Elmfield director Ged Syddall walks during Newsnight probe — but remains majority shareholder

Former Elmfield Training Ltd chief executive Ged Syddall (pictured) has quit as the firm’s director — but remains its majority shareholder — during a BBC investigation into alleged malpractice.

A Newsnight probe, supported with information uncovered by FE Week, was due to be aired tomorrow night (Friday October 4), focussing on Elmfield’s dealings with workers at supermarket giant Morrisons.

The Newsnight investigation was carried out by BBC presenter Shelley Joffre (pictured)

Newsnight will allege that Elmfield received public money for courses that employees had declined to take.

A spokesperson for Elmfield made a statement to Newsnight, seen by FE Week, which claims investigations had already been carried out and had uncovered “no evidence of malpractice”.

Nevertheless, he told Newsnight: “The board and management of Elmfield take the view that the alleged behaviour described in the selection of emails obtained by Newsnight is unacceptable.

“Accordingly, we have asked an independent firm to carry out a further review.

“This will identify key learning points of how the Morrisons contract was operated and provide recommendations to us as a new board, to ensure that similar mistakes don’t happen again.”

He added: “Elmfield is announcing changes to its board of directors in order to serve the best interests of its learners, clients and funding partners.

“The majority shareholder, Ged Syddall, has ceased to be a director of Elmfield as of September 27.”

The Skills Funding Agency valued Elmfield’s delivery of Morrison’s apprenticeship contract at £64m from August 2009 to April this year, an FE Week Freedom of Information request to the agency uncovered. Including its Morrison provision and non-apprenticeship programmes, Elmfield delivered £108m-worth of provision to its 379 client businesses for the same period.

An agency spokesperson said: “We have received allegations regarding Elmfield.

“We take any allegation against an organisation involved in the delivery of skills extremely seriously.

“We are currently investigating the credibility of these claims and we are not able to comment on specific details during a live investigation.”

She added: “Should any whistleblower have information of irregularity in relation to public funds provided by the agency, we would encourage them to contact us directly and their evidence will then be considered in line with our investigations procedure.”

Mr Syddall resigned as chief executive in July after Ofsted inspectors gave Elmfield a grade four inspection result the previous month having come across “unacceptably low” results.

After ten years in post, and having founded the Cheshire-based independent training provider, he said he took “full responsibility” for the grade.

He said: “Despite many positive findings the business has received low grades and ultimately as chief executive I take full responsibility for that.

“I have therefore resigned as chief executive with immediate effect.”

The grading also saw the agency issue the firm with a notice of serious breach.

A condition of the notice is that Elmfield cannot start any new learners with either new or existing employers or apply for growth.

“Success rates in the apprenticeship programmes experienced a considerable decline last year and a high proportion of learners within the Morrisons’ contract did not complete the full framework,” said the Ofsted report.

“Furthermore, the number of learners who completed their apprenticeship in the planned time fell to an unacceptably low level of 33 per cent.”

The inspection report came just months after FE Week reported how Elmfield’s success rates showed just 47.5 per cent of its 13,420 leavers in the retail and wholesale sector, aged 25+, walked away with an apprenticeship certificate in 2011/12.

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.

Ofsted inspectors will return to Elmfield in the autumn to see if it has improved.

In April 2012, Mr Sydall gave evidence to the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee.

He told MPs that Elmfield’s entire income of £30m in 2011/12 came from public funds and he defended his £3m dividend.

In the same month, Elmfield appeared as part of a Panorama investigation called The Great Apprentice Scandal.

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  1. Trenzalor

    This is definitely a case of if it seems too good to be true, then it definitely is. As someone that was involved in the Morrisons/Elmfield Apprenticeship programme, I was castigated for daring to say that things were not being done as they should be. The Majority of Assesors complained whilst these things were going on but were given short shrift and told that everything was under control.
    Apprenticeships should be a learner Journey. They should not be a licence to print money by Training providers who have managed to devise a system to generate cash for a few Millionaires at the top. Whilst leaving Assessors and Learners to pick up the pieces of a devalued qualification. Well done FE week and Newsnight. I await the revelations tonight with anticipation.

