Examination of Witnesses (Questions 259-275)|
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2002
259. Mr Pitman, Mrs Betson, thank you for joining
us. You have been sitting there listening patiently to the last
witnesses and you come from and represent a very different sector.
By way of introduction, could you say what you think about what
you have heard this morning so far?
(Mr Pitman) If I may start, I have read
the transcriptions of everybody with immense interest. I think
the ILA programme has, to a large extent, been a victim of its
own success. I think that the new programme will be enormously
helpful to vast numbers of people going forward. I think the concept
of individual access and the concept of the funding following
the learner has got to be right. Everyone seems committed to that.
You mentioned the private and voluntary sector being very different
from the colleges. Increasingly we find ourselves in partnership
with colleagues in colleges who are also delivering work-based
learning. I represent, as Chairman, the Association of Learning
Providers; Sammy Betson runs the Information Technology Centre
(ITeC) in Ipswich and has very strong experience of the details
of running ILAs from the pilot schemes. I think between us we
can truly represent the situation from the point of both the private
and voluntary sectors. I feel that what we must do is not lose
sight of what ILA has really been designed to do, which is to
help people who are not currently engaged in learning, principally,
but not exclusively, so that they can carry out their jobs better
or, indeed, prepare themselves for jobs which they have not had
before for various reasons (having a family or changing jobs,
whatever it happens to be). I think we need to focus on that.
I do believe that we need very much to look at the other aspects
other than the very important ICT aspects of the ILA programme.
I think we need much better emphasis on the basic skills side,
the literacy and numeracy side, to help the vast numbers of people
who have difficulties in those areas. I think it is a very exciting
programme and I think as we move forward, learning the lessons
of what happened so farI am not quite sure yet how serious
those problems have beenwe will end up with a first-rate
programme which will really achieve its objectives and benefit
vast numbers of people and, indeed, the whole question of life-long
260. Mrs Betson, what do you think of the present
situation? How soon do you want to see a replacement and what
would it look like for you?
(Mrs Betson) Tomorrow would be nearly soon enough,
Chairman. Can I just say, though, that I did not find there to
be a significant difference between the experience of Preston
College and the experience we had ourselves. In fact, the similarities
are rather more striking than the differences. I accept that we
are on a very considerably smaller scale. They have some 5,000
people, we have 500; we have 89 per cent of those actually achieve
qualifications. Can I just pick up on the point about not giving
ILAs perhaps to people who previously have achieved a qualification.
My understanding of life-long learning is not that you achieve
one qualification and that is it: one hit and you are out of the
system. I have to say that, reading the CVs of the people around
the table now, none of you now are in the same occupation that
you were trained in originally. I would suggest that, like a lot
of us, you have probably changed more than once along the way.
Did you assume that you would have no training for your new occupation?
261. I think you are getting into murky territory!
(Mrs Betson) I will pull back from that one.
262. It is a very good question, Mrs Betson.
I asked the Minister himself if he was involved in lifelong learning.
(Mrs Betson) We should not lose sight of that, nor
should we lose sight of the fact that the Department took a very
bold step in moving forward with ILAs. I have been in training
since 1982 and the ITeC has been set up since 1984, so I am afraid
I go back to the days of the MSC and the various formats it went
through until it has now become the LSC. I have been involved
with FE funding franchises. I am afraid I am one of that small
but awful band of people who takes money at the bottom end of
that side as well. However, I believe we have a good track record.
We have very much experienced the same as Preston College, where
we had a number of Government initiatives pulled out from under
our feet. Like the College, we have generally tried to cover the
Government's back in being the coal-face people, representing
the Government to individuals who are coming in for the learning
experience at the time. On this particular occasion, with the
ILAs, they have dropped us in it quite considerably.
