Apprenticeships Rip-Off Exposed

Young Socialists lobbying last year’s TUC  Conference in central London
Young Socialists lobbying last year’s TUC Conference in central London

PRIVATE companies are being paid tens of millions of pounds of public money to train apprentices with no inspections or checks taking place and little scrutiny over how the money is spent.

Last night’s BBC Panorama: The Great Apprentice Scandal found that nearly £250m worth of contracts went to large subcontractors in 2011 which are not subjected to inspection by Ofsted or any other organisation.

Some of the companies involved did not even have jobs to offer young people who signed on as apprentices.

The programme said that in 2011 the government spent £1.4bn to create more than 450,000 apprenticeships, a 63 per cent rise on the previous year.

It reported that many further education colleges subsequently began subcontracting work to private training firms which, unlike colleges, are not subject to regular inspection.

It reported evidence of a training firm forging paperwork to try to gain accreditation.

One subcontractor Forward Thinking Training Solutions, which offered a painting and decorating apprenticeship for an NVQ was to be delivered in 16 weeks, rather than the year that industry experts say it should take to properly train an apprentice, went into administration last month.

An internal verifier for apprentices at another firm told the programme the company was being paid £9,000 for each apprenticeship completion award issued.

He said it was his job to verify the apprentices’ work had been done, which would allow the company to apply for more funding.

But after he refused to do so he found evidence that it was happening anyway.

Another whistle-blower told the programme that paperwork showing apprenticeships as complete, could not have been signed off at the time they were meant to have been because the firm did not employ an assessor at that time.

The programme also reported that an astonishing one in 10 apprenticeships in England in 2011 were at Morrisons supermarkets.

It reported that most of the 52,000 apprentices at the supermarket giant were existing employees aged over 25.

The company claimed it was fulfilling a commitment to offer more of its employees a formal qualification.

Almost 40 per cent of Morrisons workforce are enrolled in the apprenticeship scheme, which takes an average of six months to complete.

Apprentices learn about customer service, inventories, stock-taking, and working at the cash-till.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee has now questioned the money being paid to Elmfield Training, the private company that has a £37m government contract to train apprentices and which runs Morrisons apprenticeship scheme.

Ged Syddall, CEO of Elmfield, was questioned by MPs about the £12m profit reported by his company in 2010 – all of it from government funding. Syddall personally took home nearly £3m in dividends.

Last month Morrisons reported a profit of £947m in 2011, up 8.4 per cent on the previous year.

Morrisons claimed its huge increase in profits was largely due to the rise of ‘professional shoppers’.

Joshua Ogunleye, Young Socialists National Secretary, said: ‘This generation will not accept slave labour, either in the form of false so-called apprenticeships or work-for-your-dole workfare schemes.

‘The TUC must call a general strike to kick this government out now and ensure proper trade union-run training and jobs for youth.’