Ban for ‘rogue’ apprenticeship boss who owes ESFA £2.5m

Investigators couldn't verify payments from Vista Training Solutions were 'legitimate expenses' due to missing accounts

Investigators couldn't verify payments from Vista Training Solutions were 'legitimate expenses' due to missing accounts

15 Jan 2024, 16:41

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A “rogue” apprenticeship provider boss has received a six-year director’s ban for failing to explain £3.5 million worth of spending, most of which was public funding.

Shakar Habib, 28, from Newham, London, was the sole director of Vista Training Solutions Limited, which since 2011 worked as a subcontractor to deliver apprenticeship training before landing its own direct contract in 2018.

The provider was found making ‘reasonable progress’ by Ofsted in an early monitoring visit later that year when Vista was training 129 apprentices, mainly in ICT.

But the firm went bust in 2020 following an Education and Skills Funding Agency investigation into its use of taxpayer funding for apprenticeships.

The ESFA last year made a claim of £2.5 million against Vista during the liquidation, and the government’s Insolvency Service has now said Habib could not account for nearly £3.5 million from the company’s accounts. 

Investigators discovered that Habib had failed to keep adequate company accounts – a legal obligation for company directors – and that records from April 2019 onwards were missing.

They were therefore unable to verify whether £3.5 million of payments from the company’s bank accounts during its final year of trading were legitimate company expenses. 

The company’s liquidator – FRP Advisory Trading Limited – was also unable to account for £525,000 in assets due to lack of financial records. 

A statement from the Insolvency Service said the ESFA continues to work with the Insolvency Practitioner to support their investigations for potential recovery of money – but the latest statement of receipts and payments from the liquidator admits it is “unlikely” that there will be sufficient funds available to pay unsecured creditors.

Habib has now been banned from being a director of a company until November 20, 2029. It prevents him from becoming involved in the promotion, formation or management of a company, without the permission of the court.

Marc Symons, deputy head of investigations at the Insolvency Service, said: “Shakar Habib disregarded his legal duty to keep accounting records. But thanks to the joint working between ESFA and the Insolvency Service, he has been removed from the corporate arena for a substantial period.

“His ban should be a stark warning to other rogue directors that we will act to protect the public from those who abuse taxpayers’ money.”

Andrew Thomas, director of finance and provider market oversight in the ESFA, said: “This successful outcome demonstrates that ESFA will take robust action and work with regulatory partners across government to hold individuals and organisations to account.”

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  1. There are so many of these providers out there. We have worked and been stung by a couple. They feed off prime providers so they dont have to go through the hoops of Ofsted or ESFA scrutiny. By the time you find out that they have used three other primes to fund the same learners, its too late. Or that they haven’t delivered what they said they would and when you stop payment because they haven’t followed the funding rules or the contract you have with them, they take legal action against you!
    Someone should investigate all of these so called providers and get them out of the system, they are the reason good providers end up going bust!

  2. Albert Wright

    Not much of a report.

    What happened to the apprentices and the staff when the business stopped trading?

    What did the employers involved have to say?

    Did anyone visit the premises during trading hours?

    Surely the money was paid into a bank account and could be tracked via bank statements?

    How can the Department just write off £3 million?

  3. Shakar Habib on Companies House says his DOB is May 1995. He was appointed Director in 2015 which would make him 20 years old but working as a sub-contractor since 2011 (16 years old).

    I appreciate entrepreneurs can be young but working within the education and skills space, am I wrong to think that this person was the ‘scapegoat’ for this whole operation? and who was pulling the strings and cashing in?

  4. Carla M

    If he still has the £3.5m that the Insolvency Service can’t find and he has been banned for 6 years that’s nearly £600k every year until he can legally start to trade as a Director again.
    Not a bad salary!
    (Not to mention the £500k+ of assets which are unaccounted for).