1 Chris Brodie Chairman The Student Loans Company Limited 100 Bothwell Street Glasgow G2 7JD Jo Johnson MP Minister of State for Universities and Science 1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET T E +44 (0) Our ref: PS Your ref: 29 July 2015 Dear Chris, I am sending this letter and accompanying annexes on behalf of all UK Administrations to confirm formally SLC s agreed priorities, provide you with the details of your budget and set out the performance levels we expect SLC to achieve during the year. I am grateful to SLC for all it has achieved during the past year. Despite record volumes of applications received and processed, the academic year 2014/15 saw SLC s best performance yet in delivering secure, accurate and efficient assessment, payment and repayment services the fifth consecutive year of improvement in delivering your core mission. SLC has also taken significant steps to improve its ICT systems and processes over the past 12 months. These have started to realise savings and have recently received recognition for SLC as the first Government Agency to achieve two live services which meet the Government s Digital by Default service standards. I also recognise that SLC has undertaken a restructuring of its senior management team to provide clear leadership in the key areas of operations, repayments, counter-fraud, and ICT and Digital and acknowledge the comprehensive review of corporate governance which SLC completed last year. Please pass my thanks on to all at the Company for their contribution to this continuing track record of achievement and reform. Colleagues in Wales would particularly like to thank the SLC for its continued work on the modernisation of Student Finance Wales and for ensuring a safe transition of the service from local authorities. The Minister for Education and Skills in the Welsh Government would like you to convey his appreciation to all those who have contributed to the success of the Welsh service. In FY the Administrations will look to SLC to deliver an equally challenging set of priorities, including the implementation of policy changes for the academic year 2016/17. I am
2 grateful to SLC for working with the Administrations to clarify our requirements of SLC in , and for providing information on cost and deliverability. I confirm below the resulting list of priorities and strategic messages which the Administrations ask SLC to focus on for the year ahead, and attach annexes which confirm: SLC s core functions and shared UK requirements (Annex A) The list of agreed change projects (Annex B) Performance measures and targets agreed with Administrations for FY (Annex C) Budgets made available to SLC by Administrations in FY (Annex D) Priorities for FY Core Business as Usual Activities The continued delivery of safe and secure student and learner finances remains the Administrations top priority for SLC in FY Collection of loan repayments, either via HMRC or through direct collection, and overpayments of loan and grant also remain a high priority to ensure the sustainability of the HE Funding system and meet National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee expectations. All of the SLC s other programmes are either dependent on or support the continuance of this baseline activity and we ask SLC s Board and Executive Team to maintain the Company s excellent performance in this area. The funding Administrations are making available to SLC for its core, business-as-usual activities is confirmed in Annex D. BIS Further Education, Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue to fund SLC at a level equivalent to that provided in FY , whilst BIS is making additional funding available to SLC following the review of its Repayment and Counter-Fraud strategies, and Wales is making additional funding available to cover returning students. I would be grateful if SLC could continue to monitor forecast expenditure on operations to feed into formal quarterly financial reviews. ICT Improvement Projects I acknowledge that SLC are currently engaged in defining and agreeing the next phase of its ICT transformation programme, and I look forward to receiving further advice from the Company later in the Autumn. In the meantime it is absolutely essential that SLC focuses its efforts on the delivery of projects linked to security requirements, disaster recovery arrangements, and its core banking infrastructure. Annex B confirms the priority areas of change which we are making funding available for, subject to formal approval of business cases including HMT approval and Cabinet Office Efficiency Reform Group controls where appropriate. BIS will continue to liaise with the Devolved Administrations on their respective financial contributions to the Transformation programme. Other Change Projects The Administrations have been considering the list of policy requirements and other changes which we require the Company to undertake in FY , including new priorities which have emerged since the General Election in May. In doing so, we continue to work closely with SLC
