Another fine mess: MPs slam £425m school food voucher scheme as firm walks off with the profits

The Department for Education promoting the Edenred scheme

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, education secretary

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.

20 thoughts on “Another fine mess: MPs slam £425m school food voucher scheme as firm walks off with the profits

    • Why should the tax payer support subsidised meals for well paid. Members of parliament?Why should taxpayers support members of parliaments exorbitant expense claims. Why should the taxpayer support some of the wealthiest people in this country?

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    • We need to build a new type of workhouse, splitting parents into Male and Female dormitories. Their children should be relocated as far as possible from their parents to avoid a repeat of the cycle of idleness that now stalks this land and is a great burden to myself and other taxpayers. No mercy should be shown to the feckless and the idle and their offspring, they deserve it.
      The contracts of the building of these workhouses should be giving to Tory party and Brexit Doners. At the entrance of each establishment two notices shall be displayed.
      “Work sets you free” & “The Rich shall inherit the Earth”.
      It was in these times that Britain is a great nation and Rees Mogg stood and said “More Please”

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  1. Nothing surprises me with this government they squander and fritter money away without a second thought and then say there’s no funds to pay our pensions making us wait 6 years longer to receive them and there one of the lowest paid in Europe to add insult to injury. its time this government got its act togather and stopped wasting hard earned tax payers money and got its priorities right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was never fortunate to have children, but glad now I didn’t as they would undoubtedly be targeted to. But as a point of principle I refuse to connect any of my devices to government sites. This constant obsession with government and big companies to track, trace and spy on anything and everything is just plain wrong. Getting to stage now they’re forcing people to give dna samples to go to school for example…….

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    • The government is collecting data about every person in the UK, by the system of welfare benefits, which by the way include pensions which are not gift as these are only paid out if conditions have been completed, that includes 35+ years of contributions. Tax credit given to families to help financially when a firm employing staff but pay a section in that company just pennies about the basis wages, not a living wage, so taxpayer supplement owners of business that pay low wages. The new universal credit will merged and interact with the inland revenue programs for tax purposes, the local information is connected to this system, due to housing, council tax, voting register again all on this vast information system, finally the NHS health and well-being, will also interact with the central universal credit system, to monitor health and well-being claimant of illness that hinders people from working and the length anticipated of this obstacle stoping employment..

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  3. Who one earth said that MPs are educated people, seems to me a mere accountant or someone with an ACT certificate could do far better than these incompetent fools could do !! They are an utter disgrace !!!

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    • you really think that is down to incompetence….? it’s corruption….might not be so obvious with them owning shares in the company these days, but somewhere along the line there is always a payoff…….they destroy people like me for talking about it! I briefly used to work for Dfes in Sheffield….was there about 6 weeks, earnings minimum wage…..I easily saved the department 200K, justifying the pitiful amount they were paying me several thousand times over…at which point I was promptly shown the door. that is how it really works! they bomb children for oil and now they’re literally taking food out of kiddies mouths now…..

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  4. The minute the Chancellor started spending money like a Lottery winner out shopping there were always going to be companies out to profit on the misfortune of others .Whether it was food on children’s plates or the disastrously failing Track and Trace system. In the last war any company or individuals found guilty of profiteering were locked up. Perhaps it would have a been a better idea if this Government had had a better checking system in place before they started handing out the cheques.

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  5. I grew up in a country that aimed for excellence, on a right-first-time basis, and people mainly had integrity. The country now aims for substandard, with the motto ‘close enough is good enough’ and incompetence and dishonesty as the norm, so we rarely even see substandard achieved. Is it any surprise with the example set by our government that this laxity flows throughout the people. At the end of the day, there is absolutely no excuse for any child to go hungry in this country. If our leaders had not misappropriated £271 billion out of the NI pot, stealing from pensioners, it would have just about paid for covid. Yes, we can vote them out of parliament but what alternative is there?

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    • I totally agree Sandra, what alternative is there? The more information provided by David and Back to 60 the easier it was for me to conclude that there is no alternative. It was Blairs Government in the 90’s that kicked off the 50’s women’s problems and every party in power since then has jumped on the wagon and supported it. As things stand at the moment I decided some time ago that it is highly unlikely that I will ever vote in a general election again. Politicians promise a lot but sadly deliver very little. As it stands currently, we are stuck with the bloody Tories for almost 4 more years. God help us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, I go further, I hope this government will have achieved one thing in 5 years, that is to show that because you went to Eton or Harrow you are smarter than the rest of us. Believe me, one who had first hand knowledge of the Public School Boy at a then predominantly public school university: I came to one conclusion that separating a child at an early age from their parents and been placed in an envrivoment that is unnatural to a human child seeking their parents love and affection and possibly have inflicted upon it pain and punishment will only end up producing a psychologically damaged adult. Then some enter politics, they are not there for the community who they claim to represent but for themselves or the companies they are lobbyists for and being paid a large fee. Parliament role is the protection of private property or alarmingly what seems like a raid on the treasury which we sent them as represenatives to run!

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