Edinburgh council: Report reveals a "litany of failures" in multi-million pound after-school contract

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Edinburgh contract to help after-school care providers meet the needs of children with disabilities ended

A “litany of failures” in the handling of a multi-million pound City of Edinburgh Council contract were not spotted for years because the officer who set it up left the organisation and then staff without the relevant “experience or training” were put in charge, it has emerged.

The council’s £200,000-a-year contract with Capability Scotland to help after-school care providers to meet the needs of children with disabilities was abruptly ended soon before the new term in August, as the authority said it was bringing the service in-house to achieve best value. Affected families told a council meeting previously they were “blind-sided” by the decision, with some unable to send their child to after-school club for weeks after school resumed.

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Now a report has revealed why the deal with the charity was axed after 13 years – and lists repeated failures by council officers to identify major issues with how the contract was being delivered. Donna Murray, senior education officer, told councillors after being put in place it was “extended and extended” which created “an assumption…that this would continue forever”. She said a “Miss Marple job” was used to “join up the pieces” and determine what had gone wrong with the contract and why problems were not identified earlier.

Councillors heard about the report at the City Chambers this week.Councillors heard about the report at the City Chambers this week.
Councillors heard about the report at the City Chambers this week.

The report said information gathered to “ascertain the impact” revealed the objectives were “not being met”, with several youngsters funded not meeting the criteria originally set out. Furthermore, it added since the service was outsourced in 2009 the number of children being supported dropped from 77 to 28 and the key function of charity “appeared to be distributing funding to services who applied” rather than “building capacity in the sector” as was specified in the contract.

Among the reasons given for why it hadn’t been terminated sooner was that officers involved in monitoring the contract “did not have contract management experience or training” and there were previously “no formal process in place” to inform bosses “of the performance of the contract”.

SNP councillor Simita Kumar said the reported contained a “litany of failures” during the Education, Children and Families Committee on Tuesday, November 7. Ms Murray said a commissioning and contract team had since been set up “to support contract management”.

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Councillor Christopher Cowdy, Conservatives, said he was “slightly surprised that all of this was not picked up during an official CEC tendering process back in 2016”. Responding Ms Murray said in the intervening seven years staff in the department had “moved on” and retired.

She added: “We’ve gone through quite a change in our central team. The contract management – the handover, the officer left who had set up the contract and then that contract was put in place and extended and extended, creating that assumption…that this would continue forever and this service would go on.”

During the meeting she apologised to families for delays in being informed about the changes which Education Convener Cllr Joan Griffiths previously blamed on Capability Scotland for “failing to supply us with the necessary details”. She said families “continue to receive support if they wish to” and a further six children have begun accessing the service since it was brought back under council control.

Ms Murray admitted officers were “on the back foot” and “playing catch-up” to determine which providers were being helped by the service but many were difficult to contact as it was during the school holidays.

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But Cllr Kumar said she was still getting emails from parents “who have received some confirmation verbally but not written,” adding there were still “lots of issues around it”. She said the families had been through a “really really difficult time” as a result.

She added: “I appreciate that some of the providers were closed because of the summer holidays but that meant that a parent or single parents who are already juggling a million things, have pupils with additional support needs, were suddenly lost in terms of their provision.”

Capability Scotland was contacted for comment.

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