Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)

NORTHERN IRELAND DEPARTMENT FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

2 MARCH 2005

  Q80 Mr Jenkins: If that is the case, we do claw it back, Chairman, I just want the figure please. How much have we clawed back?

  Mr Haire: This year, for example, £34,000 has been clawed back. I will send you a note with the overall figure on clawback.[10]

  Chairman: You are sending us a lot of notes, so I hope your Department is keeping a track of them all.

  Mr Jenkins: I have been there; I have done it; I have seen awful training schemes, I have seen good training schemes, and you have to have a rigorous inspection regime for these people. I have no doubt by reading this Report that that rigorous inspection regime is not there in your Department.

  Q81 Chairman: No answer?

  Mr Haire: I believe that we have very strong inspectorate levels on quality, finance and other administrative issues.

  Q82 Mr Williams: I have to say that I have seen bad reports, pathetic reports and abysmal reports, but my vocabulary runs out on this one. I have never seen anything like it and I have been on this Committee since late 1989, early 1990. I have never seen such a poor Report as this. The taxpayer has been absolutely ripped off. The Department has sat back and let it happen. We can understand if it happened in the short term but it has happened long term. How on earth do you justify the role of your Department?

  Mr Haire: I believe in my reading of this Report, which is why I indicated that there are areas of weakness that we need to address. It also emphasised that it felt we had achieved much of the value for money and pointed out where we were doing that. It pointed to areas where we needed to improve on quality and, as I have emphasised, we are working across all those areas to achieve quality of training for young people.

  Q83 Mr Williams: When you look at the range of shortcomings what assessments do you make of the training organisations before you let them participate? It does not look as if you make any assessment at all. Has something been set up specially for this?

  Mr Haire: When we let the contract, and the contract is let every three years, that gives us an opportunity to inspect them to make sure that they have the right systems. Our inspectorate goes in every four years to inspect these organisations and give us detailed reports. As I indicated, they are saying now that 75% of this provision is good or better. They are indicating areas where they want improvement in the other quarter of these organisations. We also are working with these organisations with a quality improvement system, training them and helping them develop. We are bringing in the LSDA to help bolster those organisations.

  Q84 Mr Williams: You may be working with them but you are not doing much, are you? If you look at page 29, "Weaknesses Reported in ETI Reports", these are recurrent weaknesses, not just occasional weaknesses: "Deficiencies in the quality of directed training within TOs", 88%, 23 out of 26 reports. That is pretty staggering. Look at the next one: "Poor development and ineffective incorporation of Key Skills within training", 88%, 23 out of 26 inspections, and so on: "Variable retention and success rates, 62%, "Poor quality of work-placements", 58%, 15 out of 26 inspections. Inspections come up time and time again showing that the department is being taken for a ride and you have done virtually nothing about it. The British taxpayer is paying for this.

  Mr Haire: I am very conscious of that. In those areas we absolutely recognise that those are the areas where we are seeing recurrent issues of this sort. I have read all these reports in these areas and you have a reference to a subsection here of a particular group of staff, saying, "You are having a particular difficulty in that area". It comes back, as I say, to this 25% where we have got organisations which need more general improvement and we are focusing on those areas. At that time we focused strongly on areas such as induction and diagnostics and others and we have seen improvements in those areas.

  Q85 Mr Williams: In paragraph 2.35 it states that you would not allow training organisations to persistently deliver a below-standard quality of training, but figure 4 shows that you obviously did. I saw somewhere that you made a blanket renewal at one stage of all contracts for a year. With records like this how can you justify blanket renewals?

  Mr Haire: The organisations which we emphasise have failed to deliver, those ones that are the significant weaknesses which at the time of the Report was 5% of the 77 TO training areas inspected, those ones we are focusing on and those are clearly ones that unless they improve very rapidly must leave the system. These are areas where, as I say, in figure 4 they are seeing problems in small areas of organisations and they are rightly pointing out to them that this system must improve for all areas. This is not saying that 88% of the quality of training is bad within the system. That is not what my reading of the Report and my reading of all the inspection reports is telling me.

  Q86 Mr Williams: Rather than raise the standards you have altered the standards and you have altered the standards to enable you to keep incompetent suppliers in operation. You no longer have targets on training outcomes and Access level trainees, nor for progression into employment by leavers. If you have not got those how can you judge whether people are persistently failing or not? The reality is that you are hiding from the fact that they are persistently failing or you just do not want to know.

  Mr Haire: As I have stressed, we have a system where in vocational areas people are failing to get the performance and we take those contracts for those particular vocation areas away. We have taken a significant number away. We are monitoring the quality of outcome in this area. The inspectorate reports are key to our work and I think this Report is very valuable for us in emphasising how we must use those reports in pushing up standards and we are totally committed to that.

  Q87 Mr Williams: But, you see, with your inadequate monitoring, looking at that list of failures in figure 4, the same training organisations would be guilty not just of one of the shortcomings out of the 88%; they must be guilty of many or most of the shortcomings in figure 4, must they not? How do you renew contracts for them?

