Yesterday, while the collapse of Carillion dominated the news, the chief executive of another beleaguered supplier to the government was learning the old maxim that “the cover up is worse than the crime” — albeit it was a finding of poor performance, as opposed to an offence, that the company unsuccessfully tried to bury.
Andy Palmer, the boss of Learndirect, the UK’s largest private provider of adult learning and apprenticeships, was in Parliament to face questions about why his company was slapped with the Ofsted’s lowest performance grade after an inspection last March.
But the £200,000-a-year chief executive received the most strident criticism not because Learndirect, which was privatised in 2011, had taken public money and delivered a substandard service.
Instead, MPs on the public accounts committee were furious to hear claims that his attempts to block the publication of the Ofsted report included a “superinjunction” that prevented government departments discussing the company’s situation between them.
One claim in particular raised eyebrows. Mr Palmer said the feedback meeting with Ofsted at the end of the process had failed to go ahead because the Learndirect staffer attending found it “such an emotionally draining situation she had to leave twice due to the manner in which it was conducted, she felt”.
How much was this person paid, Ms Hillier asked? £95,000 to £105,000 a year, it turned out. More than enough for someone to sit through a difficult meeting, the committee chair said.
At the end, she summed up the committee’s verdict of the Learndirect boss with some parliamentary understatement: “We are unimpressed by your evidence today.”