Morris pledges new learning grants

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Indy Politics

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, defended her decision to suspend the Government's individual learning accounts amid claims of fraud.

Ms Morris insisted a new scheme would be drawn up to replace the flagship plan, set up by Gordon Brown in 1998 to encourage millions of people to take up college courses.

The scheme was frozen on Wednesday after the Department for Education and Skills received allegations that people had been signed up for sub-standard courses. Some 6,000 complaints are being investigated.

Ms Morris told MPs: "I think it is entirely responsible to act as we have done, to give those with ILA accounts time to draw them down, and then withdraw the scheme. To make absolutely clear that this Government's commitment to good-quality adult education is cast iron, we will introduce a further scheme."

Alistair Burt, a Conservative education spokesman, asked: "How do you think yesterday's announcement will affect aspirations for a vibrant and high-quality further education sector? How long have you known of the problem of fraud and abuse? Is it true that 5,200 complaints have been received before any action was taken?"

The Liberal Democrat education spokesman, David Rendel, later called for the abolition of tuition fees as "a barrier for young people who want to go to university" and "a tax on education". "A sensible government," he added, "avoids taxing things it wants more of."

Ministers are currently reviewing student support, and plan to introduce student loans and a graduate tax.

Margaret Hodge, the Minister for Higher Education, said: "There is some evidence that debt and the perception of debt are deterring people from lower-income backgrounds from going to university... It's precisely to examine these issues that we have established the review."