9 June 2010 | Andy Allen
Three men have been jailed for their part in a public training contracts rigging ring in Shropshire.
Paul Kent, a former director at the Shropshire branch of the Learning and Skills Council (SLSC), was imprisoned for four and a half years. He was described by the Serious Fraud Office as ringleader of a scheme that involved him receiving bribes for awarding more than £1.3 million of contracts.
The LSC as a whole, which delivered training until it was replaced earlier this year, was the UK’s biggest quango with an annual budget of £9.32 billion.
The SFO described how money Kent received in kickbacks enabled him and his wife Sarah, who was internal funding manager for the SLSC, to spend more than £100,000 on luxury goods including two Audi cars and expensive watches in one eight-month period while on a joint income of £35,000.
Silinder Singh Sidhu, formerly a marketing co-ordinator at the SLSC who later became a service provider to SLSC, was jailed for three years for his role in the fraud. Birmingham Crown Court heard how Sidhu won £266,000 of business in return for £80,000 in corrupt payments.
Stuart Ford, who ran the Telford Learning Zone, a training facility, was jailed for two years. The court heard Ford received just over £920,000 from the LSC to set up the facility while paying Paul Kent £190,735 in kickbacks.
Another defendant, Rebecca Hoyle, received a one year suspended sentence after paying £29,000 in return for £94,000 in training contracts.
Sarah Kent, who admitted money laundering, is awaiting sentence.
The Serious Fraud Office and West Mercia Police began investigating in July 2006 when a whistleblower alerted the LSC to the frauds, which took place between 2003 and 2005.