The public sector may be forced to mop up the mess left by two collapsed Worcestershire training firms which have left thousands of students dreaming of new careers stranded without courses.
Regional Minister Ian Austin said he was working to help the West Midland students among the 5,000 who had registered on IT courses with Advent Computer Training and on plumber and electrician training with its sister company Access 2 Careers.
Mr Austin said he was speaking to the Learning and Skills Council about the body stepping in to provide training and assistance.
Students from all over the country, some of whom had paid up to £10,000 to enrol on distance learning courses with the Hagley Hall-based firms, were notified in January by the companies’ directors that the two businesses had ceased to trade.
Many students had arranged finance for the courses through Barclays and are still paying for the training while the bank seeks an alternative provider to allow them to finish their courses.
But hundreds of students have joined online discussions on sites like Facebook to voice their anger at the collapse and call for a full refund.
Now West Midlands Regional Minister Ian Austin, who branded Access 2 Trade Careers a local success story when he opened its £1.5 million training facility in Hartlebury last year, has said he is trying to help those students who are based in the West Midlands.
He said: “I have been working closely with public bodies to ensure West Midlands learners are not just left high and dry by the closure of these private companies.
“I’ve asked the Learning and Skills Council to step in and see what practical advice and training provision they can provide.”
Meanwhile mystery still surrounds the next steps for the two companies, whose directors Ivor Allchurch and Ashley Jones sent out emails to students in January saying the firms were closing their doors after funding had been pulled by Barclays.
But neither Access 2 Careers – previously known as Anglo Capital – nor Advent Computer Training have yet to be registered as being in administration.
The latest documents filed at Companies House indicate a change in the directors’ service address at several companies associated with Advent and Access 2 Careers from Hagley Hall to Number 1 Colmore Square in Birmingham.
The collapse has sparked intense discussion in online forums, with students and ex-members of the firms’ 200 staff who were sent home in January fearing for their financial futures.
One student posted: “I owe over £10,000. I was stupid enough to accept Advent’s ‘deferred for a year’ payment option as I couldn’t afford to pay £210 per month.
“If push comes to shove, I’ll have to go bankrupt, or hope for a miracle.”
The students might be offered some comfort from the public sector, after the Learning and Skills Council said it may be able to help West Midlands students through its Nextstep programme.
Learning and Skills Council deputy regional director Julie Robson said: “Whilst the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) does not have any responsibility to learners affected by the closure of Advent and Access2Trade Careers, as they were not an LSC-approved training provider in receipt of public funding, we are sympathetic to the difficulties experienced by learners.
“For all learners who are West Midlands residents, whether they had yet to start their training course or were midway through training, the following help is available.
“We can offer free face-to-face support through the Nextstep service. Nextstep will be able to offer advice and guidance on available training opportunities and funding support.
“The training may not be exactly the same as that delivered by the companies who had ceased trading, however LSC-funded training is likely to be more closely linked to current and identified job vacancies.”