3 to evaluate the impact on its overall delivery capacity and the potential impact on its existing work programme especially on the priority areas of ICT improvements highlighted above. The importance of this work is highlighted by the creation of the BIS SLC Steering Board last year, which is designed to support SLC s Board in discharging its duties by offering strategic advice and assurance on the prioritisation of demands for change, and endorse framework approvals to support rapid decision-making on the overall commission of work to SLC. In addition to the BAU and ICT Improvement Projects listed above the SLC s agreed priorities for FY for England are: Changes to the English HE and FE student support packages as announced at the Summer Budget on 8 th July and at the Spending Review in Autumn 2015 Sale of Income Contingent Repayment Loans for England Implementation of Postgraduate Loans for taught Master s qualifications in England. In relation to Wales, it is crucial that the SLC continues to focus on the needs of its customers. Welsh Ministers are keen to improve and promote a digital service for its customers through the provision of online applications for part-time students and the HMRC Verify Household Income links for FE. In additional new Welsh Language Standards will be introduced from the 1 April 2016 and it is important that the Company starts working with partners to ensure that they are aware of and able to deal with any changes required to the Student Finance Wales service when the new standards are introduced. The financial impact of any new standards is yet to be considered. The agreed list of change projects is included at Annex B, with the corresponding funding we are making available for this work contained in Annex D. Again, formal drawdown of funding for projects will be subject to appropriate business case approvals, which will be coordinated by the BIS Sponsorship Team. Whilst we continue to be mindful of SLC s delivery capacity in confirming our change requirements, the delivery workload for FY remains appreciable. For that reason, I would ask SLC s Board to ensure that the Company builds its programme management capacity as a priority. I would expect SLC to provide Administrations with early warning of any risks to delivery through established governance channels. Performance, reporting and funding Performance measures and targets agreed with Administrations for FY are set out in Annex C, and the funding set aside for SLC from all the Administrations to deliver their requirements for FY is set out in Annex D. In setting performance measures for , I acknowledge the significant delivery challenges for SLC in the year ahead, and for that reason have kept changes in core operational target levels to a minimum for FY However, whilst many targets are the same, or only slightly more stretching, the Administrations recognise that SLC are being tasked to deliver increased volumes with the same money. I would therefore ask SLC s Board to ensure that appropriate plans, governance and assurance mechanisms are in place to enable it to oversee SLC s operations and have early warning of any risks. Administrations will look to
4 you to lead SLC s Board in supporting and challenging its Executive Team and to hold it to account for SLC s performance. Looking forward, the Administrations will be looking to agree stretching, long term, benchmarked performance for future years as the Government s student funding priorities are set and we have agreed plans for the next phase of SLC s move towards its vision to become a digital, customer focussed, centre of excellence. SLC should work with Administrations during the course of this year to agree a suitable suite of performance measures to apply from FY onwards, including discussions with HMRC to explore potential changes to the metrics and measures for repayments. In addition to periodic reporting on progress against the metrics set out in Annex C other requirements include monthly reporting to Administrations on SLC s expenditure and the financial position. For BIS, this will include reporting to the BIS Group Finance team via the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) system. Wherever possible SLC should try to manage its own finances, commitments and risks within the allocations set by each Administration. However the Administrations have agreed to work with you to identify resourcing opportunities for these funding pressures as part of the formal quarterly budget review process, beginning with the Q1 review in July. Where appropriate, this will also include jointly agreeing any need for prioritisation, both against the current ask, but also in relation to any new priorities identified during the year where this would create additional funding pressures. More generally, as you are aware we are operating within a dynamic environment and if BIS or the Devolved Administrations levels of overall funding are decreased due to wider events or in order to cover other unavoidable financial pressures, the Administrations may, within the framework set by Parliament and the courts, need to make in year adjustments to allocations to our Partner Organisations in order to meet budget reductions. I would also remind you that in managing your finance, commitments and risks you will continue to be subject to the spending controls and relevant approvals processes introduced by Government. Mick Laverty, as SLC s Chief Executive and Accounting Officer, has been provided with a delegation letter setting out the full detail of SLC s authority to commit resources without reference to BIS. Finally, as Ministers are ultimately accountable to Parliament for SLC s performance, my officials will continue to seek evidence-based assurance from the SLC Board and Executive team that the student finance service is being properly managed and that technology and process changes will be delivered smoothly. I look to the Board to provide Ministers and officials with prompt early warning of any areas of concern and we will continue to work with you to provide any necessary support. Yours sincerely, JO JOHNSON MP
