Step into the Project Eye TARDIS and go back to the beginning of the millennium, when the then Labour government introduced Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs). If you felt that you needed some skills training you could put up £25 to open an ILA which would provide a further £150 to spend on the training course of your choice.

The ILAs were implemented through a national database to which both potential learners and course providers could sign up. It was made very simple for providers: all they had to do was to give a name, address and bank account number. No previous experience at all in running courses was needed, let alone any evidence of competence. Later the providers could register the identities of those who had attended a course, and have fees paid into their bank account from the relevant ILAs.

It was all very simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, Capita, who efficiently provided the system as requested, were not asked to incorporate any security or validity checks. When the system was went live, fraud was rife. In one case, 6,000 learners were all registered at the same address. In another, the names registered were not real names, but Hindi swear words. It was estimated that £97 million was siphoned off in fraud.

There was the usual parliamentary enquiry resulting in the usual report with solemn declarations of the need to learn lessons - in this case about the need for proper controls to ensure that people registering online for government schemes are indeed who they say they are.

Let us swoop forward in time in the Project Eye TARDIS to March 2014. There is no longer a Labour government. It is the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who care for the country and its citizens. Reports appear that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are drawing up plans to drop Universal Jobmatch, an official DWP website of alleged job vacancies, on the grounds of expense and the large proportion of fake and repeat job entries. Investigations by both Channel 4 News and the Labour MP Frank Field have revealed hundreds of thousands of fake job postings, and worse, fraudulent postings which conned money from job seekers on false pretences - for example for non-existent police checks.

It appeared that these lapses stemmed from government ministers’ decision to make the website available to the widest possible range of potential employers, thus allowing anyone to post ‘job vacancies’. The company that runs the web site for the DWP, Monster, who basically just did what the government told them to has, according to The Guardian, asked for £975,000 to remove the estimated 20 per cent of postings that were dud.

Project Eye supposes that with this being only about 2 per cent of the figure quoted earlier for the Labour ILA fiasco, and with Jobmatch remaining in operation for the time being, this may make it seem like a relative success. And no doubt valuable lessons will be learned.

Project Eye wonders whether there is in the vast machinery of government some institution that records all these lessons learnt and monitors proposals for government projects and programmes for the reoccurrence of the risks that that have materialised in past project disasters. We have an independent Office of Budget Responsibility, why not an independent Office of Project Responsibility? Don’t say we can’t afford it.


  • Independent Learning Accounts Anthony King & Ivor Crewe The Blunders of our Governments Oneworld Publishers (Chapter 9)
  • Universal Jobmatch
  • The Guardian
  • The Independent