3aaa police enquiries continue as DfE ‘has not yet completed its work’

The police will only decide whether to launch a criminal investigation into disgraced apprenticeship firm Aspire Achieve Advance after the Department for Education “has completed its work”.

Derbyshire Constabulary started making enquiries into the defunct company, better known as 3aaa, on October 11, following a referral from Action Fraud.

The case was passed on by the DfE following its own second investigation into the training provider, which got underway in June.

But a police spokesperson told FE Week this week that they still haven’t been able to decide whether a criminal investigation needs to be opened.

The spokesperson said this was because the police need to wait for the DfE to conclude its own investigation, which has been going on for seven months.

“A criminal investigation has not begun as the Department for Education has not yet completed its work at 3aaa,” he told FE Week.

“The department is carrying out the necessary work with the agreement of Derbyshire Constabulary and, once it has completed its work, officers will look into this allegation.”

Despite admitting that the police are waiting for the DfE to pass over more information, the spokesperson added: “The Department for Education is not delaying an investigation into 3aaa.”

The DfE would not say when it expects to wrap up its own investigation.

“We do not comment on the details of any investigations, ongoing or otherwise,” a spokesperson said.

Once the police force has all of the information from the DfE and whistleblowers it will decide if the allegations break any laws. If this threshold is passed then a criminal investigation will open.

FE Week exposed the truth behind the government and police investigations into 3aaa last month.

The company, which had 4,500 learners and 500 staff before it went bust in October when the ESFA pulled its £16.5 million skills contract, allegedly manipulated Individualised Learner Records to artificially inflate achievement rates by a huge amount and misused employer-incentive grants.

3aaa received nearly all of its income from government skills funding.

It was co-founded by Peter Marples and Di McEvoy-Robinson in 2008, but the pair stepped down in September as the ESFA came knocking.

Their latest accounts show that they took out huge directors’ loans totalling more than £4 million between them.

At the end of 2015, both owners purchased multi-million pound properties.

3aaa splashed its public cash on £1.6 million of sports-club sponsorships, an Elton John concert and Tesla supercars among other luxuries.

And as revealed by FE Week last month, the company also paid for its former managing director’s child’s school fees as part of a “generous bonus”.

The first ESFA investigation into 3aaa, carried out by auditing firm KPMG in 2016, found dozens of success rate “overclaims”.

The finding is understood to have resulted in the company paying back a substantial six-figure sum.

But it didn’t stop the agency from giving the provider a £7 million apprenticeships contract increase in the same year.

After launching a second investigation into 3aaa in June, the DfE called in an independent auditor to investigate the ESFA over its contract management of the former apprenticeships giant.