Star date: 15th November 2013

A Salford Star Exclusive


"They're only young people and they're going to look at Morson and Vital Rail and think that the system has let them down. Again." apprentice's mum

Salford MP Hazel Blears was pictured with them. Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart visited them. And Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, actually opened their new training centre in July…

…But now almost two hundred young apprentices training at a state of the art centre at the Soapworks, run by Vital Skills Training, have been sent home as big business takeovers and buck passing are trashing their future.

Full details here…

Vital Rail contract with apprentices
click image to enlarge

"They're only young people and I think they're going to look at Morson and Vital Rail and think that the system has let them down. Again." the parent

"There's another guy who, before he started, was selling heroin to keep his kids but now he's stopped; he's getting by on £95 a week because after the course he's been promised he'll get a decent wage…now he's left with nothing...." the apprentice

"I've seen all the publicity with all these people getting their pictures in the papers…But now they need to get off their arses and start asking questions and turn this around so that these young people have got a future…" the youth worker

After opening the Vital Services Group's brand new training academy at the Soapworks in Ordsall last July, Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, bigged up such apprenticeship schemes as crucial to the British economy…

"The rail, power and high technology sectors are vital to achieve sustainable growth so it is important that we train young people to meet the demand for skills" he said "At present there is a large skills gap and creative training methods are required."

Almost two hundred young people, including around forty from Salford, signed up to Vital's academy on apprenticeships to gain qualifications to enable them to get good jobs on the railways.

Now those hopes are in ruins, as they've been caught up in big business failures, takeovers and buck passing involving Vital Skills Training, Vital Rail and the Salford based, Morson Group – which prides itself on `social responsibility'.

Last week, the young people got a letter from Vital Skills Training, which runs the apprenticeship courses, telling them to stay at home, adding that, because of `difficult challenges' it could not `process salaries', and was taking steps to put the company into administration. This year, Vital Skills Training received £421,484 from the Skills Funding Agency in sub-contracts from colleges, including Salford College, to run the courses.

Meanwhile, the engineering recruitment specialists, Morson Group, which has offices worldwide and boasts an annual turnover approaching £700million, acquired `certain businesses and assets' of Vital Services Group Limited from administrators, Deloitte's Reorganisation Services for £14.1million.

Morson took over companies, including one called Vital Rail, but not Vital Training Skills Ltd which runs the courses at the Soapworks. The apprentices' contracts are with Vital Rail, yet it appears that they have not, as yet, been transferred over to the Morson Group and are still out of work, owed back pay and holidays, and now without the course that is their passport to a job on the railways.

The apprentices received a letter yesterday from Deloitte giving details of the Morson takeover but stating that "the employment position of c 300 apprentices is currently being clarified".

For the apprentices and their families, there is no `clarification' needed – the contracts were with Vital Rail, now part of Morson Group which should honour its commitments…

"Morson has come in and doesn't want the burden of having to train these apprentices" one of the apprentice's mums told the Salford Star "It seems that this bigger company is trying to move the employment contracts over to a different company that they've not bought out, and are trying to make out these apprentices have a contract with that company - which isn't the case; they've got a contract with Vital Rail.

"I know that there are a lot of apprentices for which this was a lifeline" she added "Some of them may have criminal records or were drug users, and have tried to make a fresh start in life. They're only young people and I think they're going to look at Morson and Vital Rail and think that the system has let them down. Again.

"They've been sent home, they've got no pay, some of them have not had their holiday pay either and others are owed two or three weeks wages - £95 a week for these lads is a lot and they've worked hard for that money" she explained "When you take over a company you take over their debts but instead of taking the brunt of it they've punished the young kids and I don't think that's right. Something should be done about it."

The Morson Group prides itself on its social responsibility… "At the heart of our core values is a commitment to do the right thing for our customers, our people and our community" the company states on its website "We make a positive contribution to the communities we work in and drive sustainability in the industries we operate in, providing the skills for tomorrow, today."

For the apprentices now looking at a bleak future, it doesn't appear this way at all.

"I've been there for a number of months and have now got no qualification and no job" one them explained "I got sent a letter saying Morson has got a £700m turnover, yet can't afford to pay me £95 a week and put me through my PTS (Personal Track Safety). I was promised that I would get a card so that I could go and work on the railways.

"I didn't want to do it at the start, it was just a job but now I've been here this is what I want to do. It's not just a job any more. But I've still not got my PTS or my TIC Card so I can't go out on the track, and can't get a job.

"I've got mates on the course who have been smoking weed for five years and stopped for this course because they know at the end it's good money and they want to sort their life out" he said "Someone else on the course has been in prison and this job has changed him, he's just sorted his life out.

"There's another guy who, before he started, was selling heroin to keep his kids but now he's stopped; he's scrimping and saving for his kids and getting  by on £95 a week because after the course he's been promised he'll get a decent wage" he added "So he's stuck to it for months and now, at the end, he can't earn a decent wage – he's left with nothing. No qualifications, no PTS card, nothing.

