Today I had my second comment piece published in the Guardian, which was about the return and risks of sub-contracting (previously know as ‘franchise’).
Link to article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/may/24/colleges-subcontracting-scandals
Please do add a comment to the online article (or below)
My central argument is that the Government has created the perfect set of circumstances for significant growth in the sub-contracting of learning and skills provision (e.g. Apprenticeships), without regard for the damage this has done to the sector in the past. In the past few months I’ve even suggested this could quickly become for the current CEO of the funding agency (Geoff Russell’s) his very own version of the previous CEO’s (Mark Haysom’s) capital fiasco.
Let’s consider the evidence (current circumstances, and then the history).
The 5 sub-contracting bonanza circumstances:
1. Introduction of £500k Minimum Contract Levels for 2011/12 means several hundred providers (even after exemptions) will need to sub-contract their funding or lose the ability to continue providing courses
2. Far from restricting sub-contracting, officials are promoting sub-contracting in newspapers “in order to maximise the funding which reaches the front line“
3. The Skills funding agency has ”removed the maximum delivery threshold for subcontracting (previously known as the 51% rule)” Para 25
4. Recently released Period 2 allocations for this year (2010/11) show that “Of the 75% below expected performance, just over half had the tolerance applied which resulted in £33m being recovered for 19+ Apprenticeships and £43m for 16-18 Apprenticeships.”
So, as the Government keeps increasing the Apprenticeship targets, many providers will miss them without quick help from sub-contractors. Given the pressure, are they taking the time to do proper due diligence and contracting?
5. The Skills Funding Agency has already reduced its staffing levels considerably following an 11% reduction to its adminstration budget in the last financial year alone. (last page). Even where the NAS and the Skills Funding Agency can agree who is responsible, it is likely to mean much less financial oversight on their part (and more freedom to sub-contract). Most providers I have met (such as at the Sub-contracting Funding Summit) were not even aware that this relatively new policy statement even existed: Higher Risk Providers & Persons and Agency Contracting
Just a small selection of sub-contracting arrangements hitting the headlines before 2011:
July 1995 – Times Educational Supplement – Franchise courses in fraud inquiry
April 1999 – Times Higher Education – College face crackdown on fraud
May 1999 – Independent Newspaper – Fraud and scandal in further education
November 2001 – Times Higher Education – Whistleblowers: Bilston chaos continues
May 2005 – Serious Fraud Office – Training consultant charged with defrauding Progress Training Ltd
February 2007 – Guardian Newspaper – Corruption case closed
October 2008 - The Northern Echo - Pair face jail for £16m college con
July 2009 – Times Educational Supplement – Funding fraud claims up 20% to record high
June 2010 – Serious Fraud Office – Four sentenced in Shropshire training contracts bribery and money laundering case
What do you think?
~ Is the public purse and the FE sector’s reputation at serious risk?
~ What can be done now, to avoid repeating history?
This morning an important Parliamentary Private Members’ Debate was held on the future of ESOL funding, which can be heard and watched in full here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=8198
The opening address from Heidi Alexander MP (who proposed the debate) provides an excellent and accurate summary of the funding changes that will impact on English language provision. Heidi Alexander is my local MP and she got in touch over the weekend for technical help with her speech, for which I get a mention and the final quote at the 25 minute mark.
Also, Lsect research into the impact of changes to funding for those on ‘inactive benefits’ also gets referenced by Gordon Marsden (the Shadow FE Minister) at the 1 hour and 17 minute mark. So a first for Lsect, not one but two mentions in Hansard!
John Hayes, the Minister for FE, spoke briefly and last (at the 1 hour 22 minute mark) and when pressed said “the ESOL Impact Assessment will inform policy and be published in good time – before the summer recess – so we have a chance to debate it. It will consider family learning, the effect on children and particularly women.” So it seems possible the policy on ESOL funding for those on ‘inactive benefits’ could still be altered to support these groups, although given the summer recess starts from 19th July 2011 we will have to wait even longer than we thought (and hoped) to find out.
Interesting, John Hayes also said he rejected the idea that BIS did not do their homework before announcing the policy changes in November 2010. If true, it rather begs the question why BIS are undertaking an ESOL specific Impact Assessment (which he said was his idea) and why transitional protection was not mentioned until the publication of SFA Guidance Note 7 in April 2011 (five months after the original policy change was announced). You can read my summary of Guidance Note 7 here: http://www.lsect.co.uk/updates/15-04-11.asp
This Parliamentary Briefing on ESOL funding (published 28th April 2011) may also be of interest:
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I’m sitting at my PC late into the night clicking refresh on the Guardian website, waiting for my comment piece about adult funding policies to appear in their Education Supplement. As someone who is passionate about the contribution that FE makes to people’s lives and UK plc, could I be more excited?
When it does appear, I’ll post the link here: Click here for online version or Click here for the PDF version
As background reading, below are some slides which might help make the case for a Government rethink.
Here in PowerPoint:http://www.lsect.co.uk/documents/ESOL-29-03-11.ppt
or as a PDF:http://www.lsect.co.uk/documents/ESOL-funding-29-03-11.pdf
In my view, it is not too late for the Government to rethink the policy around the introduction of tuition fees for ESOL and non-ESOL learners on inactive benefits (we know BIS are still working on an impact assessment).
Please post your views and thoughts below, and complete an online survey (click here)