An investigation into the struggling program, which left many families without food during the lockdown, found that the tender was awarded to French company Edenred, despite the government’s assessment that the UK branch of the company did not have the financial capacity that would normally be offered to it. be required for the contract scale, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
The public spending watchdog said the company was appointed to manage the program using an existing government framework contract because it was already a supplier to a number of government departments, but its management of the process went downhill. quickly collapsed.
Within weeks, schools across England were complaining of problems signing up for weekly vouchers of £ 15 per child, with Edenred’s helpline receiving nearly 4,000 calls and almost 9,000 emails a day from the frustrated school staff and parents.
At the height of the crisis, ministers were forced to intervene directly, and education ministry officials had daily calls with Edenred to monitor progress.
The NAO report notes that Edenred’s IT capacity was insufficient to meet the challenge of providing vouchers to up to 1.4 million eligible children for free school meals, using a standard system to save time.
The solution is reminiscent of revelations that the world’s most successful UK test and tracing system was run on Excel, which resulted in records being deleted when the spreadsheet reached its maximum size.
The lack of a competitive bidding process also has the well-known characteristics of the EPI fiasco which saw multi-million pound contracts awarded to companies with close ties to the government.
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