Size DOES matter! Failing company kept on by government – because it is too big to fail!

“The government kept funding training company Learndirect despite it being judged ’inadequate’ because of fears over the loss of such a large provider.

That was the conclusion of a National Audit Office probe, released yesterday, into why Learndirect continued to receive substantial public money even after regulator Ofsted criticised its effectiveness.

The NAO’s report said that although the normal policy of the Education and Skills Funding Agency was to withdraw funding from providers rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, it “believed that the size of Learndirect Ltd made it an unusual case, to which special considerations should apply”.

It continued: “Specifically, ESFA concluded that continuing to fund Learndirect Ltd for the 2017-18 academic year would best meet the interests of learners, allowing the company to wind down and let learners complete their courses with minimal disruption.”

The NAO said it conducted the investigation because “Parliament and the media have questioned whether Learndirect Ltd’s performance was subject to proper scrutiny, and whether correct and timely decisions were made about its continued funding”.

Learndirect grew to be by far the largest provider of skills training, with some 70,000 people on its books.

In 2016-17, it received £121m worth of central government contracts.

Labour’s Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the report showed: “The government backed itself into a corner by letting itself become dependent on Learndirect.

“At a time when many further education providers are struggling with funding restraint, it is disgraceful that the Department [of Education] should be continuing to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on an inadequate provider.

“I am concerned that it took Ofsted so long to investigate. It knew Learndirect was a risk from as early as Spring 2015, but the inspection took two years to arrive.”

The NAO said Ofsted inspected Learndirect in early 2017 and in March that year issued a ‘notice of serious breach’ of apprenticeships standards.

It said Ofsted identified factors contributing to its ‘inadequate’ rating including poor management of subcontractors’ performance and weak oversight of learners’ progress.

Ofsted also covered the Learndirect affair in its annual report this week.

This noted: “The case of Learndirect limited has shown that no provider is too big to fail.

“This raises a question for us and for government about failure in market regulation and whether incentives drive the right behaviour.”

It said the episode raised questions about when providers of any kind “grow too big, too fast”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our priority throughout has been the protection of learners and ensuring that they do not lose out – a point that has been acknowledged by the NAO.”

Ofsted, at the launch of its annual report, went on to warn that the new apprenticeship levy was “raising a very substantial amount of money to fund training, [which] carries the risk of attracting operators that are not committed to high-quality learning, as we saw, for example, with Train to Gain”.Learndirect has been approached for comment.”

“Shepton Mallet hospital campaigners: “Reopen this hospital or we’ll see you in court”

Any bets on this hospital re-opening!

“A group of campaigners have launched a legal bid to try and prevent the temporary closure of a community hospital in Somerset.

Shepton Mallet Community Hospital Supporters Group have submitted a pre-action protocol letter to the Somerset Partnership Trust in an effort to reverse the temporary closure of the town’s community hospital.

A pre-action protocol letter is sent from one party to another in a dispute to narrow any issues or to see if litigation can be avoided.

Ten in-patient beds were closed temporarily in October due to staffing issues with the trust saying that they hoped to reopen them in March 2018.

Confirmation of the decision to temporarily close the hospital came after an email to staff was leaked on social media, saying that the plans would “proceed”.

This was despite a previous statement which said that it was “considering its next steps”.

The partnership later insisted that “nothing has changed” and that it remains focused on reopening the hospital towards the end of March 2018.

In a statement, a spokesman for the supporters group said that the letter aimed to challenge the alleged “unlawfulness” of the trusts decision and to “achieve the re-opening of the in-patient beds as quickly as possible.”

Paul Turner said: “We have asked the Trust to rescind its decision before a Court quashes it, and if it wants to take any such decision in the future or any other decision on a change in service at SMCH, the Trust must undertake a prior proper public consultation.

“This is nothing new and the point has been made before in meetings with SOMPAR representatives.”

He added: “We are of course also prepared to take part in alternative dispute resolution to avoid going to court.

“We have asked to be kept up to date concerning developments in this dispute.”

Somerset Partnership Chief Executive, Peter Lewis said: “We have received the letter and we are considering our response.

“In the meantime, I want to reassure the Shepton Mallet community that we remain committed to re-opening the community hospital inpatient ward as soon as we can, although we do not expect this to be before the end of March 2018.”

The issue of the temporary closure was raised at a debate in Westminster Hall last month by the MP for Wells, James Heappey.

Mr Heappey said: “The overall nurse rota statistics for both day and night shifts were 100 per cent in Shepton.”

“Labour demands Commons vote on ‘secret’ plan for NHS”

This is the most dangerous thing to happen to our NHS since the Health and Social Care Act 2012 paved the way for wholesale privatisation. Once this goes through (on the nod as it will with this government) our NHS ceases to exist.