5 Core functions of the SLC Annex A The Student Loans Company (SLC) administers government funded loans and, in some Administrations, grants to HE and FE learners, on behalf of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in line with the policy aims of the relevant Administrations. Currently the primary roles of SLC are to: Deliver appropriate information, advice and guidance to all customer groups at the right time and in the right form; Deliver financial support to eligible students pursuing higher education in accordance with the student support regulations and relevant public policy objectives. In Scotland, this is done in partnership with the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS); Pay to Higher Education Institutions the public contribution towards tuition fees for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and pay to Further Education institutions the public contribution for England; Pay bursaries and scholarships on behalf of higher and further education providers. Work in partnership with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure repayments are collected on time from all those due to repay under the Income Contingent Repayment Loan Scheme; Manage the direct collection of voluntary additional repayments, repayments for those living overseas, and recovery of overpaid loans or grants; Provide expert operational advice and high quality data and information to support Administrations policy making and analysis; and Undertake specific tasks for individual Administrations, such as payment of Education Maintenance Allowances in Wales and Northern Ireland, and administer on behalf of the private sector any sold portfolios of Income Contingent Repayment loans. Shared UK requirements Ensure payment of the right amount of support, to the right people at the right time; (In conjunction with HMRC), ensure repayment of the right amount of Income Contingent Repayment loan balances at the right time, minimising the cost to the taxpayer by reducing collection frictions which impact on our respective Resource Accounting and Budgeting charges for loans; Provide a service designed to meet the needs of the customer, so that high levels of customer satisfaction are achieved for all customers at all stages of the customer journey; Provide an efficient and effective service that delivers value for money for funding organisations and strikes a balance between cost and other success measures; Use technology and improved business processes to streamline the student finance system, make service improvements and improve the customer experience; Put in place measures to effectively prevent, detect and deter fraud; Implement policy and operational change smoothly; Sustain and improve current business processes and systems to ensure that they remain fit for the purpose of delivering student support until their replacement.
6 AGREED CHANGE PRIORITIES FOR FY Annex B SLC s agreed change priorities for FY are as follows: Project Area Security Enhancements Disaster Recovery and Data Centre Consolidation Core Banking Infrastructure Enhancements Ongoing ICT Improvement Programme Other ICT Requirements Business Change Continuation of In-Flight Projects Devolved Administrations Policy Changes BIS HE Policy Changes BIS FE Policy Changes Repayment Projects Business as Usual Capital Requirements SLC Sponsored Projects Total Budget ( 000s) 4,198 19,266 7,343 21,526 3, ,065 2,035 8, *see notes 865 1,543 6,415 80,638 Notes to the table: Funding will be subject to formal approval of business cases including Cabinet Office Efficiency Reform Group controls where appropriate. The split of project funding each Administration will make available for SLC s Change Programme is confirmed in Annex D. To note that funding for BIS Further Education policy changes does not currently include cover for SLC s forecast 1,060k Capital requirement. The SLC should continue to show forecasts against this line and funding cover will be sought through the QR1 / QR2 (MYR) exercises. Officials will write separately to confirm the detailed list of individual projects which we have agreed within the categories above. Any new change requirements not covered by the list will require further funding discussions with the relevant Administrations. BIS will also separately confirm the outcome of discussions with the Devolved Administrations on their respective financial contributions to the Transformation Programme.
7 The Budget estimates included in this table are based on the information available at the time of writing and are subject to refinement through the regular reforecasting process as requirements are more specifically defined. Please note: SLC should closely monitor expenditure and outputs for each individual project and provide early warning to the appropriate Administration of any emerging underspends or delivery issues; and Policy requirements across Higher and Further Education are subject to change and BIS and the Administrations will need to engage closely to ensure that SLC s funding provision is realigned as and when necessary to reflect any changes to the view of agreed change provided.
