A4e included in preferred prison education bidder list

The preferred bidders for prison education contracts have been revealed by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

The list has been revealed but contracts have yet to be signed, according to the SFA.

It comes after an “open and competitive procurement process” by the Agency in collaboration with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), an Agency of the Ministry of Justice, to re-procure Offender Learning and Skills Services (OLASS) from August 1.

An SFA spokesperson said: “The Agency has informed preferred bidders of the next stage of the procurement process following the 10-day stand still period.

“This does not constitute a contract or binding obligation on the part of the Chief Executive to enter into a formal agreement and the Chief Executive will not be liable for any costs incurred by organisations in advance of a formal agreement being entered into.”

Among the short list is A4e, the welfare-to-work company which has been in the public eye over allegations of fraud.

The company owner, Emma Harrison, stepped down from the firm and her position as ‘families tsar’ for David Cameron last month.

The SFA spokesperson added: “The Agency, as part of their standard processes, continue to receive assurances from all providers to ensure that public funding is being used and protected appropriately both for current contracting arrangements or any future contracts.”

A  full list of preferred bidders is below:

East of England: A4e

East Midlands: Milton Keynes College

London: A4e

North-East and North-West: Manchester College

South Central: Milton Keynes College

Kent and Suffolk: Yet to be decided

South West: Weston College

West Midlands: Milton Keynes College

Yorkshire and Humber: Manchester College

The SFA say they expect to finalise contractual agreements by early summer.

“During the next stage we will work with preferred bidders to ensure that the information provided during the procurement process remains valid and that their organisations are able to meet all the requirements of the service, prior to concluding the procurement,” the SFA spokesperson added.

“We expect this stage to conclude by early summer, before delivery starts in August 2012.

“Once contracts are signed, the Agency will apply its robust contract management processes that are agreed, including quarterly performance reviews, working with the NOMS and lead governors. This enables continued assurance that public funding is being used and protected appropriately.”

The SFA say they are prioritising “quality of provision” and “local responsiveness”, by giving offenders basic English and maths and support to help them back into employment once they are released.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) meanwhile has announced today that they will be conducting an immediate investigation into A4e following an allegation of attempted fraud.

A DWP spokesperson said: “As a result of this new allegation DWP has immediately commenced its own independent audit of all our commercial relationships with A4e.

“We have required A4e to make available all documentation which our auditors may require and provide full access to interview any A4e employees.

“This is separate from the independent review of internal controls which A4E has previously announced.”

The DWP say they will terminate their contractual relationship with A4e if they find evidence of systemic fraud.

A4e’s board today said: “The Board has made consistently clear in all previous statements that we take any allegations of fraudulent or otherwise illegal activity extremely seriously.

“There is absolutely no place for this type of misconduct at A4e.

“We obviously acknowledge the concerns raised by DWP, and we welcome and will cooperate fully with their planned investigations.”

The A4e board say they have also asked White & Case LLP to lead an independent review into their controls and procedure.

The Board has asked White & Case LLP to lead an independent and thorough review of A4e’s controls and procedures, with all findings to be sent to DWP.