    • i quite agree – the number of unscrupulous companies are making it hard for the assessor to actually deliver the training to the national standards – when the assessor is observed they always give a first rate account of themselves as it is pride in what they do – it up above where they need more control on process, procedure and how much of the per person funding that they receive from the SFA goes to the learner. They (not just Elmfield) rely to much on the assessor finding and producing the support / learning materials from the internet – rather than supplying a fit for purpose apprenticeship training package (lessons, handouts, workbooks).

      • As far as I know Roy, no-one has been sacked yet. Everyone is waiting to see if there is a rescue at hand. The company has some amazing procedures in place and with the right leadership Elmfield or it’s next generation could be the best provider out there. There is a very committed and passionate staff involved here, that do their utmost to give the leaners the best support and training…they just need the same commitment from their bosses. I hope someone takes over Elmfield and keeps all the good staff and gets rid of all the bad apples and makes the company what it should be…GREAT. I hope all the employees hear some good news this week and can stop worrying. Good luck everyone, whatever happens

  2. Quality Warrior

    Let’s hope that the Senior Quality person and their team know what they are doing on this project in terms of robust monitoring of progress/delivery and analysing data (which clearly wasn’t the case before, unless it was ignored). Everyone and their Aunt will be watching this! No pressure Intraining……

    • Apprenticeship Scandal

      I totally agree ‘Quality Warrior’. In fact, the Quality Director at Elmfield is an active Ofsted inspector – interesting in that this person condones the practices of Elmfield, receives an overall inadequate grade at inspection yet is allowed to inspect other institutions. How can this be?

  3. Dave le rave

    What doesn’t help is there is no financial oversight of these institutions. Ofsted should have forensic accounting and audit teams. There is no social justice in education systems that pay workers £2.65 per hour whilst a director of a poorly run training company can pay himself a massive multiple million pound dividend no doubt paying a ridiculous rate of tax on his windfall. This isn’t an isolated case either and is a further example of the morally bankrupt nature of some of these training firms. Quite simply all the money paid for the non delivered qualifications should be requisited back to the SFA or given to small local charities that would make much better use of it. That would soon put a stop to the waste and poor quality provision.

    • Peter Cobrin

      Ofsted would only produce more league tables, as they are part of a culture that only measures that which is easily measurable.

      The SFA abrogated its role as a monitoring body way back, and now most staff are probably more focused on their CVs. Those of us who were at the infamous BIS Select Committee where David Way of NAS, and Geoff Russell of the SFA gave evidence will remember the squirming that accompanied they being challenged on their monitoring responsibilities. “Not me gov!!”

  4. Peter Cobrin

    We need to draw a line which states clearly that apprenticeship funding is for new staff only. I challenged Simon Waugh 3 years ago on the issue of taxpayers’ money paying for Morrison’s “in house” training. And it’s still going on at, for example, HSBC Bank.

    That’s why Morrison’s silence on Newsnight concerns me. Whatever the rights or wrongs, they were active partners of this training, and they benefited from it.

    • Head Banger!

      I think that is right Peter. Only new staff should get a funded apprenticeship. At least they will actually be training and learning and earning the qualification as they work…which is what it is supposed to be about isn’t it? There is no reason why employers could not give some equivalent qualification to their already trained staff to show their competence…but at the employers expense not the tax payers.

      I understand there are a lot of people out there who are more than competent in their jobs and deserve some recognition for that, but not like this because it is a farce and condescending to already competent people to have to go through the stupidity of the standards to prove they can do the job they have been doing for years.

  5. Apprenticeship Scandal

    The Newsnight programme quoted Elmfield as having a ‘new board’. Interesting? So who are the ‘new board’? Does that mean that Gary Rimmer has done the honourable thing and resigned and ‘walked’. The previous FD walked a few months ago, Ged Syddall similarly. But will Gary Rimmer and the rest of them follow in the same tracks or remain at the helm?

  6. Apparently the SFA have lifted Elmfields ban on recruiting new starts to the Barclays programme and also with some of the subcontractors Elmfield use. This is following a recent visit by Ofsted to look at progress being made since the inspection. The SFA must be satisfied that all is well?

