Andrew Allum: Problems with skills funding

Last week, at my day job, I received an e-mail from Acua Limited, a company that describes itself on its website as a corporate trading subsidiary of Coventry University and purports to deliver “organisational transformation through talent development”.


“We would like to arrange a suitable time to come and meet with you to discuss a new concept being offered by Coventry University.


Due to substantial government funding, we are now able to deliver and/or accredit tailored management programmes within both public and private sector organisations. By accrediting your existing programme/s, we are also able to draw down funding on your behalf.


The benefits these programmes can offer have already been experienced by a number of our clients that include NHS Trusts and Borough Councils as well as many commercially focussed businesses.”


This e-mail is a testimony to why so much of the money that the government spends trying to encourage training and build a skilled workforce is wasted. Acua, it seems, are willing to ‘draw down’ some of their ‘substantial funding’ to provide my (entirely private sector) business with taxpayers’ money for programmes that we’re willing, able and, indeed, have already chosen to provide without public subsidy. Effectively, all they would be doing is giving us money to do what we’re already doing.


What possible benefit would there be for taxpayers in taking over the funding of our training? The answer of course, is none. To use a common buzzword about analysis of this sort, there is no 'additionality' here. However, by hijacking our privately run courses with public cash, Acua and Coventry University would be able to stake certain claims about the effectiveness of their work and their success in “organisational transformation through talent development”.


What’s happening here should set alarm bells ringing. Not only is this profligate, it’s duplicitous. Acua and other organisations doing the same thing throughout the country are using public money (and significant amounts by the sounds of it) to identify successful programmes and effectively buy them up, allowing them to take the credit for developing businesses and – ultimately – to promote themselves at a time when politicians are looking to cut spending. This is very similar to the case where Remploy was exposed trying to bribe disabled people to report that they had found work thanks to that quango's efforts, which TPA Research Fellow Mike Denham reported in June 2008.


From the outside it looks as though Acua are paying companies to run courses they otherwise couldn't have afforded, and helping to improve workforce skills. But in reality they are buying into the successful and independent work of private companies to pass it off as the results of their own efforts.


This is a serious and indefensible waste of taxpayers' money and shows how dubious many claims for the success of government programs can be.


Andrew Allum, TPA Chairman

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