A renowned entrepreneur has left the taxpayer at least £10 million out of pocket after she closed her chain of training providers amid a government investigation.
Angela Middleton, a media commentator and self-proclaimed “careers queen” who was awarded an MBE in 2018 for her services to apprenticeships and business, blamed the “devastating impact of Covid-19” when she shut her four skills training companies in December 2020.
But FE Week understands the decision came after the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s counter-fraud and investigation team probed how multiple contracts were used across the firms.
After two years of investigating, the ESFA has now submitted a £10.1 million clawback claim to the liquidators of Middleton’s biggest provider, Astute Minds Ltd, according to a new statement of affairs document.
The agency is also seeking £63,000 from another one of her firms, FNTC Training and Consultancy Limited.
Investigations continue into her best-known provider, MiddletonMurray, where the total claim from the agency remains “uncertain”, according to liquidators at FRP Advisory Trading Ltd. No claim has been made to date to Middleton’s other provider, The Teaching and Learning Group.
However, the liquidators’ report states there “will not be sufficient funds available” to pay unsecured creditors, which the ESFA is classed as. It means the government will never receive the funding back from Middleton’s providers.
The agency’s investigation is only mentioned briefly in the statement of affairs. The report said the liquidators were in discussions with company directors about the OneFile apprenticeship database that held learner records, which the ESFA “required access to so that they could continue their investigations”.
The ESFA declined to comment on its investigation findings.
Middleton has not responded to requests for comment but, at the point of closure in 2020, a spokesperson for her told FE Week that the ESFA’s investigation was a “standard audit looking at qualification achievement rates”.
The Insolvency Service, which investigates the behaviour of directors if their company becomes insolvent, has concluded its investigation into Middleton and decided there will be no disqualification proceedings.
Middleton’s four companies delivered a mix of FE loan-funded provision, non-levy apprenticeships, adult education budget courses, traineeships and 16 to 18 study programmes.
Astute Minds was judged as ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2017. It was one of the government’s biggest traineeship providers, delivering 2,660 starts on the pre-employability programme between 2014/15 and 2019/20.
MiddletonMurray was last inspected by Ofsted in 2016 and was graded as ‘good’ for its provision to around 287 learners, while FNTC Training and Consultancy received the same grade in the same year.
In a new provider monitoring report published in May 2019, the Teaching and Learning Group, was found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ in its provision to 24 apprentices.
Middleton states on her website that she appears on big-name media outlets like Sky News and in the Daily Telegraph, and has links to several high-profile politicians.
Skills minister Robert Halfon wrote the foreword to her book, Bridge That Gap!: How Schools Can Help Students Get Their First Job and Build The Career They Want, while former Home Office minister James Brokenshire’s favourable review of her earlier book, How To Get Your First Job And Get The Career You Want, is featured on its Amazon page.
Middleton is also a fitness guru who founded a company called YourBodyMeansBusiness and The Limitless Group, the latter of which provides corporate solutions for a “healthier, age-agnostic, more resilient workforce as a business asset”.