Fast growing apprenticeship firm goes bust after ESFA stops payments

It owes nearly £4 million to creditors.

One of England’s fastest growing apprenticeship providers has gone bust, owing nearly £4 million, after the government terminated its skills contracts when hundreds of unemployed apprentices were discovered.

Personal Track Safety Ltd, which trades as PTS Training Academy, went into liquidation on 25 August – a year after the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) banned new apprenticeship starts and stopped making payments.

The Northampton-based firm, which employed 32 people, considered restructuring to stay afloat but could not find a viable way forward.

Insolvency documents filed on Companies House show its debts include £825,000 to the ESFA, £1.5 million to Lloyds Bank, £500,000 to HMRC and £161,000 to staff.

The company also owes £70,000 to Northampton Town Football Club, which it had a deal with to sponsor the club’s stadium (pictured) and shirts until it ran into financial trouble last year.

Liquidator Gary Pettit told FE Week that PTS Training Academy took legal advice after the ESFA stopped payments but “despite a positive Ofsted inspection earlier this year, ESFA declined to change their stance”.

He added: “It would not be out of place for me to say the director found making the 32 employees redundant particularly difficult.

“My role as liquidator is to maximise realisations for the creditors. To this end, I shall be looking at the known assets to see how best they can be realised while also making other appropriate enquiries, which I am unable to discuss at this present time.”

PTS Training Academy’s owner, Matthew Joyce, did not wish to make a separate comment.

The training provider began recruiting apprentices in May 2018 and within two years had more than 2,500 on their books – worth around £6 million – in sectors such as food, care, rail, management, accounting, engineering, sport and prison services.

Its ESFA contracts were terminated on July 10, 2021, following an investigation that found many of their apprenticeships were ineligible for funding.

Joyce previously told FE Week that the firm grew too rapidly but placed the blame for the unemployed apprentices with an apprenticeship training agency (ATA) with which it partnered.

ATAs launched in 2009 to hire apprentices and then place them with host companies that would pay the agency to cover the salaries and administration costs.

Joyce claimed that, when he partnered with the ATA, the apprentices had signed employer agreements, but later found out the jobs were gone when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Joyce said the firm had received around £2 million for the unemployed apprentices, which the ESFA then deducted from future payments.

PTS Training Academy, based in Northampton but with offices in London, Doncaster and Somerset, set up in 2012 and was a subcontractor until 2017.

It was visited by Ofsted in January 2019 and was found to be making “reasonable progress” in all areas of a new provider monitoring report. The provider also received one of the watchdog’s “interim” visits in March 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic which again found ‘reasonable progress’.

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