The head of a sub-contractor has spoken out about the practice used by NTQUK, a training provider whose contract has been terminated by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) following irregularities in learner data.
Krissy Charles-Jones, chief executive of Bright Assessing, has revealed how almost 60 learners were left without a qualification after NTQUK said they had been refused funding by the SFA.
“They took the risk on me and they took a risk on my business, and that’s what annoyed me,” Mrs Charles-Jones told FE Week in an exclusive interview.
“They took my business and put it on the line.” Mrs Charles-Jones says she signed a pilot contract with NTQUK, worth £100,000, after meeting the necessary due diligence requirements in December last year.
Three weeks into the contract, Mrs CharlesJones says she was then emailed by NTQUK, who said it was unlikely they would be able to issue any more contracts after the pilot.
Due to the nature of these particular circumstances, the Agency has been working with Bright Assessing Training and other sub-contractors of NTQUK to reassign their contracts to other lead providers to ensure continuity of training for learners and employers and to minimise the disruption they may experience
“She said ‘just to let you know we’re having a major contractual review and therefore after this pilot we can’t guarantee what numbers you can do’,” said Krissy Charles-Jones.
The Bright Assessing CEO says she then called NTQUK, who reassured her that the current learners were “absolutely fine”.
Bright Assessing continued to deliver the training between December and February. Mrs Charles-Jones said: “We paid to deliver the training, arranged with all these employers to deliver practical sessions and everything else.
“We did it all and delivered it all.”
The SFA began an investigation into NTQUK in February “after receiving credible information suggesting significant irregularities” in evidence submitted to the SFA to support funding claims.
Mrs Charles-Jones says she was emailed by NTQUK in the same month requesting they speak “urgently.”
She called them back and was told by NTQUK that they could no longer fund the learners.
“I said ‘what do you mean, is there a problem with them? Have I caused the problem or have I sent you the wrong forms?’ She said ‘I’m really sorry, but we haven’t had our growth agreed by the SFA’.”
Martin Cawley, contracts manager at NTQUK, has confirmed the decision to sign the contract was “pending the outcome of the growth request.”
Mrs Charles-Jones then called the SFA South East regional director, who said it wasn’t the agency’s responsibility to deal with subcontracting disputes.
When asked about subcontracting responsibilities, the SFA told FE Week: “Lead providers are accountable for managing relationships with their sub-contractors.
“This includes undertaking all necessary due diligence, and ensuring the quality of training provided.”
However, the regional director did offer to help Bright Assessing find a new lead provider.
The SFA partnered Bright Assessing with Remit, a training provider which delivers apprenticeships in IT, automotive and food and hospitality, a few days later.
The SFA told FE Week: “Due to the nature of these particular circumstances, the Agency has been working with Bright Assessing Training and other sub-contractors of NTQUK to reassign their contracts to other lead providers to ensure continuity of training for learners and employers and to minimise the disruption they may experience.”
Since losing the contract with NTQUK Bright Assessing has had an additional 140 learners complete, with 77 per cent finding jobs once they leave the course.
They took the risk on me and they took a risk on my business, and that’s what annoyed me
NTQUK had their contract terminated by the SFA in March. Following an unsuccessful dispute resolution panel, the company has now asked to go to arbitration.
Allan Bate, the chairman of NTQUK, has said that if arbitration fails, the company, which employs roughly 100 people, could be forced to close.
FE Week has seen a letter sent by Geoff Russell, chief executive of the SFA, to NTQUK addressing these concerns.
It reads: “Whilst the Agency is sympathetic to the position employees of NTQUK find themselves in, the responsibility for ensuring NTQUK meets its obligations to its employees rests solely with NTQUK and any suggestion that the failure to pay staff is due to the incompetence of Agency staff is entirely refuted.
“In fact, the audited accounts of the company to the year ending July 2010 showed that the Directors paid themselves dividends and salary amounting to almost £800,000 (including all Directors’ remunerations but not including “retirement benefits”) which appears to have left the company in a difficult financial position.”