Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Threat of 'Shocking Fraud' in New Apprentice System

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Threat of 'Shocking Fraud' in New Apprentice System

Article excerpt

Call for robust safeguards as figures reveal over 100 cases investigated in three years

The switch to a new system for funding apprenticeships alongside the introduction of the levy could lead to "shocking and prevalent examples of fraud" unless robust safeguards are put in place, experts have warned.

The levy on the payroll bills of large employers is expected to generate £3 billion a year by 2019-20, triggering concerns about the risk of some employers and training providers using "questionable work-arounds" to access public funding.

The warning was issued as new figures revealed that 114 cases of suspected fraud or misappropriation of funding were investigated by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) over a three-year period (see figures, left).

The statistics were published in response to a parliamentary question tabled by Baroness Wolf, the Sir Roy Griffiths professor of public sector management at King's College London and author of the 2011 Wolf report on vocational education.

'Too little information'

The government's response also revealed that funds were identified for recovery in 35 of the cases, with seven being referred to the police and four resulting in criminal charges.

Baroness Wolf told TES: "There is extraordinarily little information available to the public about a sector which is receiving huge amounts of public money."

According to the 2014-15 SFA annual report, 81 allegations of financial irregularity were made that year, resulting in 27 investigations.

Businesses with a payroll of more than £3 million will pay the levy from next spring, and will be able to access funds to pay for training provision for apprentices.

Matt Garvey, managing director of West Berkshire Training Consortium, argues that the levy could "result in some shocking and prevalent examples of fraud" (see pages 46-47). He also warns that the government's decision not to allow employers to be paid for delivering any part of the training could prove to be a mistake. Rather than instigating a "transparent and audited approach", he writes that this could lead to "some questionable work-arounds - and not just from reputable companies".

"There is huge scope for money to change hands if this new landscape is not policed properly," he adds.

Unionlearn director Liz Rees voiced concerns about the levy earlier this year, telling TES she was worried that there could be a situation where "the rules are bent to access the kind of resource that will be available". …

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