Readers of this blog will know that I have reported on the less than transparent contractual arrangements made by the British Council in respect of the Education UK website. For those who missed it salient points are:
- The British Council explained in early 2002 that after a "rigorous selection procedure" it had made a contractual partnership with a "consortium led by Hotcourses" for the website
- It also reported at the same time that the other members of the consortium were UCAS, CSU and Yahoo!(still published on the BC site - see para 5)
- The contractor was in fact a £100 company “Education Websites Ltd” incorporated just two weeks before the contract was signed (21st September 2001)
- The contract that was signed makes no mention at all of Hotcourses or of Yahoo!, neither is there any mention of a consortium
- The contract does mention UCAS and CSU, but only specifically to exclude them from any "liability whatsoever in respect of the Contract, the Tender or otherwise". So, not Hotcourses, not Yahoo!, not UCAS, not CSU. Why did the British Council do this? Perhaps it was something to do with a contractual requirement that it should be paid 15% of the profits arising out of the project (being a shareholder wouldn’t look good, and what established company would agree to pay 15% of its profits to the British Council?) Clearly something motivated them to make this eccentric arrangement, and to present it publicly in this less than helpful way. It seems improbable that a decision by the British Council to commit to a contract with a newly formed £100 company with no staff, trading record or assets would have been made primarily in the interests of British education, or the status or the security of the contract. The fact is that this particularly flimsy and somewhat furtive arrangement (they did not after all advise the world at large that their rigorous selection procedure resulted in the choice of a company that would actually pay them) was made by a large publicly funded organisation for the purposes of the global promotion of the great British education resource, and in support of "The Prime Minister's Initiative". It fair takes your breath away.
Does it end there? Well, not quite. By now, almost 4 years since that contract was signed, you might hope or expect that the rigorously selected British Council partner was comfortably accumulating cash and perhaps dispensing percentages of profits to the British Council to support their causes, charitable or otherwise. But it seems not. On March 31st this year (a few months before it was due to report results for the first time) the company Education Websites Ltd (04282961) changed its name to Remone Ltd, and applied to be struck off the register at Companies House. So for all practical purposes, however much it may have existed in the past, it doesn’t now. Meanwhile, also on March 31st, a Bristol-based company called Remone Ltd (05323181), incorporated in January this year, changed its name to Education Websites Ltd. Nifty footwork. Presumably this means that Remone Ltd (formerly Education Websites Ltd) has assigned the Education UK website contract to Education Websites Ltd (formerly Remone Ltd). I wonder how many of our great educational institutions were aware that this contract had been moved (assuming it has) from one newly formed company to another. One supposes that the British Council knew, and that the organisation is happy to contract a succession of willing embryo companies, although one can't help wondering whether, say, the DFES or the FCO or Number 10 would concur or regard these curious arrangements as worthy of a Prime Ministerial Initiative - or for that matter of any government department. Or anything very much at all for that matter. Will the new Bristol-based Education Websites Ltd last long enough to report accounts, and will we perhaps see how much the British Council has been paid following the deal it struck / rigorous selection? Or will we be treated to more sleight of hand? I have written to the British Council requesting clarification of their present contractual arrangements.