t have taken up a training
opportunity without an ILA." 


The TUC is meeting with the Minister for Adult Skills to
discuss a wide range of issues concerning workplace development. "We would
wish to be closely involved in the development of whatever takes the place of
ILAs. It is clear that a replacement is needed," said Taylor.


By Elaine Essery

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