263. Have you lost money as a business?
(Mrs Betson) I cannot quantify losing money, Chairman,
in quite the same way. We are owed something in the order of £8,000
for training we had delivered. I would not like to put a figure
on the amount that we may subsequently lose in terms of lost opportunity
from that business point of viewnot in quite the same way
as the College. We certainly have found ourselves in a position
where our cash-flow has taken a very serious knock. In fact the
Finance Director sees the bank manager this afternoon. I know,
from discussions with the Principal of Preston College just before
we came in, that the question of whether or not we would participate
in a future scheme is whether we have a spoon long enough. I am
afraid that the bank manager may question whether we do have a
spoon long enough. I personally would like to be involved, and
I think the majority of the members of the voluntary and private
sector do see it as a very good route forward. There has been
a somewhat unreasonable expectation as yet that we should have
already, within the very short lifetime of this scheme, reached
into the further regions of the disenfranchised, the disenchanted,
the disaffected, who have not previously participated, and that
overnight the mere introduction of the ILAs should bring in this
cohort. It is unreasonable to have expected the colleges to have
turned this round overnight, or to have expected the private or
voluntary sector to do so. I do think that the figures that have
come through so far in the take-up indicate that we have quite
significantly started to move it forward.
264. The previous witness suggested that the
Government had targeted the wrong thing, in that the Government
has targeted fraud, and the witness suggested that it is quality
that should have been targeted. I wonder whether you can take
us through that. Secondly, the anecdotal evidence suggests that
people were knocking on doors, handing over a disk and saying
"sign the form" and that was the end of it. Was that
your experience, and would you have expected to have been a whistle-blower
in that case and said, "hang on a minute, something has gone
wrong here"? Did you do that?
(Mrs Betson) I had very limited personal experience
of the situation. I did hear of people in the local area who were
knocking on doors. I have no direct experience. I have had personal
experience of customers of ours who have had their ILA taken,
or assumed, or acquired by other people without them being aware
of it. The point at which we became aware of it was when they
came to register with us; we went back to Capita to register their
numbers with them and were told that that had already been taken
and used. It was very difficult to blow the whistle. The first
attempt I made was very early on in the scheme. I got back to
Capita to say there had been this instance of someone we were
dealing with through the Shaw Trust (a local organisation that
deals with people who are recovering from mental illness or have
some mental disability) being very confused by a doorstep salesman.
She was very unsure about what was going on. I went back to Capita
on this and in fact I was refused any opportunity to talk to a
supervisor or to customer services. In fact, it was very difficult
to get anywhere with their customer services line other than,
"thank you, we have made a note of it".
(Mr Pitman) The important point here is quite simply
that all education training needs to have very clearly-defined
objectives and ends. If you have achieved that, then you are on
the way to success commercially and from the point of view of
those who are learning. In Pitman's, long before NVQs were even
thought of, we were training to very clearly-defined objectives.
We were doing that not because someone told us to, but because
that is what the market wanted. We all know that as we moved from
the 72 TECs to the 47 local learning and skills councils, everyone,
working together, was seeking a rate for the job and then a real
boost to quality. That is moving forward a bit slower than some
of us might wish, but nonetheless it is moving forward, and we
are heading in the right direction. We are all trying to do the
same thing, whether colleges in the public and private sector
or any other organisation. Unfortunately, that has been lacking
in this programme so far.
265. Sometimes, does not quality assurance lead
to the sort of bureaucracy that the Principal of Preston College
was concerned about? The fact is that the Minister told this Committee
some weeks ago that the beauty of the ILA was that if you were
a consumer, just as you do not take someone by the hand and take
them into the Co-op or into Harrods, they make a decision to buy
a product because they are adults and can make a decision about
what is a quality product. Why is it that someone has to guide,
and tell and filter information when it comes to educational choice?
Was not one of the beauties of the ILA that it left it up to the
consumer? If you bought a rather shoddy good, that was what he
or she chose.
(Mr Pitman) That was one of the beauties of ILA mark
1, and we must not lose sight of that. At the same time, like
everything else it is a question of balance. It may well be that
that was not tied up enough and there was not enough bureaucracy
in ILA mark 1. We are looking at a control here; we are looking
at advice to the individuals. We are setting ourselves a pretty
massive agenda for the benefit of the learner. One thing that
is absolutely clear is that the advice to individuals needs to
be improved so that they know what they are letting themselves
in for. They are encouraged to take these programmes because they
will be of benefit to them, and they are helped financially. We
must not lose sight of that. I do feel that from the point of
view of the LSCsand they will speak for themselves after
this sessionthey have a tremendous amount on their plate.
