Free school meals: Govt ‘failed to renegotiate’ £425m contract for a better deal | Politics News

The Division for Training was “surprisingly unconcerned” about whether or not a non-public firm was taking advantage of offering free school meal vouchers, MPs have warned.

Edenred was contracted to run the scheme throughout the first lockdown however struggled to deal with demand for vouchers from eligible households – inflicting “unacceptable” delays, in accordance to the Public Accounts Committee.

Its report additionally discovered that “critical issues” arose as a result of the corporate failed to put in place sufficient capability to deal with calls from faculties and households at first of the scheme final April.

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson
Training Secretary Gavin Williamson

An outsourced contact centre was solely introduced in to assist the next month – and it was solely in Might that Edenred and the DfE realised that 40,000 eCodes that have been designed to be transformed into vouchers had not been delivered to households.

The Division for Training ended up extending the contract with Edenred twice – growing the worth of the deal fivefold from £78m to £425m – however the ministry failed to renegotiate the phrases and safe better worth for cash, MPs mentioned.

Elsewhere within the PAC report, it’s prompt that the DfE didn’t do sufficient to study how far households would have to journey to supermarkets that have been accepting vouchers.

In the beginning of the scheme, 11.2% of all faculties have been greater than 5 kilometres away from their nearest collaborating retailer.

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Edenred was awarded the deal to distribute vouchers to England’s 1.44 million poorest youngsters with out going by means of a tendering course of – with one union describing the launch as an “absolute shambles”.

Labour’s Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, mentioned: “Whether or not it is getting life-saving gear to frontline employees or meals to hungry youngsters in poorer households, authorities’s failure to be taught from its repeated contracting errors, again and again, giant and small, is costing this nation too pricey.

“After the preliminary urgency we’ve got seen the federal government persevering with to play make amends for how to help households whose youngsters are entitled to free school meals, and regardless of the contract with Edenred rising greater than fivefold there was no dialogue about tendering the contract and even renegotiating it.”

Final month, the federal government relaunched the Edenred voucher scheme for free school meals after footage of meagre meals parcels despatched to households – from catering companies working in a separate scheme – sparked an outcry on social media.

The mother tweeted this photo of her children's food parcel. Pic: @RoadsideMum
The federal government relaunched the voucher scheme after a mom tweeted this photograph of her youngsters’s meals parcel. Pic: @RoadsideMum

Geoff Barton, basic secretary of the Affiliation of School and School Leaders, mentioned: “The launch of the Edenred nationwide meals voucher scheme on the outset of the pandemic was an absolute shambles and it put faculties below big extra stress at what was already an extremely troublesome time.

“It provides insult to harm to see the damning conclusion of this report that the DfE apparently missed potential alternatives to renegotiate the contract and scale back prices, and that it appears to have been fairly complacent on this entrance.”

An Edenred spokesman mentioned: “With 95% of households saying the free school meal voucher scheme has labored effectively for them and a contract which has ensured that each pound of public cash was handed on to the kids and households who wanted it, with no expenses to the DfE or the taxpayer, Edenred has delivered a programme which has offered important help for households by means of the pandemic and worth for cash for the DfE.

“Edenred rejects solely any suggestion of profiteering from the free school meal voucher scheme. Edenred has handed again 1% of the contract worth to the federal government in rebates because the starting of the scheme. This implies the taxpayer paid lower than the entire worth of vouchers distributed to households.”

A Division for Training spokesperson mentioned there was no proof of “profiteering” from the nationwide voucher scheme, including: “Now we have already made additional enhancements to the scheme which take account of the suggestions on this report, together with bettering the phrases of the contract to make sure the better worth for cash for taxpayers.

“The scheme has been examined extensively and further help for faculties and oldsters has been offered, leading to an environment friendly system with £47m price of eCodes redeemed as of Wednesday – 96% of oldsters say they’re completely satisfied and glad.”

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Pic: Associated Pres
Marcus Rashford has campaigned to make sure the nation’s poorest youngsters proceed to obtain free school meals throughout school holidays. Pic: AP

Catering big Compass has confirmed it should cowl the price of free school meal parcels to youngsters over February half-term after its Chartwells division was criticised over poor-quality hampers.

The group mentioned: “Since 25 January, Chartwells has been offering breakfasts to all youngsters at the moment receiving a lunch parcel from us for the length of school closures.

“We may even present those self same youngsters with lunch and breakfast parcels by means of the February half-term break. The prices of those initiatives can be lined by Compass.”

The federal government has repeatedly bowed to stress from Manchester United participant Marcus Rashford, who has campaigned to make sure the nation’s poorest youngsters proceed to obtain free school meals throughout school holidays.