Currently, money in the true NHS stays in it and recirculates. With ACOs first big salaries for ACO staff are creamed off, then boardroom and shareholder dividends of the companies concerned and then the NHS gets cut and rationed – with only high-profit interventions (usually things such as elective surgery which can be costed to the penny) made available.

“Party says ministers are trying to push through changes that could lead to greater privatisation and rationing of care

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

Labour is demanding that MPs be allowed to debate and vote on “secret” plans for the NHS that they claim could lead to greater rationing of care and privatisation of health services.

The party says ministers are trying to push through the creation of “accountable care organisations” (ACOs) without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, has written to Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, urging her not to let “the biggest change to our NHS in a decade” go ahead without MPs’ involvement.

NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, and the government see ACOs as central to far-reaching modernisation plans that they hope will improve patient care, reduce pressure on hospitals and help the NHS stick to its budget.

ACOs involve NHS hospital, mental health, ambulance and community services trusts working much more closely with local councils, using new organisational structures, to improve the health of the population of a wide area. The first ACOs are due to become operational in April in eight areas of England and cover almost 7 million people.

Labour has seized on the fact that the Department of Health plans to amend 10 separate sets of parliamentary regulations that relate to the NHS in order to pave the way legally for the eight ACOs.

In his letter, Ashworth demands that Leadsom grant a debate on the plans before the amended regulations acquire legal force in February.

“Accountable care organisations are potentially the biggest change which will be made to our NHS for a decade. Yet the government have been reluctant to put details of the new arrangements into the public domain. It’s essential that the decision around whether to introduce ACOs into the NHS is taken in public, with a full debate and vote in parliament,” he writes.

A number of “big, unanswered questons” about ACOs remain, despite their imminent arrival in the NHS, he adds. They include how the new organisations will be accountable to the public, what the role of private sector health firms will be and how they will affect NHS staff.

Ashworth also says “the unacceptable secrecy in which these ACOs have been conceived and are being pushed forward is totally contrary to the NHS’s duty to be open, transparent and accountable in its decision-making. The manner in which the government are approaching ACOs, as with sustainability and transformation plans before them, fails that test.”

Stevens’s determination to introduce ACOs has aroused suspicion because they are based on how healthcare is organised in the United States. They came in there in the wake of Obamacare as an attempt to integrate providers of different sorts of healthcare in order to keep patients healthier and avoid them spending time in hospital unnecessarily.

A Commons early day motion (EDM) on ACOs also being tabled by Labour on Thursday, signed by its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and other frontbenchers, notes that “concerns have been raised that ACOs will encourage and facilitate further private sector involvement in the NHS”.

In his letter Ashworth adds: “There is widespread suspicion that the government are forcing these new changes through in order to fit NHS services to the shrinking budgets imposed from Whitehall.” The EDM also notes “concerns that ACOs could be used as a vehicle for greater rationing”.

The King’s Fund, an influential health thinktank, denied that ACOs would open up NHS services to privatisation. “This is not about privatisation; it is about integration,” said Prof Chris Ham, its chief executive.

“There is a groundswell of support among local health and care leaders for the principle of looking beyond individual services and focusing instead on whatever will have the biggest impact in enabling people to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives,” added Ham.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association, backed Labour’s call for greater transparency but said care services should be integrated.

However, he added: “ACOs will not in themselves address the desperate underfunding of the NHS and may divert more money into processes of reorganisation. Current procurement and competition regulations create the potential for ACOs to be opened up to global private providers within a fixed-term contract and with significant implications for patient services and staff.”

The Department of Health refused to say if MPs would be able to debate ACOs. “It is right that local NHS leaders and clinicians have the autonomy to decide the best solutions to improve care for the patients they know best – but significant local changes must always be subject to public consultation and due legal process.

“It is important to note that ACOs have nothing to do with funding – the NHS will always remain free at the point of use,” a spokesman said.”

“Forty percent of homes sold under Right to Buy now in the hands of private landlords, new analysis reveals”

Scotland and Wales stopped these sales – it can be done, no excuses.

“Tens of thousands of council homes sold under the Right to Buy scheme, designed to help low-income families get on the housing ladder, are now being let out by private landlords, new research has revealed.

Just over 40 per cent of properties purchased under the controversial scheme are now being rented out privately – a rise of 7 per cent in the last two years alone.

As a result, properties sold off quickly become significantly more expensive than they were previously. The average private rent in England is £210 per week – more than double the £88 average social rent.

If the current trend continues, more than half of all Right to Buy homes will be rented privately by 2026, according to the research by Inside Housing magazine.