They have a massive budget of £6.5 billion, of which the
Association of Learning providers (ALP) is interested in £1.5
billion, which is the work-based learning side of life. They do
have an enormous amount on their plate, as a new organisation,
to take over from ten years of the TECs and get the ship moving
along. This is an enormous volume of work that would perhaps come
266. Mrs Betson, what is your view of this?
Is it not rather patronising for the education sector to come
in and say, "you cannot trust the consumer"? Why should
not ILA2 be successful and still be a very light touch? Mr Ingleson
was very worried about what LSCs were going to do, and the sort
of bureaucracy and demands involved. We are hearing very mixed
messages about how intelligent and well-informed the consumers
are, and their ability to make reasonable choices. Are you being
patronising in saying that you need to hold their hands when choosing
an educational product as opposed to any other product?
(Mrs Betson) I do not think it is necessarily a matter
of holding their hand, Chairman. If I go into the Co-opand
I am not yet aware that the Government is paying me to go in and
spend my money in thereI have to have generally earned
it first of all. In the education sector and the training sector
as a whole, we are looking at considerable amounts of Government
money. As an earning taxpayer, I do need to see some control over
where it is going. I agree that the local LSCs probably have a
role in the initial recommendation and possibly selection of providers,
providing that does not mean that they then put the block on it
and say "we have got the ones we want, and we want no more".
I would not want to see that, because I think the ILAs have allowed
a degree of innovative and very flexible provision to be made.
The national LSC probably is best kept as far out of it as possible
because it does have a very considerable remit at the moment in
all its other areas. If we look at the ILA as being not in itself
an education scheme but as a purchase scheme, which is actually
what it is, then we can look at this from a slightly different
point of view. I share the concerns of everyone else within the
sector, in that we get painted very black by exactly this sort
of experience; there is a percentage of rogue providers, possibly
not even what one might call legitimate providers in established
terms, that brings us all into disrepute and create a great deal
of financial difficulty. You made a comment earlier about compensation
to providers. Obviously, I have a vested interest, but my concern
is about compensation to the individuals. A significant number
of them were caught at the end of November, and where Preston
College has perhaps been able to honour every one of the agreements
they had made with potential learners, we have not all been able
to do that.
(Mr Pitman) It might be useful, Chairman, to look
at the provider base, as represented by the Association of Learning
Providers, which is virtually the trade association base. That
is a base of 1,200 providers, not including the colleges providing
work-based learning, so it is representing the private and voluntary
sector. A very big provider has about 7,000-8,000 people on its
programmes; a very small provider has under 10 people on its programme,
and so there is a huge diversity here. Those providers have been
developed over the last 18 years by the various agencies and by
government to be very high-quality providers. They are not to
be confused with 8,500 people who have been brought in for delivery
of ILAs. Clearly, there is an overlap, but when I was preparing
for today I circulated the Construction Industry Training Board
and major employers represented on the Association of Learning
Providers. Most of them have not touched ILAs for various reasons,
and I do think that they need to be encouraged in to help provide
and deliver ILA mark 2.
267. Mr Pitman, you have just remarked upon
the fact that one of the direct consequences of the ILA scheme
has been enormous expansion in the number of learning providers.
Looking back in hindsight at the scheme, should the Government
not have provided a check or balance?
