Firm loses contract to help young jobless in Northamptonshire

Horizons NFP took over the Connexions service in Northamptonshire last year, but it is to lose its contract to Prospects from April.
Horizons NFP took over the Connexions service in Northamptonshire last year, but it is to lose its contract to Prospects from April.

A move to hand the training of Northampton’s unemployed teenagers over to a national company will “drastically reduce” the support they receive, according to a former employee.

Horizons NFP, based in Bouverie Court, The Lakes, was set up as a limited company at the beginning of 2015 to take over the county council’s Connexions service. It provides careers education, work experience and job related training to NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training) teens aged between 16 and 19.

But Horizons’ bid to renew its contract from April has been turned down, the Chronicle & Echo has learned.

Instead the council will hand NEETs training to national firm Prospects, which already has similar contracts in 11 towns cities across the UK. Horizons has declined offers to comment, but a former employee says the company has about 150 workers.

Some of those could move over to work for Prospects.

A former employee told the Chronicle & Echo that he believed the move over to Prospects will mean “it is inevitable that the one-to-one support to young people will be drastically reduced”.

Northamptonshire County Council has not said exactly why it has chosen to accept Prospects’ offer over renewing Horizons’ contract, but claims the move it will offer “value for money”.

The council would not say how much its contract with Horizons was worth.

“As part of our standard commissioning process, we invited organisations to tender bids for the Targeted NEET Prevention Service contract, which is due to come to an end on 31 March 2016,” a council spokeswoman said.

“We will be working closely with both the current provider and the new provider to ensure a smooth transition of service provision for young people and partners.”

It is understood teenagers using Horizons services will transfer over to Prospects.

When the council announced the launch of Horizons in 2014 it said the move would allow the company to earn income through a “wide range of alternative sources”.

Labour county councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville) sits on the board of Horizons NFP and believes it was doing a good job. She said: “This move is a mistake, I think the council should have tried to work with Horizons to shape the sort of service they wanted.” She believes Horizons staff, many of whom transferred over from Connexions, had built up a good rapport with young people in the town. “Relationships matter when you work with young people,” she said. “Some employees have built up years and years of expertise with these young people and that has been dismissed.” Councillor Stone believes the decision to set up Horizons in 2015 was also a mistake. All NEETs training should have been brought in-house, she said. “This service was saddled with all the pressures of running a company, when they should have just been free to offer support to young people.”