The analysis – based on figures from 111 councils, around two thirds of the total – shows that 180,260 leasehold properties were sold by local authorities since 1980. Of those almost 72,500 are now registered with an “away address”, suggesting they are being rented out privately.

The mass sell-off comes despite council house waiting lists currently standing at more than 10 years in some parts of the country, and a 97 per cent fall in new social homes being built since 2010.

Amid fears over the on-going impact of Right to Buy, the Scottish Government scrapped the policy in Scotland last year and on Tuesday the Welsh government voted to follow suit.

Critics say Right to Buy has led to a staggering loss of social homes because those sold off under the policy are not being replaced. According to Local Government Association analysis, just one new home is built for every five sold.

There are now just 2 million council homes left in Britain – down from 6.5 million when Right to Buy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1980, although a number of factors are behind the fall.

Despite growing concern about the impact of the policy, last year the Conservatives controversially extended Right to Buy to properties owned by housing associations – meaning thousands more low-rent homes are likely to be sold off. …”

Privatisation – the gift that keeps on giving to failed academy schools

Police have confirmed they are looking at the conduct of a multi-academy trust accused of asset stripping its schools before collapsing.

Wakefield City Academies Trust announced days into the new term in September that it would divest itself of its 21 schools because WCAT could not undertake the “rapid improvement” they needed. The Department for Education is in the process of arranging for new trusts to take over management of the schools.

In October, it was revealed that the trust had transferred millions of pounds of its schools’ reserves to centralised accounts before admitting that new sponsors would need to be found for them. …

Before its collapse, WCAT had been dogged by scandal. In October 2016, it emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by its then chief executive, Mike Ramsay, and his daughter. The trust insisted the contracts had represented the best value.

A draft of a DfE report on the trust’s finances, seen by TES, also raised concerns that Ramsay had been paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work, despite the fact that the trust faced a large budget deficit. …

Health care privatisation – largest care home provider on brink of collapse

And who will end up bailing it out if debt restructure doesn’t happen …..?

Four Seasons on brink of collapse

“Four Seasons, Britain’s biggest private care home operator, is at risk of going into administration over a £26m interest payment due on its debts, and amid a dispute between its British owner and its main bondholder, American hedge fund H/2 Capital.

British private equity firm Terra Firma, which owns Four Seasons, has offered to hand over the operator’s 343 care homes to H/2 if the hedge fund created a creditors’ committee to “agree an orderly and responsible handover and to collectively agree with the other bondholders and creditors a new capital structure for the Four Seasons group, new equity ownership and new corporate governance”.

H/2 has not responded to the offer yet, and has previously put forward its own restructuring plan, as it is in dispute with Terra Firma over the ownership of 24 profitable homes.”

Source: The Daily Telegraph, Pages: 1, 3 The Times, Page: 40 The Guardian, Page: 23 Independent i, Page: 9 Financial Times, Page: 19 Evening Standard, Page: 46

“40,000 children trapped in ‘zombie’ academy schools”

“The government has been urged to review its policy on multi-academy trusts after it was revealed that more than 40,000 children were being educated in “zombie schools” waiting to be transferred to another academy chain.

Department for Education figures, obtained through a freedom of information request, show 64 academy schools are waiting to find a new sponsor after being abandoned by, or stripped from, the trust originally managing them. A calculation using the average number of pupils in state-funded primary and secondary schools in England – 279 and 946, respectively –suggests the 64 schools would contain more than 40,000 students.

The government has encouraged academies to join multi-academy trusts, promoting them as a support for schools that have left local authority control, although some have been criticised for financial mismanagement and a lack of oversight.

Half of the 64 “zombie schools” are waiting to be transferred from two chains: the Education Fellowship Trust and Wakefield City Academies Trust. In March the former became the first trust in England to give up control of its 12 academies – including a school in the prime minister’s Maidenhead constituency – following concerns about educational standards. In September the Wakefield trust said it would divest itself of 21 schools across Yorkshire, as it could not undertake the “rapid improvement our academies need”.

The DfE said it was in the process of securing new academy chains for the schools in both trusts.

Until a new multi-academy trust is found, the schools remain in limbo, often unable to make long-term planning decisions, hire new permanent members of staff or organise pay rises. They do not have the option to return to local authority control. Campaigners say that the government is struggling to find new chains willing and able to take on the schools, many of which have been left in a precarious financial position by their previous sponsor.

“The Tories’ fragmented education system is now creating ‘zombie schools’ caught between academy chains who are under no obligation to take them on, and a government that won’t step in to help them,” said Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary. “Even in the prime minister’s own seat it seems there are classrooms of children not getting the education they deserve. … ”

The figures come after it was announced on Thursd