"If Morson would put us through that and pay for it…if they'd just do that we wouldn't be too bothered" he decided "It's the PTS and the TIC that we need just to go on track and earn some proper money. But now, where am I left?"

These young people should be a shining example of how the apprenticeship scheme works. It is the flagship scheme, not only of the Government but of local councils, MPs, employers and agencies, all keen to cash in for financial or image gains. It's left Salford youth workers like Graham Cooper, who helped prepare and place the young people into Vital's scheme, absolutely furious…

"I've seen all the publicity with all these people getting their pictures in the papers" he says "But now they need to get off their arses and start asking questions and turn this around so that these young people have got a future.

"No-one really appreciates the amount of time and effort that people like myself and others have put into getting these young men into the situation, which in some cases has taken years to build their confidence up" he adds "What will the people on these courses think of the system that has let them down? And what must they think of me who got them into this so-called new opportunity?"

As well as concern for the young people, for Graham, there's also an accountability issue.

"Where has the money gone?" he asks "By the sound of it the company, Vital Skills Training, has got hundreds of thousands of pounds which has been spent on no-one getting a qualification – how does that relate back to the Skills and Funding Agency? And how will the colleges who were given this money account for how that money was spent without the valid outcomes at the end of the training?

"It's disgusting because it's happened before with other providers and when the Government goes on about cutting costs and saving money why is it allowing this to happen?" he adds "Silver Track did the same thing with young people. In fact  there are people on this programme who have already been let down by Silver Track, who then went to Vital Rail to complete their qualifications, and now are going to be let down again

"What is this going to do to those young people?" he fumes "This is not just Salford's problem, it's a Greater Manchester wide problem. The decision makers and councils need to get off their arses and do something about it."

For the past two days the Salford Star has been trying to get some answers as the corporate mess leaves young people's futures hanging in limbo.

"Vital Skills Training Ltd can confirm that we continue to work with stakeholders to secure a future for the business" said its Director, Rob Johnson "It is our aim to preserve jobs and protect employees. Until our discussions with third parties are complete, we are unable to provide further comment."

Vince Cable himself didn't comment. But his department assured us that the Skills Funding Agency, responsible for the National Apprenticeship Service funding will be `responding shortly'.

Morson - the company which the apprentices and their families believe is now responsible for their futures, having bought out their contract issuer, Vital Rail - told us that its directors were unavailable for a comment.

On announcing its takeover of Vital Rail and other companies in the Vital Services Group, Ged Mason, CEO of Morson Group, commented:

"We are delighted that Vital Human Resources Limited will join the Morson Group of companies and that we have safeguarded thousands of jobs… Vitals' initiatives to invest in creating the skills of tomorrow are critical for the success of the many infrastructure projects within the country."

Update: 1pm 15th November

The Skills Funding Agency has now sent us its statement… "The Agency is aware that Vital Services Group has gone into administration. We are in communication with Deloittes who are the administrators for Vital Services Group, in order to discuss next steps. The Agency's priority is to ensure minimal disruption to apprentices, learners and employers."

* The Salford Star now understands that some apprentices have, today, been paid for work they have done. 


* The main image is of the Vital Skills Training Facebook site, showing Salford MP Hazel Blears with apprentices and Vince Cable opening the academy at the Soapworks.