  Mr Haire: Reading those reports, they will emphasise, as I say, in such an area and in such a group of staff for a small group of trainees that this has not been done and this must be improved. As I say, we put people back. They have to report in six months to get that sorted out. We inspect again in 18-24 months and all those inspections are seeing those issues being dealt with.

  Q88  Mr Williams: But you have spent half a billion pounds getting to the stage where you are saying, "You have been naughty boys. You deserve dunces' hats. Go and stand in the corner. You have had this half a billion pounds. You can have some more money. Go away and try and do better, but we are not going to set targets to tell us whether you are doing better. Indeed, we are going to allow self-assessment in some cases". How on earth can you justify self-assessment with organisations with that sort of pathetic performance?

  Mr Haire: The self-assessment system is following the line of approach that has been developed here with the Adult Learning Inspectorate. That is an exercise to help organisations to improve their own processes. Every fourth year the Education and Training Inspectorate goes in and assesses them. That is the ultimate test. Clearly we are not letting people judge themselves in that way. We are working with them to help them improve the quality and the feedback from the inspectorate is very positive.[11] In the first year of that process the people are taking it seriously, are working on improving outcomes in that way and, as I say, we wish to support them with the Learning and Skills Development Agency in other ways and we are focusing on their leadership, because leadership is key in this area, to help them improve that process. We are certainly not leaving assessment purely to them.

  Q89 Mr Williams: Let us turn to pages 57 and 58. We have figure 13 with different charts. The first is on NVQ Achievement Rate. You look to the left hand side. Some have got none. A lot have got less than 10%. A considerable number have got less than 20%. The average is only 40%. What about those down at the bottom end, 20% and below? Did any of them have their contracts renewed?

  Mr Haire: I have not been able to trace those particular ones.

  Q90 Mr Williams: It did not occur to you to find out? Are you saying that the department never bothered to find out which of the organisations were covered by these returns? I just do not believe it.

  Mr Haire: Sorry. We clearly have that data.[12] I do not have it to hand at the moment.

  Q91 Mr Williams: In that case could you let us have a note?

  Mr Haire: We certainly will.

  Q92 Mr Williams: And will you identify them?

  Mr Haire: We will identify them.

  Q93 Mr Williams: If you are going to do that let us go then to Leavers in Employment, the next chart. Again we have the lowest delivering under 10%. There is a wedge of them delivering less than 20%. Will you provide the same information for them on employment?

  Mr Haire: We will.[13]

  Q94 Mr Williams: Do you happen to know off hand, if we take figure 1 and figure 2, whether those who would be the poorest performers in achievement would also be the poorest performers in employment? Would you know that?

  Mr Haire: Sorry. It is logical that that is going to be the connection. Some of these areas are doing training with very small numbers of people, for example 10. They are very small organisations. It is one of the issues I mentioned before where we have to focus on them.

  Q95 Mr Williams: If NVQ achievement is one of the main objectives and you cannot tell us how far the people who are bad at that are also bad at employment. Let us turn to the third chart, which is Leavers in Unemployment. Here you have some with 100% in unemployment. How on earth can anyone be so bad that they have 100% in unemployment, and they might accidentally take on someone who could manage without their destructive attendance?

  Mr Haire: Some of these are very small, where we are focusing on areas of people who have difficulties or disabilities in other areas. I will come back with the data on this for you.[14]

  Mr Williams: On this one as well. I think you can anticipate that you are going to get a blistering report on the basis of what we are looking at today.

  Q96 Mr Davidson: Can I ask whether or not you accept all the recommendations that have been made in the Report?

  Mr Haire: We do. At the end of the issues on the question of extrapolation we have a debate with the Audit Office about exactly how to extrapolate.

  Q97 Mr Davidson: In general terms you accept it?

  Mr Haire: In general terms, yes.

  Q98 Mr Davidson: Have you seen other reports from the National Audit Office covering other areas?

  Mr Haire: I have obviously looked at areas such as further education, etc.

  Q99 Mr Davidson: I am just looking, for example, at the level of recommendation that has had to be made. If we look at 4.11 on page 67, it strikes me as such a basic recommendation that it should not need to be given to any responsible department because that is the sort of thing that they should be doing anyway. You should not have to have a recommendation that says that you should further develop your objectives, make them operational, set targets. Surely you should have been doing this anyway? It should not have needed the Audit Office to come in and tell you that these things were necessary.

  Mr Haire: As I have emphasised, they welcomed the fact that we have introduced these and they suggest that we further develop this. By 1999 we had started this process with them.


10   Note by Witness: The overall sum recovered from 1995 to date is £566,012. Back

11   Note by Witness: ETI assess the TO self-evaluation and have commented that 75% carry out the process well, and seminars are being held for those who have not. However, it will take the new system of self-evaluation a period of two-three years to bed in. Back

12   Ev 16 Back

13   Ev 16 Back

14   Ev 16 Back


 
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