8 PERFORMANCE MEASURES FOR FY Annex C Improve customer satisfaction with SLC s services a) Aggregated Apply-To-Pay Customer Satisfaction (applicants & sponsors, SFE & SFW) to be FY14-15 outturn + 0.5% points. b) Repayer Customer Satisfaction (all HE & FE loan products) to be FY14-15 outturn Run SLC s Assess to Pay processes within agreed service levels a) HE Assessed By Start Of Term: (Full Time HE only, loans and grants, England & Wales) 99% of applications that were received before the published deadlines are to be processed before the start of term; b) HE Assessed in 20 working days: (Full Time HE only, loans and grants, England & Wales) 70% to be processed within 20 working days; c) HE Assessed in 30 working days: (Full Time and Part Time HE, loans and grants, England & Wales) 95% to be processed within 30 working days; d) DSA and CCG (England & Wales): 95% of applications and Needs Assessments reports to be processed within 10 working days of receipt and 95% of Childcare Grant applications (CCG1s and CCG2s) to be processed within 20 working days of receipt e) FE (England, Wales & NI): 95% of straight through 24+ applications to be processed within 5 working days; 95% of all other 24+ applications to be processed within 20 working days; 100% of non peak EMA/WGLG applications to be processed in 7 working days; 90% of peak EMA/WGLG applications to be processed in 14 days; 100% of peak EMA/WGLG applications to be processed in 21 working days; 100% of EMA/WGLG evidence items to be returned within 15 working days. f) HE Maintenance Payments: 95% of Higher Education (HE) Full Time (FT) maintenance payments are to be made within 1 working day, and 99% within 2 working days of their due date. g) HE Tuition Fees Payments: 99% of HE tuition fees (FT & PT) are to be paid on their weekly Wednesday deadline. h) FE Payments (24+, EMA etc): 96% of FE payments are to be paid on their weekly or fortnightly deadline. (This covers 24+ALL for England, WGLG for Wales, and EMA for both Wales and Northern Ireland). Run an effective Repayment Service, collecting every pound due Please note that Repayment measures for below are subject to final agreement between BIS, HMRC and SLC. Repayment of Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) Loans a) Percentage of ICR borrowers in a repayment channel or fully repaid by the time they enter repayment to be 96.5% (which is 1% point higher than the FY out turn). b) Percentage of UK resident ICR borrowers starting the year with remaining debt who are in a repayment channel or fully repaid by the end of
9 the year to be 89.6%, (which is 1% point higher than the FY out turn). c) 71.5% of borrowers from past ICR cohorts who are UK citizens resident overseas to be in a repayment channel. (Target unchanged from FY14 15) d) 53.5% of borrowers from past ICR cohorts who are EU citizens (non UK) resident overseas to be in a repayment channel. (Target unchanged from FY14 15) e) To measure found and unmatched borrowers not making payments (no target in FY ) Recovery of Grant Overpayments (RGO) e) Average monthly Recovery of Grant Overpayment amount to be at least f) Percentage of Grant Overpayment accounts to be making a repayment to be at least 27.4% at year end. Resolve customer contacts in a timely and effective manner a) For SFE, the Percentage of Calls Answered (PCA) is to be 90% and should never fall below 70% for any two consecutive weeks; b) For ICR, the Percentage of Calls Answered (PCA) is to be 90% and should never fall below 70% for any two consecutive weeks; c) For SFW, 87% calls should be answered within 60 seconds. d) For SFNI, 87% calls should be answered within 60 seconds. e) For FE services for NI and Wales 90% calls are to be answered within 180 seconds. Develop, build and launch services for the forthcoming Academic Years across SLC s HE, FE and Repayment Services Programme RAG Status Deliver agreed services within budgets Budget Variance Year-end Department Expenditure Level (DEL) is to outturn between +1% (underspend) and -0% (overspend) against the approved budget, for each of the four administrations, (BIS, SAAS, DfES and DEL), with a further split of BIS budget between Higher Education and Further Education Deliver in year initiatives to reduce fraud and error across our services as part of SLC s Fraud and Error Reduction Strategy Fraud: a) Return on Investment (ROI) from Fraud Prevention activity to be at least 17:1 Assessment Accuracy: b) The net financial variance arising from errors in assessments will be 0.5%. Loans and Grants Forecasting a) Year end Loans expenditure against forecast to be within -2.25% and +2.25% of the mid year forecast and within -1% and +1% of the 9 month forecast b) Year end Grants expenditure against forecast to be within -1.75% and +1.75% of the mid year forecast and within -0.75% and +0.75% of the 9 month forecast
