SFA crackdown finds no subcontractors to list

A promised list of banned subcontractors, due out last November, has no one to go on it.

In August, the Skills Funding Agency said it would produce the list “alongside the register of training organisations” to include subcontractors that the agency refused permission for lead providers to use.

“We will refresh this list each time the register of training organisations is published. Providers will remain on this list until they are listed on the register,” it said.

“If we revoke permission for a lead provider to use a subcontractor, we will add the subcontractor to the list. If we stop funding a lead provider because it is not listed on the register, we will also add it to the list.”

An agency spokesperson said: “We have not published a list as we don’t currently have any subcontractors that we have refused permission for lead providers to use.”

Peter Cobrin, founder and director of Apprenticeships England, said this week that he was surprised the list was empty.

“A quick glance of the register of training organisations suggests the agency has unresolved issues,” he said.

“There is no promised list of ‘organisations (that primes) won’t be permitted to use as a subcontractor’, despite earlier indications that this would happen. The list of names on the register also certainly made me raise an eyebrow.

“If the lack of entries on this list of banned subcontractors was intended to provide reassurance that all is well with every subcontractor, they need to think again.”

However, an agency spokesperson said it was “in dialogue” with lead providers whose subcontractors would be affected. “The list will be published to the sector in due course.”

In summer 2011, the agency promised to crack down on fraud and the misuse of public money in the FE and skills sector.

The extent of concern was revealed in communications at that time, leaked to FE Week, between Geoff Russell, then chief executive of the agency, and John Hayes, former FE Minister.

They revealed that £11m was lost to fraud or misuse in 2010-11, of which only £3m had been accounted for.

Police were involved in nine investigations, Mr Russell said in a letter to the minister that revealed the agency was pursuing 88 new allegations — “a record high” — with a further 17 being investigated by other agencies, including the police.

Meanwhile, the Association of Colleges (AoC) and Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) have been working together on a “more robust approach to the subcontracting process”.

Joy Mercer, AoC director of policy, said: “We have also been working on a common accord that we hope supply chain partnerships will agree to sign.

“AoC and AELP advocate self-regulation and mediation rather than mandatory structures, so it is important to have a solid framework for a code of conduct that enables providers and sub-contractors to ensure value for money while maintaining high standards of delivery to the benefit of students.”