Company predicted “successful business performance” on the back of feeding poverty stricken children
The spectre of poor children going hungry during the Covid 19 crisis is something the government have had to be put under pressure to remedy – notably by Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United footballer.
But now it has emerged that even when the government finally did the right thing – they managed to make a mess of it. The initial scheme was poorly implemented and the supervision by the Department for Education (DfE) of the private company, Edenred UK Ltd, was lamentable.
Naive civil servants thought they were getting a bargain when the company told them that they get the supermarket vouchers for them at their face value without it costing them a penny more. What they hadn’t realised was that the company could get a huge discount from supermarkets by bulk buying and pocket the difference themselves. And on an initial contract worth £77m later increased five fold to £425m that’s a lot of cash.
Whitehall ” surprisingly unconcerned” about Edenred making big profits out of taxpayers’ money
The report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee expresses dismay that the ministry even now seemed “surprisingly unconcerned”about the profits made out of our money and has hit back at the MPs for suggesting it – backing the company which is also trying to deny it. A wonderful example of how the Johnson government is prepared to be shamed faced about making money out of Covid 19 and the plight of poor children.
There were serious problems in the early weeks of the scheme and “unacceptable” delays in Edenred processing orders from schools and getting vouchers to families,” the report reveals..
Those words cover up the distressing evidence given by individual schools to MPs.
School staff had to work in the middle of the night to get Edenred’s vouchers
Ms Andrea Howard, School Business Manager at Truro & Penwith Academy Trust at the time of using Edenred, wrote to MPs, saying she was “subjected to extreme levels of stress.”
“From the onset, the portal was not fit for purpose, initially it continually crashed and when the portal was first upgraded, there was a very long wait to access the site, this wait was sometimes more than two hours. “For several nights in a row, I and many other school business manager colleagues took to waking up in the middle of the night to attempt to upload our spreadsheets, and site traffic was better in the early hours of the morning. However, the fact that there was still traffic at these times is evidence of the desperation of school staff to be able to provide their families with vouchers.”
“Once parents received their vouchers, we had reports from the majority that they were not able to access the platform to redeem them. It must be recognised that many of these families have limited access to the internet and tried to redeem the vouchers through their phones using their limited mobile data.
“Additionally, we are located in a rural part of Cornwall with no nearby supermarkets, many of our families do not have access to their own transport and there is a very limited bus service, however the vouchers were only able to be used in large supermarket chains and not local shops such as co-op (initially) and Spar. “
Gavin Williamson made “untrue statements”- headteacher
Raphael Moss, Headteacher, Elsley Primary School, Wembley, told MPs:
“Due to the untrue statements made by the Secretary of State [Gavin Williamson] and DfE, their lack of acceptance of many of the issues, or the downplaying of the impact, I feel compelled to submit evidence for what amounts to gross negligence. As a result of the delays to providing vouchers, our own school set up a food bank, relying on donations from staff and the public, to ensure that children did not go hungry.”
“A major flaw in the scheme was that there was a huge incentive for schools to use the Edenred scheme rather than use a local alternative. A school’s own scheme would require laying out the cost of it it ourselves, with DfE guidance placing several limitations on which schools could claim and maximum amounts that could be claimed.
“The Edenred voucher amount of £15 was also in excess of the usual funding of £11.50 which also acted as an incentive to use the Edenred scheme. The public messages implied that schools had a choice to use their own scheme but without mentioning the limitations on schools reclaiming costs.”
Profits of £10.7 million
Taking this evidence it is quite clear that the scheme was aimed ( with Whitehall connivance) as much as benefitting Edenred as the poor hungry children. No wonder after a National Audit Office investigation and a critical report by MPs they have decided to return one per cent of the cost of the contract.
Their latest accounts – they are a subsidiary of a French firm – show they made profits of over £10.7 million.
Their annual report says they were “honoured” to get the food voucher contract which “will enable a successful business performance in 2020.”
You bet it did. The pay rise for their highest paid director last year was £136,000 – it went up from £235,000 to £371,000. That pays for a lot of food vouchers – more likely in caviar and French champagne than baked beans and spaghetti.
This article first appeared in David’s blog – Westminster Confidential