First Published On Real Whitby – April 2011
At a time when North Yorkshire County Councils is facing the prospects of cuts in the education budget of up to 25%, children of less well-off families can expect to be hit hardest.
Already, the ‘Extended Schools’ voucher system (to facilitate access for poorer kids to a wide range of extra-curricular activities) has been suspended.
The system has been a huge success in the Whitby area. Since almost all Whitby’s school-kids qualified for the free vouchers, uptake has been high and hundreds of kids have benefited from services and amenities provided by local businesses and voluntary organisations, as well as the public sector.
SBC provided services against vouchers at The Leisure Centre.
In the present climate, it is particularly disturbing to hear talk of the system having been subject to a certain amount of abuse – abuse that could (perhaps should) have been foreseen.
Briefly the ‘Extended Schools’ voucher system worked like this:
Initiated around three years ago, under the then Labour government, ‘Extended Schools’ provided a funding pool to enable education providers, in this case, North Yorkshire County Council, to issue special vouchers to ‘needy’ school-children, each voucher redeemable against one hour of facilities/activities provided by approved providers.
Subject to the usual safeguards, kids could enjoy all kinds of extra-curricular activities by handing over a voucher instead of cash. In due course, the provider would return the vouchers to NYCC, under the overview of the Whitby Schools Cluster, as substantiation of the number of hours invoiced for the provider’s services.
As a (fictional) example, young Johnny might present a voucher in exchange for one hour’s tuition in, say, photography – and the provider would duly invoice NYCC for, say, £7.50 for that hour.
So far, so good. Poor Johnny gets to do something that, in the normal run of things, his folks could never afford – though rich Richard’s folks could do so very easily. All very commendable.
But rumours are circulating, and gathering force, among school governors and other members of the teaching profession.
The flaw in the system is that there has been no specific cash value placed on the vouchers.
They are redeemed in accordance with the providers’ hourly rates, which, understandably, differ from provider to provider, reflecting the relative market value of the particular services provided.
But it is apparently the case that not all providers have played fair. Indeed, one provider has allegedly put in an invoice for well over a hundred thousand pounds (£100,000). That is an awful lot of extra-curricular activity!
But the rumours don’t end there. Some are saying that the flaw in the system was spotted at the outset by some of the more unscrupulous ‘insiders’, who promptly gave the heads-up to certain favoured providers that the voucher system was effectively a licence to print money.
And some are taking that quite literally, suggesting that the vouchers were far from forgery-proof.
Kick-backs have been mentioned.
Adding to this smouldering rumpus is the allegation that that astonishing hundred-grand-plus invoice has not been settled by NYCC, who have apparently referred the matter to the Audit Committee, on suspicion of a potential fraud.
A source inside County Hall has disclosed that alarm bells started ringing when a County Councillor with a strong family connection to the provider (but not the provider’s ward Councillor) embarrassed Cynthia Welbourn, Corporate Director of NYCC’s Children and Young People’s Service, by pressing for a settlement of the invoice without further delay.
And it would seem that the Councillor’s connections with the provider have not been declared for the Register of Interests.
Where this will end is anybody’s guess, but it is certain to be played out in a low key until the local elections are over.
- All Site Articles On Extended Schools
- Extended Schools Part 1
- Extended Schools Part 2
- Me Too Vouchers – Extended Schools Part 3
- Woolasgate Me Too Part 4A
- Changes to voucher activities scheme (3rd March 2011)
- Roll up and get active (16th August 2010)
- Me Too! Fund gets children involved
- Whitby Gazette Article