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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 13:51 GMT
Two jailed over training fraud
mechanic working on car
Watchdog says most were genuine mechanics
Two men have been jailed for their parts in a 4.3m training fraud in which more than 1,600 people were awarded dodgy qualifications in vehicle maintenance and repair.

Six men admitted or were convicted of charges relating to when they were employed by Centrex Ltd at High Ercall in Shropshire - a subsidiary of the Road Transport Industry Training Board Services Ltd (RTITB Services).

After a trial at Stoke Crown Court, Michael Carter, 53, of Stafford Road, Oakengates, Shropshire, was jailed for four years and William Eastland, 57, of Dale Mews, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, was jailed for three years.

Three other men were given community service orders and one a six-month curfew order.

Job losses

During the seven-year inquiry the NVQ Level 3 qualifications of 1,669 people in motor industry-related subjects such as mechanical and electrical repair and bodywork repair were withdrawn.

In addition, 150 people lost their jobs, according to Detective Sergeant Rob Vick, of West Mercia Constabulary's economic crime unit, who led the investigation.

The cost to the public was 4.3m.

"The defendants in this case not only benefited financially but could have put lives at risk by awarding National Vocational Qualification certificates for candidates to work on motor vehicles when they had not been shown to have reached the required standard of achievement," he said.

"In addition, many other honest people lost their jobs in Telford, Shropshire, Livingston in Scotland, London and other parts of the country when RTITB Services Ltd and Centrex were put out of business."

Credit for skills

The defunct RTITB Services is separate from the ongoing company RTITB Ltd, which provides training for the road haulage and distribution industries, not vehicle maintenance, and does not award NVQs.

The defendants in the case used an "accreditation of prior learning" scheme in the mid-90s as a way of helping the former RTITB Services out of financial problems.

Accreditation of prior learning is a way of giving people with work skills a formal qualification in those skills - in this case, an NVQ.

Centrex was under contract to a number of the former Training and Enterprise Councils to undertake the assessments and award the qualifications.

It cut corners on the assessments, thereby minimising its costs and maximising its income.

"It was set up in a hurry and left in the hands of an unscrupulous manager who decided he could line his own pockets as well as those of the company," said Det Sgt Vick.

Genuine mechanics

The police worked on their fraud inquiry with the Department for Education and with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the national regulator.

The QCA believes that - fortunately for the public - the vast majority of the individuals involved were genuine, skilled mechanics.

The QCA said in a statement that it had begun investigating in 1995 as a result of complaints received by its regional offices and concerns raised by the Coventry and Warwick Training and Enterprise Council, about the reliability of the NVQ certificates the RTITB was awarding.

"Our investigation showed that RTITB were failing to ensure that the assessments were valid and reliable and as a result we terminated their accreditation contract" - the only time such action has been taken.

System changed

The QCA's chief executive, Ken Boston, said it was pleased at the outcome of the long and complex case.

"All qualification systems rely upon the honesty and integrity of those involved, without that there can be no public trust in the value of the awards," he said.

"QCA will therefore deal rigorously with any person or organisation found undermining any of the accredited qualifications.

"In this case a clear conflict of interest had arisen where the organisation operated as a training provider and awarded its own NVQ certificates."

The QCA has issued a revised code of practice intended to make sure this does not happen again.

See also:

23 Sep 02 | Education
25 Oct 02 | Education
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