Subcontracting warning from government after £20m Brooklands College scandal

The boss of the Education and Skills Funding Agency has sent a sector-wide letter warning she will take strong action against any provider that does not play by their subcontracting rules, following the Brooklands College scandal.

Eileen Milner has written to all colleges and training providers today to state the agency is continuing to investigate cases where subcontracted provision is not “appropriately controlled, overseen or managed by the lead provider”.

She said there are currently 11 live investigations in this area, with issues underpinning them ranging in seriousness from “complacency and mismanagement”, through to matters of “deliberate and systematic fraud”.

“Whilst these cases vary in degrees of seriousness, they all exhibit features that reflect badly upon the organisations involved and clearly suggest that the sector must do better,” Milner added.

“I want to make it clear that where poor subcontracting practice is evident to us we will act decisively.”

All providers have been told they must confirm they’ve read the letter  by no later than 1 November 2019. You can read the full letter here.

There have been a number of high-profile subcontracting scandals in recent years, including the Luis Michael Training case where its owners, which included two former professional footballers, created “ghost learners” and were jailed for over 25 years combined.

The most recent subcontracting scandal, exposed by FE Week, has involved Brooklands College and resulted with the ESFA demanding a £20 million clawback.

Milner said the ESFA will, in future, be “more forensic in our examination of the data and information available to us to hold individuals and organisations to account”.

“We will recover public money where appropriate,” she added.

“In response to the evidence gathered so far, we have tightened our requirements and made it clear that we will take action with lead providers who do not exercise control over subcontracted provision.”

Milner also said she will be seeking evidence later this year from those who have an interest in subcontracted delivery, which will “inform our thinking about the nature and extent of reforms to subcontracting arrangements”.

The review will be concluded this academic year and the ESFA will start to implement the changes at the start of the 2020/21 academic year.