Becta, the first quango to be cut, closes its doors

By Emma Simpson
Business correspondent, BBC News

image captionBecta promoted the use of technology in schools

It's the end of the road for Becta, the Coventry-based government agency that promotes technology in schools. It ceased to exist at the stroke of midnight.

Not that there was really anybody left on its last day.

Becta was the first quango that the new coalition government decided to axe in its drive to save money.

After less than a fortnight in office, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, declared Becta would be wound down, and fast.

Founded in 1998, it had 248 staff this time last year. The press found out before they did that the agency was to be axed, according to former workers.

Change had been expected, but few there had any inkling that Becta would be shut within a year.

One woman had even turned up for her first day at work only to find out an hour later that her new employer was being abolished.

So where have all those workers ended up?

According to the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), 176 people were made redundant and 40 staff transferred to other roles - 31 to the department for education and 9 to LSIS, another Coventry based public body.

image captionEducation Secretary Micheal Gove, who decided to close Becta, paid tribute to its work

John Taylor was Becta's head of school improvement, working with head teachers to help them use and plan for the best use of computers in their schools. He was also the PCS union rep.

Based on his personal knowledge and estimation, he reckons that very approximately:

  • 20% of workers are now temping in agencies around the Coventry area, most of them on the minimum wage
  • 20% have landed full-time jobs in the private sector
  • a further 20% have become freelance or are in the process of trying to set up their own businesses
  • three people are applying their skills in the Middle East.

That leaves 40% of staff - some 70 people - still looking for work.

"On the whole, it's been harder for people the further up they were in the organisation. We're talking about committed people cut off in the prime of their careers whose skills aren't being valued," says John Taylor.

Adam Stanton is one of the lucky ones. He's now marketing manager for a local company, ParentPay, which enables parents to pay for things like school dinners online rather than having to send cash to school.

Transferring to the private sector hasn't been a huge challenge for him as he's still working with schools and parents.

"I suppose I'm lucky that the company I now work for values the knowledge and experience which we built up at Becta. Two other former colleagues have also been taken on," he told me.

"I don't have any personal regrets, I just wish the government had handled all these cuts differently and asked those affected on the front line what they did or didn't value first, before making decisions."

Michael Gove thanked the board of Becta last week for the valuable role that it had played and the professional way in which staff effectively shut themselves down. Closing Becta, he said, had not been an easy decision for the government.

It would be interesting to know how much money, overall, he thinks the Government has actually saved.