Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 690)



  680. I notice from my briefing on the company that Capita does not give very much to charity. It is very small, one of the smallest in the FTSE100. Perhaps you will look at helping the partnership with the Open University.
  (Mr Doyle) We are very new to the FTSE100.

  Chairman: Okay. You heard what I said.

Mr Turner

  681. Like Val, I feel a sense of desperation but I do take your point that it is the DfES really which should be establishing some sort of target for re-introducing this scheme rather than yourselves, if I read you correctly. I am very concerned that we are going to end up with a scheme which is very comfortable and cosy for the public sector organisations whom Ms Metcalf trusts so much, and very difficult if not impossible for the new innovative providers whom you, Mr Doyle, have emphasised a bit more than she did, and prior accreditation, yes, possibly, but prior accreditation of each course is a very big hoop for people to jump through, is it not?
  (Mr Doyle) It is and this is part of the balance which I am talking about. You have to move almost to what you would do to make sure this never, ever happens again and you get a massive long list of the hoops everybody has to go through. You almost have to go there first before you can convince people of the practicality of that, before you can start to move the other way. I believe we are now moving back the other way. It would be a great shame from a personal point of view in some of the learning providers we have heard about and some of the positive entrepreneurial ways they have gone about things. Looking on their website, where they chat to each other, I picked up a comment on there that said "That's it now. This will be closed down so tightly that none of us new providers who have been doing these great things will ever be able to get through the hoops to get there". It would be a terrible, terrible shame for that to happen. What we have to do is work very hard on convincing people that we can introduce systems that limit the risk around having those entrepreneurial, positive learning providers around the scheme.

  682. I can understand that and I can understand also that it is not in your gift, but one of the phrases which has been used quite considerably over recent weeks has been abuse of the system and nobody seems able to define what they mean by it. As I said to the Minister yesterday, we think we know what fraud is, but a few years ago it was abuse for a doctor to have a sign outside his practice bigger than a certain site. Now we take a different view on advertising professional services. Is it abuse to sell door to door? Is it abuse to sell in supermarkets? Is it abuse to sell distance-only learning? Which of these is abuse and should therefore be ruled out?
  (Mr Doyle) The word abuse started to be used really because of not actually being able to put the finger on these things and say it is fraud, but common sense told us that it was not right, it was wrong.

  683. So supermarket selling is wrong.
  (Mr Doyle) No, not necessarily. I know there was some conversation yesterday around this. Supermarkets, door-to-door selling, are not wrong. There is actually nothing wrong with the method.


  684. If the product is good.
  (Mr Doyle) What is wrong is the product or the way somebody goes about it. If they go heavy-handed to the door and put people under pressure, even if they have a good product in their hand, we do not want to see that. We do not want to see an individual put under pressure. It is the way people go about it and the product they have.

Mr Turner

  685. What I am not clear about is that we now have a figure that the number of complaints is equal to 0.7 of all account holders, that is not to say that 0.7 of all account holders have complained. You receive these complaints. Do you have any handle on how many of them are fraud, how many of them are sharp practice, how many of them are administrative? If they are fraud they are in a box and we know how to deal with them. If they are administrative, they are in a box and you know how to deal with them. If the "abuse" is actually a fairly small proportion of those, then all this superstructure, pre-accreditation, quality assurance of each course and so on, is unnecessary.
  (Mr Doyle) Any numbers we gave you just would not stand up. We struggle to establish what is fraud, what the police would accept as being fraud and what is not. What I would say to you is, if it helps, that my gut feeling would be that that bit you are talking about as abuse would be quite a large number. The ones which fall into the ones you can see, in my mind anyway, are obviously fraud and may be smaller in number but can be quite serious in content. My gut feeling would say that number in the middle, where we would loosely use this term "abuse" would be the larger number. It does need to be attacked.

Mr Chaytor

  686. I do not want to revisit earlier questions but I just want to get some clarification on two issues to do with the learning provider registration, firstly in terms of design of the form on which the learning provider had to register. Was it Capita's design or was it the Department's design? Who was responsible for the original form?
  (Ms Metcalf) We designed it and the Department approved it.

  687. In terms of the accreditation of learning providers, in the contract documents one of the specifications is that the criterion for registering learning providers is that they must be currently registered with DfES or the TECs or LSCs. That clearly was not the case and therefore how was it that that component of the specification was completely ignored? Have we discussed that before, because I do not remember it?
  (Mr Doyle) I think we have discussed it before but quickly, it was not ignored, it was a decision which was taken that we would not go down that route.

  688. Who took the decision?
  (Mr Doyle) The Department took the decision because it was proving too difficult. It went against the spirit of openness in terms of trying to make it an open scheme and they were not convinced that this would solve this problem of accreditation. We had our concerns about that and we actually put some process in place which said we would keep checks manually on that. In the early days we were proved to be wrong and they were proved to be right.


  689. Did anyone in the Department ever say they wanted some quality checks built into the system, but the Treasury said no?
  (Mr Doyle) No, not to my knowledge.

Mr Chaytor

  690. If it was the Department's design of the form and if they required the learning providers to be registered with the FEFC, was there an earlier version of the form in which there was a section to verify where the learning provider had been registered?
  (Ms Metcalf) The form actually carries the registration number anyway. The starting point of the form was that the registration number of that previous registration would be there. That was the way in which it was done. The form went through numerous drafts, as forms do.

  Chairman: Thank you very much again. May I say in concluding that you have heard the Committee's sense of urgency on this matter and we do hope perhaps over the next few weeks you do talk to and perhaps even visit some of these smaller providers who have been in so much trouble. I think you would learn a lot from speaking to them. We have. Ross Cranston, the MP for Dudley North brought to my attention CompuTeach, an excellent organisation in his own constituency, who are going through great difficulties. It just seems to me that if you talked to some people like that, the very small and some of the larger ones, matched with the history would be even better, it might ensure that you give really good strong advice to the government both in terms of the urgency and of getting a good Mark 2 up and running as soon as possible. Mr Doyle, Ms Metcalf, Mr Pilling, it has been a pleasure to have you here again. Thank you.

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