Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 28 of Session 2005-06, dated 7 March 2006


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"The economic competitiveness of the UK is being damaged by relatively low levels of skills, literacy and numeracy among adults.  My Committee has highlighted this in recent reports and emphatically does so again today.  A large proportion (about 40%) of employers do not provide their staff with any training at all.  These employers could take advantage of the extensive e-learning network-the learndirect service-established by Ufi.  It is essential that this service is promoted more widely among employers and that it offers more business-oriented training."

"I welcome the fact that learndirect is delivering courses to large numbers of low skilled people who have not done any learning in the previous three years.  But many of these people are not taking advantage of what is a golden opportunity: to step up from learndirect to further qualifications, including at level 2 and in literacy and numeracy.  Some learndirect centres are indeed getting low skilled people to take these further courses and achieve the qualifications.  Ufi needs to find out what these centres are doing right.

"In 2004-05, a hefty one third or so of learndirect funding was being used for overhead costs.  Ufi should accelerate moves to cut these costs and channel the money towards learners."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 28th Report of this Session, which examined Ufi and the learndirect service in England.

In 1998, the Department established Ufi Ltd to develop people's skills and work with employers to increase employees' capabilities. Ufi operates under a company structure and provides e-learning services through contractors under the brand 'learndirect'. Ufi and the learndirect service received a total of £930 million in further education funding up to the end of July 2005. Ufi's aims are to work with partners to boost individuals' employability and employees' productivity by:

• inspiring existing learners to develop their skills further;

• winning over new and reluctant learners; and

• transforming people's access to learning in everyday life and work.

Ufi has focused mainly on publicly funded provision and delivering services directly to individual learners through learndirect centres and its website. In contrast, employers' awareness of how learndirect can help their business is low. Though many of the small number of businesses who have used learndirect value the service, Ufi needs to develop more products that are suited for business use. It needs to extend its reach to employers by working with organisations, such as Sector Skills Councils and the Small Business Service, who can help make businesses more aware of the benefits of training their staff through learndirect.

Of the 1.7 million people taking over 4 million courses through learndirect by July 2005, two-thirds had not done any learning in the previous three years. Bringing these people back into learning presents a golden opportunity, but a low proportion of learners have progressed on to other learning, including taking up qualifications in literacy and numeracy and to level 2 (equivalent to 5 GCSEs A*-C) which are priorities for the Department. Ufi and learndirect providers should help learners gain confidence in their ability to move on, in order to meet the challenging target to double the number of pre-level 2 learners undertaking level 2 courses by 2010. Ufi also needs to secure more reliable data on learner achievement.

Ufi has reduced its management and marketing costs but, at nearly 30% in 2004-05, they are still far too high. It is planning further reductions to release more funds to redeploy on services for learners. The Department and the Learning and Skills Council need to help Ufi to extract the full benefits from its products and innovative approaches to learning by adapting them for other education settings, such as schools and colleges. They should also continue to support innovation that is likely to lead to improvements, such as in access to good quality learning in rural areas and among disadvantaged groups.

Click here to view Report