Protest over scrapping ILAs

December 7, 2001

A barrage of complaints over ministers' decision to ditch individual learning accounts will be brought to the government's door next week with a lobby of MPs and a cross-party forum at the House of Commons.

The lobby on Tuesday, backed by Boris Johnson, journalist and Conservative MP for Henley, will be attended by training providers who were left out of pocket when the ILA programme was shut last month amid fraud allegations.

Mr Johnson is sponsoring the lobby because a training centre in his constituency had been hit by the decision to withdraw ILAs.

"It's pretty clear that the scheme was open to fraud and was incompetently set up. We would like the government to replace it quickly with a scheme that is not so easily ripped off," he said.

The lobby will be followed by a forum where the Treasury is expected to make an announcement on government plans for a replacement of the ILA programme.

Ministers admitted they had received representations from ILA training providers expressing "disappointment" about the withdrawal of the programme.

John Healey, minister for adult skills, told the House of Commons that because of ongoing fraud investigations, it had not been possible to estimate the value of ILA payments owed to training providers.

The helpline for learndirect, the training arm of the University for Industry, has also been inundated with calls from members of the public worried or confused about the ILA shutdown.

A UfI spokeswoman said: "Our helpline is now the only source of information about ILAs, and the volume of calls we have received has risen significantly. There is a fair amount of confusion, and some of it has to do with what kind of replacement system the government may introduce."

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman who will speak at the forum alongside shadow education secretary Damian Green and education select committee chairman Barry Sheerman, said it appeared that decisions over ILAs and their replacement were being led by the Treasury rather than the Department for Education and Skills.

He said he thought the government had overreacted to a few fraud allegations, and its decision to scrap ILAs had more to do with the scheme "expanding out of control". Mr Green added: "This just demonstrates the centralist tendencies of this government, and its need to feel in control of the minutiae of all education and training programmes."

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