The Lounge - General Chat

ESFA – Must Do Better

So this morning, the Government announced the latest statistics in terms of their support to employers and businesses. It makes staggering reading with some of the headlines being:

  • There are still 9.6m on Furlough and the Scheme has now cost over £35bn
  • The ‘lost’ self-employed have claimed an additional £8.5bn with over 2m self-employed on the scheme by the middle of July – and those self-employed are still entitled to work
  • Over £500m and 100m meals served with the Eat Out to Dine out Scheme in August – a staggering amount of meals.
  • 40% of All VAT claims payable have been deferred with the amounts due to HMRC now above £27bn

I was talking to a Senior Director of Smallish Pub Chain just yesterday about his experience of claims made to the Government. He could not have been more complimentary, not only about the smooth operation of the Furlough Scheme, but also how efficient the Eat Out to Dine out Scheme has been. He also made positive references to the work of the Local Authorities in distributing the Grant Payments across his Chain of Pubs and how efficient that had been.

Whilst the implementation of the VAT deferral was pretty simple – ‘don’t pay us’ – the complexity of the other schemes and the speed and efficiency of their operation has to be commended. 

We are all quick to criticise – me included but credit where it is due, some Government departments and HMRC have really delivered. 

Let’s not talk about how it is all going to be repaid with Furlough inevitably exceeding £50bn by the time it ends, not including the impact of redundancy payments on the Government when businesses fail. But I am sure Rishi and his staff have been planting more money trees in the Gardens of Number 11 over this summer. 

So what has this got to do with the ESFA you might ask, after all that is the headline for this article?

Put simply, why can nearly £44bn of support, illustrated above be distributed so efficiently and the ESFA struggle to let a tender for £100m of Traineeship Funding or commission funding for anything with any degree of efficiency and effectiveness. Whilst the payment system for providers does work efficiently and I cannot recall the ESFA making payments late, it does beg the question that something needs to change. 

You do have to wonder whether the priorities are set correctly. Numerous announcements about greater control and scrutiny of private providers (in itself there is nothing wrong with that but the ESFA needs to make sure the funding guidance is clear or actually does exist before they become judge and juror) but surely the focus should be on:

  • Encouraging a vibrant training market 
  • Getting funding quickly to the front line to support learners and employers
  • Create policy and guidance that supports rapid intervention by providers, not more blockages and bureaucracy.

I have been told that Mr Mucklow has brought a breath of fresh air into the Agency with his new role. Not difficult if you ask me but if he has, congratulations on that but now is the time to act at the speed in which your providers have to operate, follow the example of some other Government departments and get moving with supporting the many millions of people of all ages that will be in need of re-skilling in the months and year ahead. Must to better is my Friday Message and the ESFA audit teams would be well deployed examining some of the 57000 registered users for the Eat out to Dine Out Scheme  who apparently served an AVERAGE of 75 meals a day over the first 12 days of the scheme – an average of 75 and none of them were take always.

I am sure the ESFA would be well versed in producing an audit programme to review how much beer sales had dropped and what the turnaround on covers was compared to the total covers available pre and post lock down!

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