Fury at SFA funding software delays

Funding software delays at the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) sparked fury in the FE sector.

A delay in supplying providers with the full software system for checking data errors and calculating funding, known as the Funding Information System (FIS), has meant providers will now have just eight working days to check tens of thousands of Individualised Learner Records, rather than the usual two weeks.

Currently, only a test version of the programme, FIS Beta, is available, which does not calculate funding.

The updated version was due to have been published today, but instead providers were told in the weekly SFA update that the beta version would be taken offline and re-uploaded with some updates on October 28.

Commenters vented their frustrations on the FE Week website, with many expressing dismay that they would have no way of accurately calculating their funding.

Mark Gould said: “This is really the most appalling mess.

“What concerns providers is the inflexible attitude of the Data Service and the SFA, and the seeming refusal to accept that software that was originally slated for release in May 2013 will not be available until November and currently suffers from a number of technical and data issues.”

Another commenter highlighted that many colleges may not even get eight days, as some of these fell in half-term, when many staff members may have booked leave.

They added: “The Data Service continually fails to deliver to target and it is clear it is not fit for purpose. Time for a National Audit Office investigation perhaps.”

User Steve Hewitt pointed out this change of software has been planned for two years.

He said: “It’s only since June, when nothing appeared, that we’ve realised the whole project was on the verge of collapsing and, I think, could now be said to have failed.
Also, let’s make it clear the main reason a lot of providers haven’t installed FIS beta isn’t through laziness or not caring, it’s because the damn thing can’t be installed on standard college networks, with usual levels of security, because it needs all sorts of proxy and firewall settings switching-off which, even with a willing IT team, can take an age.”

He added that for prime contractors this might be “an annoyance” but independent providers or subcontractors should be “furious” as the delay was “really stopping a key part of their business from operating successfully”.

Another user agreed and called for an investigation by the National Audit Office into what he called “this screwup”.

He said: “Many of us entirely innocent third parties are now at financial risk due to the SFA’s incompetence. That just isn’t acceptable at any time, let alone in today’s economic climate.”

He added: “This has just been a complete farce from day one.”

FE Week is still making enquiries with the SFA as to when the Learning Aims Reference System, which is also in the process of being updated, will be available.