    How can that be following the allegations posed on Newsnight? If this transpires to be the case then what powers do the regulatory bodies really have? Have the SFA fully audited the Morrisons programme delivered by Elmfield to identify the true extent of what evidence exists (or more importantly doesn’t exist) to support the funding claimed over the duration of the Morrisons programme?

  7. Hopefully the SFA will now be forced to act swiftly and effectively to recoup whatever taxpayers money has been misappropriated and take whatever action is required to ensure Elmfield no longer proffers from ‘inadequate’ leadership and management.

  8. Nothing is going to change, SFA only see a small sample of what they request, and if the “paperwork” is correct within the % allowed for errors then they do not look any further.

  9. Quality Warrior

    Maybe more of shorter notice SFA/EFA financial audits ought be trialled instead of the existing notice period of several weeks, the issue with this would be the on programme evidence like updated ILPs and reviews but starts and achievements would give quite a clear snap shot of what is current on programme practice anyway. A visit from auditors the following week could look at on programme evidence. Providers who wish to ‘strengthen’ on programme evidence won’t have the time to do so, besides it shows if things have been ‘strengthened’ or for want of a more real word ‘engineered’. Random picks from learner files ought be sampled as a larger proportion of audits too.

    I WAS an internal compliance auditor earlier this year before I heard the words from a particular Operations Manager of Apprenticeships “I won’t give back money if I can help it”, that Manager is a shareholder, needless to say the whole of a regions work is at risk due to key errors identified. Lets hope that provider has adjusted funding accordingly by now, external auditors may be auditing soon.

  10. lindsay mccurdy

    Yes I have read it, all it shows is a company who was measured at a 4 receiving 10s of millions of tax payers money, put into special measures, it has now made reasonable progress in all areas except one.

    Has this new Ofsted report resulted in the company having its grade raised or is it still graded a 4. Also what about the allegations highlighted in the newsnight programme, Ofsted did not go and look at this area when re-inspecting. What is going to happen now between the SFA and Elmfield. Will money have to be paid back from Elmfield to the SFA
    Your championship of the company in question has long been known, but lets us spend our time and energy on highlighting training providers who are achieving outstanding apprenticeships and have not received the 10s of millions that Elmfield received,and who are not having TV specials done on them for bad practice every few months. and as the reports says has been run with inadequate leadership and management.

  11. Quality Warrior

    The September Ofsted report on Elmfield points out that learner functional skills ability is now assessed within the 1st 4 weeks, blimey I would hope so! If payments for functional skills learning were claimed by Elmfield from the start date and its only recently learners are being assessed for ability early doors then there must be an issue/audit risk with proving learning from the start date. How can learning be delivered accurately if at the start date the Tutor isn’t aware of what skill gaps there are due to the assessment not being done prior to start date! Surely SFA auditors would want to check this out as it sounds that from Ofsteds’ own report and that its highly possible an incorrect start date will have been recorded? Auditors ought be checking that payments have been claimed from the correct start date for all components of a framework. An error commonly made by most learning providers! The poor success rates may well have been due to learners not being assessed robustly initially, speaking from an auditors point of view and several conducted/actual audit experiences!

  12. Stunned reader

    Strikes me that the whole Elmfield business is fishy … What they are offering are not apprenticeships, learning how to stack shelves and operate tills are just not true skills in our society, in reality all retail businesses have in house on the job training for this as it’s an everyday part of their business.

    Learning how to manufacture components or design a shop layout, now they are economically useful skills.

    Ged Sydall taking home many millions of pounds a year in salary + dividend – from a Government funded project? What!

    Norman Pickavance, a former Morrisons Group HR and communications director – so, no conflict of interest there then?

    I think this is a case for the SFO (Fraud Office) or the Police

  13. I wonder what qualifications an assessor/trainer needed here? Surely apprentice shelf stackers and till operators are hardly the norm for an Apprenciceship! Moreover possibly being asked to falsify documents to procure government funds. Did they not question what was going on!!!!! Obviously they were content to carry on with all of this I just wonder why?