Aspire and its Ofsted result: how outsourcing fails us all

The council’s former Adult and Community Learning Service, now outsourced to social enterprise ‘Aspire Sussex’ has been rated as ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED just three years after it was rated as ‘good’, when under council control.

It’s yet more evidence of outsourcing failure. UNISON said from the start that outsourcing was the wrong option to consider for this service and we have been proved right. Not only does this reflect poorly on previous Aspire management, but also on the quality of the council’s contract management.

In their report, Ofsted remarked: “West Sussex County Council (WSCC) managers do not adequately manage and monitor the provision. The contract management team sets Aspire very ambitious targets, yet when these are not achieved managers do not interrogate the underlying reasons sufficiently, agree alternative actions or revise the target. ”

During the three years since it was outsourced, the service almost went bankrupt. Staff unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in the previous Chief Exec, who has now left.

This result is in no way a reflection of the hard work our Aspire members have put into the service, but it does reflect the poor way they have been previously treated. “Teaching and learning are good. Tutors use a wide variety of learning activities that inspire learners and make learning fun,” said Ofsted.

UNISON believes the new Chief Exec will make improvements to the service, but it beggars belief that poor performance was allowed to continue for so long by WSCC before being it was addressed.

It is a tragedy that a ‘good’ service has been now rated ‘inadequate’, precisely because of the ideology of politicians in West Sussex who sought to follow their party-line at that point in time, which was for the fad of ‘mutualisation’. It is no surprise that the Cabinet minister leading this fad was Francis Maude, then the hard-right local MP for Horsham. There is no evidence at national or local level that mutualisation offers anything to public services, but evidence hardly matters when ideology is more important.

UNISON West Sussex is raising this sorry story with Councillors next month at our regular formal meeting with them.