A UK government select committee is to investigate the Individual Learning Accounts (ILA) fiasco that may have seen thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money being stolen. Bogus training firms are being blamed for the theft.
The all-party Commons Education Select Committee will investigate how supposedly secure account details were accessed.
The £260m ILA scheme was suspended by Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris in October amid concerns about abuse of the system. There were worries that account details had been compromised, leading to millions of pounds of government funding being misappropriated.
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Skills (DfES) said that it was unclear how the accounts had been breached. "The two possible options are that the computer system was hacked, or registered trainers misused the system," he said.
Capita, the facilities management company that managed the accounts database, confirmed in a statement that there was no evidence of hacking. "A limited number of these users may have abused their authorised access and acted in an inappropriate manner," it said.
Quite how registered users were allowed access to the trainees' accounts remains unclear. "The Select Committee will be looking for answers, and the police continue their investigations," said the DfES spokesman.
Capita refused to comment further on how the ILA system was set up. It said the system was "built and run for the DfES, according to the department's detailed specifications".
The ILA case could be a sign of a more widespread problem. "Until we have got to the bottom of what went on here, it won't be clear what lessons there may be for other government outsourcing contracts," said John Healy, Minister for Lifelong Learning.
Senior government officials at the DfES were presented with a computer disk containing 1000 account details by a worried training provider. The details on the disk matched the official records.
The ILA scheme had been hailed by the government as a major success, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that much of the money spent may not have gone into training at all.
The scheme was overspent by £58m when it was suspended. Both the DfES and Capita had been warned as early as September 2000 that the system was open to abuse.
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