PeoplePlus in talks to buy Learndirect

A publicly listed company is in talks to buy Learndirect Ltd, FE Week has learned.

PeoplePlus Group Limited, which is owned by Staffline and already trains tens of thousands of people each year, opened a dialogue with the nation’s biggest FE provider over a purchase last week.

Discussions are understood to be in the early stages and it is not yet known how much the deal will be worth if it goes ahead.

PeoplePlus is a business division of Staffline – an outsourced workforce provider – which recorded a huge turnover of £92.8 million in its most recent accounts.

It provides skills training, including apprenticeships and in prisons, claims to be the country’s largest provider of the work programme for the Department for Work and Pensions, and offers access to work programmes for disabled people.

The organisation is hoping to purchase Learndirect following a catastrophic year.

Its saga started with a legal battle with Ofsted when the provider unsuccessfully challenged its grade four report in the High Court.

The fallout saw the government single it out for special treatment by allowing it to see through the end of their current contracts – instead of ending them within the usual three-month termination period.

It was then subject to investigations from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee.

FE Week revealed in April that Learndirect appeared to be on the brink of collapse, after a fresh round of redundancies belied the fact that its efforts to generate new business have proved “impossible”.

PeoplePlus has five operating divisions: employment, skills, health & wellbeing, justice and independent services.

Staffline bought welfare-to-work provider A4e in 2015 in a £35.4m deal and gave the work to PeoplePlus.

This move, it claims, means it is now the country’s largest provider of the Work Programme for the Department for Works and Pensions.

For skills, PeoplePlus provide “first class pre-employment training, apprenticeships and traineeships”, according to its website.

The provider was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in August 2017, and has Education and Skills Funding Agency contracts totaling over £13.5 million this year, with the majority (£10.6 million) coming from the adult education budget.

In terms of apprenticeships, the company had an overall achievement of 64 per cent for training 1,430 learners in 2016/17 – marginally higher than the government’s minimum threshold of 62 per cent.

PeoplePlus also offers the government-run access to work programme, which is aimed at supporting disabled people to take up or remain in work, and offers training in prisons through the delivery of the Offender Learning and Skills Service.

PeoplePlus declined to comment.