'Wrong payments of pounds 60m' made to training councils

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Indy Politics
WRONG or doubtful payments of between pounds 20m and pounds 60m were made to Training and Enterprise Councils (Tecs) and their trainees last year, according to an independent audit published today.

In a report to Parliament, Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, again qualified his opinion on the Department of Employment accounts for the pounds 1.5bn training programme - as he had done in the previous two years - saying: 'My examination of 1991-92 expenditure showed that erroneous or doubtful payments continued to run at significant levels.'

He said that investigations carried out by officers of the National Audit Office had found that 60 per cent of the 63 Tecs visited in England and Wales 'were operating inadequate systems of financial appraisal' and monitoring of training providers.

About half of the training providers were maintaining 'inadequate records' on trainee attendance - the basis for some of the payments. 'Periods of unauthorised absence were commonly included in their claims.'

The auditors found one Tec that had claimed pounds 153,000 for vocational qualifications gained by trainees between 1984 and 1989 - before any Tecs had been created. Claims from 19 Tecs, totalling pounds 6.5m, were not backed by adequate documentation.

But when the department tried earlier this year to recoup some overpayments, estimated at pounds 11m, basing its estimate on sample checks, the Tecs insisted that they could only get back excess payments that could be proved.

The department decided that thorough checks on all payments would not be cost-effective, and Sir John reported: 'Because of these developments the amounts that the department will recover will therefore be much less than they expected.

'At 1 July 1992, recoveries totalled some pounds 3m, with some pounds 4m more still being pursued.' That left an estimated pounds 4m that had been written off. Overall, the audit found that incorrect payments to Tecs 'might have been between pounds 4.6m and pounds 18m'.

The office had found payments of between pounds 11.9m and pounds 25.3m, 'the propriety of which was uncertain', and there had been estimated incorrect payment of between pounds 3.2m and pounds 17.6m to Employment Training participants.

Sir John said improvements in financial control were 'at the forefront of the department's priorities'. But he added: 'Because the administration and delivery of training is outside the direct control of the department, it will not be easy to achieve a significant improvement, especially with regard to attendance recording.'

Appropriation Accounts 1991-92. Class VI, Vote 1; Dept of Employment: programmes and central services; HMSO; Commons paper No 197.

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