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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 08:48 GMT
Training grants website was 'lost'
Individual Learning Accounts
The site advertised Domainia's courses for a short time
Sarah Toyne

The Department for Education lost control of its Individual Learning Account (ILA) website for up to three months during the summer to an online training provider participating in the scheme.

The My-ila.com name was bought by a private individual then transferred into the ownership of Domainia, a company from Hartlepool, after the DfES failed to re-register it.

Domainia told BBC News Online that the company felt it had a right to acquire the name because the Department for Education (DfES) had not used the .gov suffix reserved for government sites - and as a .com site it was meant for commercial use.

However, after discussions with Capita, a company helping to administer the scheme, and the DfES, it agreed to return the site as "a gesture of goodwill".

Pop-up advert

In a further embarrassment to the DfES, BBC News Online has learned that for a brief period after the site transferred, Domainia used it to advertise its own training courses.

This advert would "pop up" when someone visited the website.

Taha Alireza, a spokesman for Domainia, said the advert was used "for a very short period of time".

"We accepted their argument that it was very confusing and there was an implied association between our company and the department, which was an unfair advantage."

The site then remained under registration with Domainia, although it carried government content, for another few months.

DfES debacle

Domainia told BBC News Online that the motivation for owning the My-ila.com name was because a competitor was using a similar address to promote its ILA-subsidised courses.

Mr Alireza said: "It is a very simple matter. For us it is a commercial business and we need to attract as many people to our business.

"We provide an excellent service, and there was an opportunity there. At the same time we were keen to ensure that none of the service was interrupted."

Government alert

Training providers were alerted to an issue with the My-ila.com website during the summer.

They received a letter advising them not to use it.

Instead, they were told to use an alternative site owned by the DfES: My-ila.co.uk.

However, members of the public continued to use the .com address, as it still featured in the government's advertising of ILAs.

The news is another embarrassment for the DfES.

The 200m adult training programme was scrapped two weeks earlier than the planned suspension date of 7 December following irregularities.

The scheme offered individuals up to 200 off adult training courses.

Internet logs

BBC News Online was alerted to internet archive logs which illustrated that the government lost ownership of its main ILA web address at some point between 18 May and 20 July.

These logs indicated that DfES did not become the owner again until mid-August.

In a statement, the DfES said: ""The webname 'my-ILA.com' was not re-registered and was subsequently acquired briefly by Domainia. Domainia were also a learning provider participating in the ILA programme.

"Following negotiations involving DfES officials and Capita, Domainia agreed to return the web address."

Flagship initiative

The ILA debacle is becoming increasingly embarrassing for the government - and opposition MPs have called for an inquiry into the government's handling of the scheme.

ILAs had been seen as a flagship initiative within the government's life-long learning policy.

By July, about 1.2 million people had taken out ILAs, with 800,000 using money on courses.

More than 8,000 companies have registered as learning providers.

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