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Friday, 26 October, 2001, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Trainers at risk as grants are axed
IT training course
Training firms fear for their futures
Small training providers fear their businesses will be wrecked by the scrapping of the Individual Learning Accounts scheme due to abuse.

Why are we being punished for the sins of others?

Managing director Mark Trimming
The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, suspended the scheme on Wednesday, as investigations continued into 279 providers.

Trading standards officers and others have given numerous examples of scams by which some providers were using the accounts to get the 200 while providing training of little or no value.

For smaller genuine trainers the ending of the scheme may mean ruin.

Personal coaching

Mark Trimming runs The Internetshop, based in Virginia Water, Surrey. He took part in the Individual Learning Account (ILA) pilot scheme two years ago.

He says his courses are not cheap because he specialises in providing one-to-one computer training for people who do not want or cannot find the time to go to large college classes.

The Internetshop
Companies expected learning accounts income for a number of years
"We have delivered courses and personal coaching to hundreds of individuals.

"We have had many clients come back for more and we have been able to survive with the help of the income from ILAs.

"I trained a lady who was 93 years of age, who came in from a nursing home.

"She said she loved reading but couldn't read novels anymore because by the time she got to the end she couldn't remember the beginning.

"So I showed her how to use the world wide web. She said 'This is wonderful - I've now got access to unlimited amounts of information'."

'Simple to audit'

Mr Trimming is angry because, he said, he and others had been reporting firms they believed to be abusing the system to Captiva - the company running it for the education department - for a long time.

He said it was easy to spot the dodgy providers because they would be putting through thousands of learning account applications a week - when few legitimate trainers had the capacity to do so many courses.

Auditing them would be simple because each trainee was supposed to make a 20% contribution towards their course fees but, he claimed, many providers did not bother to collect this.

He said one provider had been giving people training software for a European computer skills course, which it had obtained a single copy of - without a licence to reproduce it.

"We told Captiva back in January and they did absolutely nothing about it," he said. "That company was still trading a couple of weeks ago."

'Complete mess'

A recent change in the system, in response to these concerns, meant that people had to make their own applications either by phone or online, rather than through the training provider.

"That stopped all the door-knocking," Mr Trimming said.

But now, in "a knee-jerk reaction", the whole scheme was being shut down.

"The way it has been run is just a complete mess, which has led to this mini-disaster.

"I lost 15,000 in my last trading year. This Christmas would have been the first time in profit, with about half our turnover in Individual Learning Account training.

"I may now have to close the business down. Why are we being punished for the sins of others?" he said.

The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"The government is scrapping the scheme because of fraud"
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