Time to stop complaining about tendering costs

6th June 1997 at 01:00
Your report on the privatisation of careers services did little more than repeat a series of subjective judgments about the impact of privatisation (TES, May 23). While I am sure the Government will want to take a more objective look at the quality of provision, the impression created by your report should not go unchallenged.

First, the careers service has not been provided by companies since 1993. That was the date when a rolling programme began whereby all services were subjected to competitive tender. A substantial proportion only started work in April 1996. While it may be premature to judge the success or failure of individual suppliers, the general picture, in terms of increased and quantifiable efficiency, is encouraging.

There are good reasons for criticising the contracting-out process, but not because it introduced competitive tendering. Indeed, the shortcoming in the process was that there was far too little competition with, in the earlier stages, incumbents getting contracts without external challenge. And it really is time that these complaints about the cost of tendering were dismissed. For any competent company, tendering is a highly creative learning process. It imposes on you the requirements to assess what you do and why and how you do it. Even when we lose, the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT) generally concludes that tendering has been a worthwhile investment.

You report that ministers are being told that privatisation has disrupted links between careers work and the education service. "Service", in this case, can only mean bureaucracy. There has certainly been no diminution in links with schools or further education colleges where education actually takes place.

The argument that local accountabilityrepresentation has been lost is spurious. I have dealt with eight local education authorities where the CfBT has been taking over services. I have met chief education officers who understood the careers service and others who not only did not understand it but thought that it should be done away with and integrated into schools.

In only one of those LEAs was there a careers sub-committee of the education committee. I have yet to meet a local councillor who had any real knowledge of the careers service.

Of course, it is important to get the views of local partners, and the Department for Education and Employment rightly requires us to spell out how we are going to do that. The idea that the only way is through local steering committees and consultative bodies, which many local employers dismiss as talking shops, is amazingly unimaginative.

NEIL McINTOSH

Chief executive CfBT Education Services 1 The Chambers East Street Reading, Berkshire

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