Firm that took over Learndirect owes ‘large debt’ to ESFA, liquidators reveal

Audit finds 'ineligible funding claims'

Audit finds 'ineligible funding claims'

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The company that bought Learndirect, formerly England’s largest training provider, owes the government a “large debt” after officials identified dodgy funding claims during its liquidation.

Dimensions Training Solutions (DTS) and LD Training went bust last year after failing to secure enough skills contracts to clear “significant liabilities”.

A new statement of affairs from liquidators at James Cowper Kreston shows that they identified 175 creditors who were owed £1.9 million as of July 25, 2023 for DTS. LD Training, formerly called Learndirect, owes around £8.3 million, of which £6.3 million is related to “intercompany balances”.

Since then, the Education and Skills Funding Agency has completed an internal audit of DTS and LD Training’s previous multimillion-pound contracts and found “ineligible” funding claims that equate to an undisclosed “large debt”.

The liquidators’ statement said: “A further large debt from the ESFA was identified. It was confirmed shortly after the reporting period that debtor position has been offset in its entirety owing to large creditor sums and the identification of ineligible funding claimed for contracts carried out prior to our appointment.”

The liquidators refused to tell FE Week how much the ESFA is owed or the time period for when the ineligible funding claims were made.

DTS was incorporated in 1998 and delivered a range of commercial and government-funded training.

It took over Learndirect in 2018 from Lloyds Development Capital shortly after the adult training and apprenticeship provider received a fatal grade four Ofsted report following a High Court battle. The ESFA then stepped in and cancelled Learndirect’s contracts which were worth around £100 million.

DTS and Learndirect, under the ownership Wayne Janse van Rensburg, managed to secure around £35 million in European Social Fund contracts from the government a year later despite Learndirect’s failure.

In 2020, Learndirect changed its name to LD Training Limited, and the name Learndirect was transferred to another company, also owned by Janse van Rensburg, which continues to operate.

Janse van Rensburg sold DTS and LD Training to The Firebird Partnership in January 2022, just over a year before the European Social Fund contracts expired in March 2023.

The Firebird Partnership put DTS and LD Training into liquidation in July 2022 – just six months after the acquisition. Its board said the decision to close followed an unsuccessful attempt to win new government-funded skills contracts and a failed effort to refinance the business with external investment.

Both former owners claimed to have no knowledge of the dodgy funding claims identified by the ESFA or the “large debt” owed to the agency. 

Ian Finlay, a director at The Firebird Partnership, said: “The ESFA debt and the ‘ineligible funding claims’ both pre-date our ownership. We only owned the business for a very short amount of time and were unaware of these issues before we got involved.”

Janse van Rensburg told FE Week: “I have no knowledge of any funds or claims owed by the ESFA to DTS or by DTS to the ESFA.”

The ESFA declined to comment.

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