Commons grilling for Elmfield, Syddall and SFA

Former Elmfield director Ged Syddall and Skills Funding Agency finance director Paul McGuire look set for a “no-holds-barred” grilling by MPs over allegations of apprenticeship malpractice.

It is understood they will be called before the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee by the end of next month in light of an investigation into Elmfield by BBC’s Newsnight.

A senior current member of Elmfield staff is also expected to be summoned with Mr Syddall having quit as the firm’s director amid the BBC probe — although it is understood he remains majority shareholder.

The Newsnight report, supported with information uncovered by FE Week, aired on Friday, October 4, and focussed on Elmfield’s dealings with workers at supermarket giant Morrisons.

It was alleged Elmfield received agency money for apprenticeships that employees had declined. Elmfield told Newsnight that investigations had been carried out, uncovering “no evidence of malpractice,” although a further investigation had since been launched.

Committee chair Adrian Bailey told FE Week: “I am putting it to the committee that we invite Mr Sydall, Mr McGuire and a senior member of Elmfield staff to discuss allegations made and the contractual arrangements between Elmfield, Morrisons and the agency.

“I want to find out the extent of Mr Sydall’s current involvement, including details of the proportion of shares he owns in the company.

“Our questioning would be wide-ranging, no-holds-barred and include how much money he’s made from the business and its public funds.”

It would be the second time Mr Syddall has appeared before Mr Bailey’s committee. He gave evidence in April last year, when he said Elmfield’s entire income of £30m in 2011/12 came from public funds. He also defended his own £3m company dividend.

Meanwhile, Ofsted — whose inadequate grading of Elmfield in July prompted an agency notice of serious breach and a ban on new learners, along with Mr Syddall’s resignation as chief executive — carried out a two-day monitoring visit last month. It was carried out at least three months early, at the request of Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, and the resulting report, published this month, told of “reasonable” and also “significant” progress in key areas.

An Elmfield spokesperson said: “We are pleased to see that we have been able to demonstrate progress in all areas of our work examined by Ofsted in a very short space of time.”

The monitoring report, which unlike full inspection reports gives no overall grade, saw the agency lift its blanket ban on new Elmfield apprentices. But the notice of serious breach remains in place.

A spokesperson for the agency, which is still investigating apprenticeship malpractice claims against Elmfield, said: “We will assess any request from Elmfield to start new apprenticeships on a case by case basis.”

Morrisons stopped contracting with Elmfield in August, when NCG (formerly Newcastle College Group) took over the apprenticeship training contract. Neither Morrisons nor NCG are accused of any wrongdoing.