The ministers drew up a contingency plan to provide free school meal vouchers in case the schools were forced to close again next year.
In December, Wonde, an edtech firm, won a year-round contract to provide a “contingency scheme” for the Department of Education in the event of Covid-19 attendance restrictions or the closure of national schools.
This means that the multinational company Edenred, which has won contracts totaling GBP 425 million to operate the scheme during previous locks, is no longer involved.
Edenred stopped issuing vouchers on behalf of DfE in July and a new round of tenders began in October. It is not clear whether Edenred offered.
Last year’s plan was heavily criticized for the initial delay in distribution, the appointment of Edenred without an open tender, and concerns about value for money.
Under the new plan, Wonde will receive five days in advance to launch its voucher program for up to 1.7 million students. The company will be paid only if the services are used.
The company built its own voucher system before the Edenred system was launched in the first lock. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has provided vouchers to 11,500 schools.
Peter Dabrowa, CEO of Wonde, said the company was “proud” to be a new voucher platform. “It’s great that DfE is proactive and has a solid contingency plan in place, which we hope won’t be needed, and it doesn’t look like that in the future.”
If vouchers are needed again, parents will notice changes in the way they are distributed compared to the previous program.
According to the old scheme, the code was sent to the parents from the school or local authority before they applied it via the website, by e-mail.
But Wonde has developed a phone application for parents who can also choose to receive text messages. The vouchers would be assigned by schools and the links would be sent directly to parents, who could then choose a supermarket.
A Edenred spokesman said the company had supported 20,350 schools and delivered vouchers worth £ 483 million, with a satisfaction rate of 94 percent from parents and 90 percent from schools.
“We are proud to have achieved this while ensuring that every penny of taxpayers’ money has been converted to the equivalent in vouchers.”
A DfE spokesman said he “routinely considers contingency measures in line with government coronavirus planning.”