10 Annex D SLC Budgetary Information FY The resource funding set aside for SLC from all the Administrations to deliver their requirements for FY is as follows: SLC Resource Budgets FY All figures 000s BIS HE - Operations funding 111,702 BIS HE - Change Programme Funding 78,007 BIS HE Total 189,709 BIS FE - Operations funding 3,803 BIS FE - Change Programme funding 597 BIS FE Total 4,400 Of which: BIS - Operations by budget category: BIS HE BIS FE Programme DEL 73,418 2,170 Admin DEL 31,789 1,558 Capital - - Programme Ringfenced DEL 3,435 *See note 4 Admin Ringfenced DEL 1, AME 1,942 - BIS - Change Programme by budget category: BIS HE BIS FE Programme DEL 1, Admin DEL 10,117 Capital 61,466 *See note 4 Programme Ringfenced DEL - - Admin Ringfenced DEL 4,566 - AME - - SAAS (Scotland) - Operations funding 2,717 SAAS (Scotland) - Change Programme Funding 10 SAAS Total 2,727 DELNI (Northern Ireland) - Operations funding 2,550 DELNI (Northern Ireland) - Change Programme Funding 425 DELNI (Northern Ireland) Total 2,975 DfES (Wales) - Operations funding 7,900 DfES (Wales) - Change Programme Funding 1,600 DfES (Wales) Total 9,500 Total UK Operations funding 128,672 Total UK Change Programme funding 80,639 UK Total Resource Budget 209,311 Supporting Cash Grant-in-Aid 184,713
11 Notes to the table 1. The above table confirms that BIS Higher and Further Education, Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue to fund SLC s at a level equivalent to that provided in FY , whilst Wales is making additional funding available to cover the first cohort of returning students. 2. The table confirms the funding being made available by each Administration for SLC s agreed change programme in FY Please note that BIS officials will write separately to confirm the detailed list of individual projects which we have agreed within the categories above. BIS will also separately confirm the outcome of discussions with the Devolved Administrations on their respective financial contributions to the Transformation programme. 3. BIS Operations funding excludes 280k to be provided separately by the Department of Education for the administration of the Repayment of Teachers Loans Scheme. 4. For BIS Further Education, we acknowledge SLC s requirements for 1,060k Capital and 122k programme Non Cash. The SLC should continue to show forecasts against these lines and funding cover will be sought through the QR1 / QR2 (MYR) exercises. 5. The table confirms the cash Grant-in-Aid available to support SLC s UK resource allocation. Any necessary adjustments to the level of supporting Grant-in-Aid will be made as part of the Supplementary Estimates process. General notes on funding 6. The Administrations overall funding levels have been set for the current year only (FY ). Funding for future years will be agreed as part of the Spending Review. As you are aware we are operating within a dynamic environment and if the Administrations levels of overall funding are decreased due to wider events or in order to cover other unavoidable financial pressures, the Administrations may, within the framework set by Parliament and the courts, need to make in year adjustments to allocations to our Partner Organisations in order to meet budget reductions. 7. The Administrations are committed to ensuring timely and adequate notice is provided in relation to whether any such claw-back of funding is required and to discussing with you the wider implications of any such action. You should therefore ensure that your profile of monthly expenditure is accurate at the start of the year, and is regularly reviewed, so that if a material level of funding is required to be returned to one or more of the Administrations you will be able to manage your financial payments and, where relevant, supply chains accordingly. Of course if it became necessary to take such hypothetical decisions, we would continue to give priority to those funding streams which we judged were most important to encouraging sustainable growth. 8. The Administrations delegate financial risk management to Partner Organisations. I would like you to continue to work closely with the Administrations on managing financial and other risk
12 matters, taking account of the rules on delegated authority designed to promote the sound stewardship of public funds. 9. Accurate forecasting is key for effective financial management. The Administrations will continue to look to you to deliver an underspend of less than 1% against your mid-year (end September) forecasts so that we can deliver against expectations, and maximise our impact in the economy with given resources. Following the annual mid-year review, Administrations will consider providing revised in-year budget allocations based on your latest single point forecast for expenditure for the year and will monitor delivery of the 1% forecasting target against these updated budget allocations.
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