THE multi-million pound collapse of a Southampton apprenticeship training provider could be probed at Westminster.
As previously reported, Apprenticeship Training Limited (ATL) plunged into voluntary liquidation owing £6m to 200 creditors – and leaving hundreds of youngster across the UK fearing for their futures.
More than £1.3m is owed to the Government’s Skills Finding Agency (SFA) while tens of thousands of pounds more is owed to the taxman.
Now the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which acts as a watchdog on how taxpayers’ money is spent, say the debacle may fall within its remit for a future investigation.
In the past the committee of MPs has produced a string of hard-hitting reports on failed projects, and in recent weeks has summoned the bosses of Amazon and Starbucks to justify their tax arrangements.
Its chairman, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, last night declined to comment.
But a spokesman for the committee confirmed: “These are the sorts of things that will come up.”
This may be as each individual departmental budget is checked by the National Audit Office, which works in tandem with the PAC.
Each issue would have to “wait its turn,” he said, as the committee already investigates one or two cases every week.
It comes just a day after Southampton Itchen MP and former Skills Secretary John Denham joined calls for an independent inquiry into the collapse.
A day earlier, Eastleigh MP and former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne made similar demands.
As revealed by the Daily Echo, ATL shut down just months after opening its £500,000 centre in Burgoyne Road, Thornhill. Dozens of aspiring plumbers, builders and electricians were left facing uncertainty in Hampshire alone, while hundreds more were affected in sites at Guildford, Worcester, Belfast and West Yorkshire.
This newspaper then received a confidential report about the collapse which had been distributed to creditors.
It included hard-hitting allegations about the running of the company in its final few months and which were written by the one remaining director, Eddie Copeland.
He alleged how internal investigations and talks revealed that students were enrolled “for the sole purpose of claiming monies from the SFA with no intention of fulfilling their apprenticeship requirements”.
‘Deeply distressed’ Mr Copeland has since told the Daily Echo he was “shocked and deeply distressed” when he heard the SFA was to undertake an audit of the firm in the summer and that he stayed on as director to “protect the interests of apprentices”.
He also distanced himself from involvement in or responsibility for the administration of the contract the firm had with the SFA.
A second director, Nicolas Hayward, says he is aware of the allegations and that they are unfounded.
The Daily Echo has been unable to contact a third director, Gordon MacLennan.
The SFA has maintained that ATL passed the “necessary test” when they were being considered for funding. They handed the firm £4.4m over three years.