AET turns to ‘plan B’ on outsourcing

The country’s largest academy chain is to press on with cost-saving measures after backing out of a plan to outsource its non-teaching roles.

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) chief executive Ian Comfort, speaking exclusively to Schools Week, said he was disappointed the venture was not going ahead but the trust had to “get on with life”.

His plans now included sharing business managers across schools, or directors of particular subjects working across a number of institutions.

The charitable trust, which runs 75 academies in England, announced earlier this year that it wanted to outsource non-teaching roles in a contract worth up to £400 million. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) was named as the preferred bidder.

Last week, it announced that it was discontinuing those plans, which needed approval from the secretary of state, and was now seeking an “internal solution”.

The move has been welcomed by all trade unions, who said that they would work with AET in their quest for a different solution.

Mr Comfort said: “Both PwC and ourselves believed this was a great idea. I am very disappointed that it is not going ahead, but we are fairly pragmatic and need to move ahead with our other plans for how we can reform our services.”

He said there always had been a “plan B”, and the trust would endeavour to continue with such ideas.

“We have not been waiting for a joint venture to be approved to make changes. We have been encouraging schools to share resources and to work across schools; for example, we have a director of maths who works in two or three academies, and business managers across schools.”

Asked if the decision to discontinue had been prompted by the Education Funding Agency, after its boss Peter Lauener told MPs at the public accounts committee last Monday he had “put a stop to the proposal”, Mr Comfort said: “I met with Peter [Lauener] a few times about this and he wrote to us some while ago saying the idea was ‘novel and contentious’ and for it to be continued it would need to be approved by the secretary of state. He required further information and that is all I can really say about that.

“We were aware . . . that we would need consent. We haven’t got that . . . there comes a time when you have got to get on with life.

“Whenever there is something that anybody feels is novel and contentious, both politicians and officials look at whether they need more information. It is not for me to decide as to whether it was in the right political time or not.”

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