12 ESFA staff get £50k+ exit packages amid restructure

Annual accounts of funding agency also reveal how one college merger cost the taxpayer over £2m

Annual accounts of funding agency also reveal how one college merger cost the taxpayer over £2m

17 Jul 2023, 14:34

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) handed out 12 “exit packages” of more than £50,000 last year amid a restructure that halved its staff.

The revelation is one of the main findings from the ESFA’s annual report and accounts for 2022-23, which has been published today.

Here’s what you need to know…

1. Dozens of pay-outs as ESFA cuts jobs

The Department for Education approved Sir David Bell’s recommendation to more than halve the number of officials working for the ESFA more than 12 months ago.

And the annual report showed its average headcount stood at 829 in the last financial year, down from 1,779 in 2021-22. This brought total staffing costs down from £104 million to £49 million.

Although many staff moved to the Department for Education as part of the restructure, the documents revealed 28 exit packages – totalling £1.38 million – were agreed over the last year. None were approved in 2021-22.

Of the payments signed off, 11 were between £25,000 and £50,000, and 12 were between £50,000 and £100,000.

The ESFA’s spend on consultants was also slashed from £726,000 to £345,000 during the year.

2. College merger cost £2m

There were five claims for funding waived or abandoned by the ESFA last year, totalling just over £5.75 million.

Greater Brighton Metropolitan College received the biggest waiver of £2.1 million. The college was forced to join Chichester College Group in August 2022 after being propped up by the government for several years due to deteriorating finances.

Elsewhere, the ESFA abandoned £459,000 paid to Health Futures UTC. The university technical college was taken over by the Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust in April 2022 and became Shireland Biomedical UTC following years of under-recruitment.

The ESFA’s accounts explained that balances owed by academies and colleges “may in some circumstances be waived to facilitate the re-brokerage of the academy or college to a more sustainable academy trust or college, or support closure”.

3. Ombudsman probed four complaints against ESFA

During the last financial year, the ESFA said it was made aware of four complaints against it being lodged with the parliamentary and health service ombudsman.

The watchdog declined to probe two of the cases. Of the others, one was upheld and the other is “still with the PHSO to decide whether it will be accepted for full investigation”.

No further details of the probes were given in the document.

“PHSO reports full data with a year delay and the ESFA is not always made aware at the time that a complaint has been made,” the report added. “This figure represents a small proportion of total complaints made to ESFA and the department.”

4. Majority of funding audits were for FE

The ESFA conducted 155 funding audits in total during 2022-23 to “test the accuracy and completeness of the data driving funding allocations”.

Most of the audits (95) were carried out in either FE colleges (33) or independent training providers (62). The 60 other funding audits were for academy trusts.

Academies make up 27 per cent of the ESFA’s total budget, while FE providers make up just 8 per cent.

5. Up to £25k in exec bonuses

Three executive staff members received a bonus, down from ten the year before.

Warwick Sharp, who served as director of schools financial support and oversight as well as interim chief executive until August 2022, received a bonus of between £5,000 and 10,000, as did Owen Jenkins, who served as interim director of funding.

David Whitey, who became ESFA CEO in August 2022, was the only other executive staff member to receive a bonus, which was between £0 and £5,000.

The accounts show Whitey’s annual basic salary amounts to £125,000 to £135,000. This is below the salary of the previous permanent CEO Eileen Milner who was on £150,000 to £155,000.

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