Kenneth w mckelvey wrote
at 11:20:23 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
What is the problem with this Government and Their Association With EmployersTwo years ago you could not get a Plumber Or Electrician for love nor Money . So why not train the youngsters in any trade that might be needed in the future I stress might be needed if they learn a skill and do not get an Oppertunity to use it /The Skill is not Wasted / If you are trainedhow to Decorate/ Fix an Engine/Mend a TV or Computer/ Learn Gardening/ All Worth Knowing by the Youngsters who took the time out to learn them Anything is better than leaving our young out to dry With no hope or Asperations/ Drugs And Crime are the Alternative So I would suggest invest money in their future.And save money on Drug Rehabilition or Prison.
Paul wrote
at 11:19:40 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
Michael felse still living in cloud cuckoo land, the way he talks you'd think he has a direct line to Stuarts office, Michael snaps his fingers and Stuart comes running. Michael you have about as much influence as anyone else on this or any other matter when it comes to labour and Stuart and they don't give a flying f*ck about you or anyone else, unless you are a multimillionaire or buisinessman who can line their pockets, and Michael I don't think your any of the above. Stuart and labour out
Michael Felse wrote
at 4:57:17 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
Really sad to read the pains caused to the young apprentices writing on here. Clearly these are all dedicated to building quality careers for them and Salford and their community. One of my 5 pledges is to write to our Salford Strategic Mayors calling for a public-emergency all-party Councillors and Mayors Chamber debate to find solutions ASAP. Young people deserve quality of life in Salford.
kieran wrote
at 3:12:45 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
This is disgusting on vital rail ltds part. If i was in the situation that these apprentices are I would apply to join the network rail advanced apprenticeship sheme. Luckily I work for network rail, but i know what it feels like to be told to stay at home amd have and have no idea of whats going on.
Salford Apprentice wrote
at 12:42:18 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
I don't understand why I have been told when I started working at Vital i worked for the Vital Rail ltd and then when they didn't pay my wages they said Vital Skills hadn't been bought out and they were my employers and they paid me. Even my wage slip and P60 said I was employed by Vital Rail Ltd, so they have bought out one part of the company and trying to throw me with the company they don't want. What am I supposed to do now. I gave up college to do this and now I am know better off. Its a joke
Kurtis wrote
at 12:41:53 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
I am one the mentioned apprentices, I found this page while looking for more information on the situation. I received a very vague letter giving next to no information on what my chances of going back are, the only way I can interpret the way the letter was worded is that they are taking legal advice to see the best way they can get rid of us without breaking the law. Its very distressing not knowing what is happening, i'd rather just to be told I don't have a job anymore.
Salford Apprentice Mum wrote
at 12:41:26 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
My son has been left high and dry here. Don't think that for one minute my son who has worked for less than minimum wage and £95 has gained a thing from this. No qualification, no job and no hope left. At least college he got holidays off, went in four days a week and was in walking distance. I got £60 Child Tax Credit and £20 Child Benefit whilst he was at college and he got £15 from the college thats £95 a week anyway but he would have had qualifications at the end of it. Instead I encourage him to be self sufficient gain a career, a trade and feel like he was supporting himself and for what to be kicked in the teeth like this. Morsons should be ashamed and do the right thing. These kids are our future and you've just ripped the heart and soul out of them. Never mind go and have a Horlicks
Jane Fearns wrote
at 12:41:09 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
Its about time that these big businesses that keep taking money of the tax payers to pay big wages were brought to account. Amazing how these apprentices were employed by Vital Rail Limited before the take over and all of a sudden they are not. Its a joke that they can have all this money and the kids who have put there trust in the authorities are left with nothing again.
Worried mum wrote
at 12:40:46 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
What chance have these kids got now. No qualifications too late to get in college and too late to get a Christmas temp job. When is all the profits these company's are making going to help the young workers and put something back into the community. Jokers
Anon wrote
at 12:39:58 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
Firstly thanks to the Salford Star I know that you have investigated this story fully and tried to get the people in charge to answer the accusations put to them. What i want to know is why Salford keeps getting S**T on from a great height. Why don't the companies here and the council back us Salford people up. They've done this with Media City and allowed an outside Manchester firm the contract on there and not backed the Salford Cabbies and now they have allowed a multi million pound company to walk all over these kids. The story states 40 kids from Salford I know there are far more of these apprentices from Salford probably over 60 and the council and mayor should be doing something about this not sit back and keep giving away our jobs, our money and our heritage. Salford is Salford not Manchester and Salford jobs for Salford People.
Graham Cooper wrote
at 12:39:06 AM on Saturday, November 16, 2013
Thanks Alice, the reason why this story surfaced was because concerned parents, and apprentices contacted me due to their uncertain future. From my point of view I could not afford to let this just take its due course. You will no doubt hear counter stories soon, and the "publicity" machine gear up. At the beginning of this week there was many apprentices who had received letters which confirmed nothing of their future or past endeavours/achievements during placement. The salford Star have not only asked the questions, but alerted others to this situation. It is correct to state that there are people affected who this has happened to before with another training provider.In my opinion this could not be allowed to happen and hence the investigation ensued. Thanks Salford Star for helping people like me challenge such conflicting stories. Hopefully all of the apprentices will be allowed to complete there qualifications (Without having to pay themselves) and move on with their lives and futures. Michael no disrespect but you haven't hot a clue what you are on about. Someone once told me "don't try to do five things and do it shit, just try to one thing and do it good" You need to maybe take heed of such a suggestion.
Alice Searle wrote
at 2:08:39 PM on Friday, November 15, 2013
Firstly, I wish to congratulate the Salford Star for making us all aware of this very distressing situation. Once again you are being the 'voice of the people!' It seems to me that this is a case for our representative MPs, the Salford Mayor and the Unions, to take up. To let down young people who are trying to build a future career and who are prepared to learn skills in order to do this, is reprehensible. I agree with Graham, who I know has young peoples' futures at the centre of all he does as a youth worker. Can we rely on these companies to fulfill their contracts? Unfortunately, I have doubts. Come along now MPs and Mayor; earn your salaries and gain some respect by fighting these companies and working for justice for these young people
Michael Felse wrote
at 6:41:44 AM on Friday, November 15, 2013
Needs to see a solution from our elected Strategic Assistant Mayors in Salford Council. Pull employers together to take two apprentices each. Give them the Salford Council guarantee that they will be provided access to a suitable qualification through the Adult Skills and Education Unit. Salford Council must take action now to make sure young local people are given the skills and motivation to build a vibrant future city. Same goes for our MPs. Make a difference now.
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