Boss speaks out over payments ‘dispute’

The managing director of a London-based independent learning provider has defended his firm after details of an alleged subcontractor payment dispute emerged.

James Clements Smith, of Prevista Ltd, a lead provider allocated £3.8m by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) this academic year, confirmed there was an issue, but claimed to have paid all subcontractors “in line with conditions”.

It comes after several of its subcontractors wrote to other companies with a warning about alleged payment problems, and the SFA confirmed it had received “correspondence” about the issue.
But Mr Clements Smith told FE Week: “The company has paid all sub contractors and partners in line with negotiated and agreed service level agreements [SLAs], in line with funder requirements and in line with our audit practices. All legitimate outcome payments have been passed to our supply chain.

“I understand there is a letter circulating from a group of suppliers. All of whom have under-delivered to beneficiaries and on their SLA agreements with Prevista by some considerable margin.

“The dispute, if there is one, is with these suppliers who are all subject to audit and compliance issues related to their delivery across government funded programmes.

“Audit and compliance is underway across all of our funded programmes and as part of our annual audit cycle. Any dispute which may arise will be subject to legal proceedings.

“Prevista has a strong balance sheet, has been in the market for close to 20 years, has a strong cash balance and has firm contract value for the foreseeable future across a range of funding streams.”

Nine providers held SFA contracts, totalling £1.87m, through Prevista at the start of 2013/14, but other organisations outside the SFA’s remit also subcontract for the organisation.

Among Prevista’s current SFA subcontractors were Westminster Kingsway College and EXG Ltd.

The college has a £166,860 contract with the organisation, and confirmed an issue with payments had arisen, but would not go into detail.

A college spokesperson said: “We can confirm that the college has worked in partnership with Prevista and we are in discussions with them regarding some payments.”

And EXG Ltd, which had a £106,693 contract with Prevista at the beginning of the 2013/14 year, confirmed it ended its working relationship with the firm “earlier than planned”, but would not say why.

It comes after Prevista was rated as grade four, inadequate, in all areas following an Ofsted inspection last June.

The report said that the proportion of learners successfully achieving their qualifications was too low, and that planning and delivery of teaching, learning and assessment did not “provide an effective learning experience”.

The report added there was not enough focus on learners achieving functional skills qualifications, which was undermining success rates for apprentices.

But Mr Clements Smith insisted improvements were being made and claimed Ofsted had since revisited.

An SFA spokesperson said: “The chief executive of the SFA holds a contract with Prevista as the lead provider.
“It is not appropriate for us to get involved in any contractual disputes between a lead provider and subcontractors.
“We have received correspondence on this matter and have passed on the concerns raised to Prevista.”