Bold Welsh unleash son of ILA

The Welsh Assembly has stolen a march on Westminster by launching a revamped individual learning accounts scheme.

Ministers shut down ILAs in November 2001 when evidence of mis-selling, fraud and abuse of the scheme came to light.

The National Audit Office found that the scheme allowed unscrupulous training providers to falsely register account holders on courses and empty their accounts. Costs ran £199 million over budget. Although a new version is planned for England, government officials are nervous about unleashing the "son of ILA".

The Welsh Assembly's apparently bold move has been aided by the fact that no evidence was uncovered of ILA fraud in Wales. But the new scheme is more targeted, and on a smaller scale, than the original model.

It will be open to adult Welsh residents who have no qualifications or whose prior learning attainment is no higher than level 2, equivalent to GCSE grades A to C or NVQ level 2. Previous ILAs were available to everyone, regardless of qualifications.

The new ILA will entitle those who meet this criteria to have 100 per cent of course costs paid up to £200 per year if they are receiving income support or a job-seekers allowance; 80 per cent of course fees up to £160 if they are receiving tax benefits for working families, disabled people, housing or council tax; or 50 per cent of costs up to £100 for all others who qualify.

Assembly education minister Jane Davidson said the Welsh scheme was taking a different approach from the one designed by the Department for Education and Skills. She had been concerned that under the old model, more than half the account holders had indicated they would have taken a course without an ILA.

Ms Davidson said the assembly had learnt lessons from England about the importance of having an efficient, fraud-proof system.

She said: "Although the National Council for Education and Learning Wales did not unearth any incidences of fraud in Wales, the threat by those learning providers was palpable - you only had to look across the border to see the devastating effects that fraud could have on a programme, and so I feel that we were right to suspend ILAs in Wales when we did."

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