Let's sort out the mess before the lashing

24th October 2008 at 01:00

The EMA delays have been a far bigger problem in human terms than the fiasco surrounding the processing of the Sats results in schools - by comparison, a mere storm in a bureaucratic tea cup.

As thousands of teenagers and their families struggle to make ends meet as a result of the delays affecting payments, you would think the Learning and Skills Council's failure to fine the contractor Liberata was pretty bizarre - albeit that sanctions might come later.

But now is not the time to impose penalties. If the potential fine - widely reported as Pounds 3 million - were to be imposed, where would the money come from?

Liberata has ploughed considerable cash into extra staff to overcome delays created by the failure of its automated processes. Would the company be able to take on this extra cost if it were forced to pay the penalty now?

Certainly, once a tender has been accepted, it's a case of you pays your money and you makes your choice - and the LSC has to take some responsibility.

But the quango lives in an environment where contracting with the private sector is the name of the game. It may be that things would have gone more smoothly if the LSC could have administered the scheme itself, with smaller parts of the operation contracted out as necessary, but there is no objective evidence to say it would not have experienced similar problems.

In the end, it's the urgent matter of getting the cash to students that needs everybody's full-time attention. The LSC's best approach is to take the inevitable criticisms on the chin while it focuses on working through the problem.

The public floggings can wait.

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