The Government has been blasted for its role in giving millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to a leading training company accused of failing to deliver quality services to apprentices.
Learndirect, which has bases in Wigan, has failed to address under-performance and not acted in learners’ best interests, says a damning report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The MPs said that, in the wake of the collapse of construction giant Carillion, questions were rightly being asked about how the Government manages companies delivering public services.
Learndirect received £121m from the Government in 2016/17 and expects to receive more than £105m from its main government contracts in the current year, said the PAC. The company is apparently receiving special treatment despite its failure to deliver quality training, suggesting it might be “too big to fail”, said the MPs.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “Outsourcing is an abiding interest for our committee, but recent events have brought concerns about Government’s relationship with its contractors into sharp focus. In the case of Learndirect, thousands of learners have been let down amid poor oversight by Government and at significant public expense.
“There has been disruptive legal action and, finally, a scathing Ofsted report. Yet still Learndirect appears to hold the whip hand.
“It expects to receive over £105m of funding from its main government contracts for this year, a consequence of assessments made about the risk to public services should Learndirect’s funding be terminated.
"It cannot be right that individual contractors should command such large sums of public money regardless of their performance. No commercial provider should be allowed to become so essential to the delivery of services that it cannot be allowed to fail.”
The MPs reported that education watchdog Ofsted had concerns about Learndirect in 2015, and carried out an inspection in 2017, rating it “inadequate”. They recommended Ofsted “urgently re-visit” how it prioritises its use of resources and the different type of risk to a private sector failure.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Government is ending Learndirect’s contract to provide apprenticeships and adult education because of its failure to meet the high standards expected.
"Our priority has always been to protect learners and make sure they do not lose out and get the opportunity to complete their courses, a point previously acknowledged by the independent National Audit Office. We continue to monitor Learndirect’s performance.”