(Mrs Betson) If you are looking to what was an innovative
scheme, quite unlike anything that had been brought in before,
then I think you are stepping into unknown waters. It is a high-risk
area, and you have to take that risk as a calculated risk and
say, "do we look for that additional provision; do we look
for something innovative; where are we going?" Mr Gibson
commented earlier on the fact that the paperwork to become an
approved provider at the moment for LSC funding is enough to daunt
the strongest heart, and I agree. Having been through that process
a number of times over a number of years and having been through
the various auditing processes that inevitably follow through,
it is not something that I would recommend somebody to take on
lightly. I have to say that I think it would be a brick wall in
the way. We are talking of public funding, and therefore there
has to be some sort of check and balance. It is right that at
some point within a year or so of the start of the scheme, there
is some means of looking at the provision that is being made and
the people it is being made by, and asking if that is what we
are looking for. I think that perhaps it should have been brought
in a little bit sooner, and there does have to be some form of
initial quality assurance that is more than, "what is your
bank account number and what is your address?" That is effectively
what it came down to.
268. You mentioned that some of the additional
learning providers that came in were rogue providers, and that
that is currently being investigated by the Department; so you
are admitting that there is an element of rogue providers.
(Mrs Betson) I am assuming that only from the fact
that you made the statement earlier on that there are providers
being investigated by the police, and I am assuming therefore
that there are rogue providers.
269. Are you saying we should not have some
form of accreditation? Can you expand on what sort of check and
balance it should have?
(Mrs Betson) I go back, Chairman, to what I said about
the local LSCs. I think they are the right people because they
do have the local knowledge and know the local individuals. They
are well placed to be able to give some guidance, some steer,
some indication of the validity and standing of an applicant in
that area, which is why I would not see that being pushed back
to a national level, but I would not see them taking that much
further other than possibly picking up general local complaints.
(Mr Pitman) Within the 47 local area scheme, we have
the structure in acceptable local authority boundaries, and the
whole thing is settled now and could not be better. Certainly,
they do have a local dimension, as Sam says; they have local knowledge.
The 1,200 providers who are in contact with the Learning Skills
Council and Employment Service are a very highly regulated body
of people. The monitoring, reviewing and checking and everything
else is very advanced. I am not suggesting that those people should
be the only people delivering ILAs; there is a huge raft of people
who are not contracting with the local LSC, who are well-established
providers, particularly in the IT training world. They need to
be brought in. We need new entrants and new imaginative ways of
270. I have a very brief questionand
I got a very brief answer last time: how helpful were Capita?
(Mrs Betson) To us as providers? They are sometimes
difficult to get hold of. Individuals tend to be a little more
helpful, but once we came to the point where there were difficulties
with people having had their ILAs used, then it became very difficult
to get through to them.
271. Was it just a matter of getting through
to them, or when you did get through to them, what was the quality
of the house they then provided?
(Mrs Betson) It tended to be, "we will get back
to you by tomorrow".
272. Did they?
(Mrs Betson) No.
273. I was intrigued by your comments earlier
about the fact that ILAs had not reached many people, or a small
number of people who do not have any qualifications at all. I
am sure we all agree that lifelong learning is beneficial and
very positive. Do you think that things could have been done differently
to target those individuals with no qualifications, to bring them
into the ILA structure? Do you think enough was done, and do you
think that with a successor more could be done to attract those
people into the system?
(Mrs Betson) Chairman, I am always concerned when
we look at what starts out as a universal scheme, and finishes
up being terribly targeted.
274. You are in favour of universality.
(Mrs Betson) Indeed I am. I believe that we were starting
to get to the target areas, and by definition they have been out
of the education and training system, and that is why we are trying
to get at them, because they have been out of it. You cannot then
expect them to be first through the door, when you then open the
door to them through the ILA or any similar system. Therefore,
you must allow for the scheme to get going, for it to get validity,
and for word of mouth to come in. We are working with travellers
in the local community. I have been told by the travellers' education
officer that once you have got the first two in, you have them
all in; but it is getting the first two in.
275. Are you saying that if the Government had
not pulled the plug, for whatever reason, at the back end of last
year, more people at the lower end, who we are trying to bring
into ILAs would have come into the system by now? The very fact
that it was pulled, stopped that happening.
(Mrs Betson) I cannot prove it, Chairman, obviously,
but that is very much my feeling. That is my considerable opinion.
We had started to move the groundswell forward.
Chairman: Thank you very much for answering