Changes to the requirements in the procurement process for non-levy apprenticeship provision have been published a week before its deadline. According to the Association of Colleges (AoC), the move has left many colleges “deeply concerned”.
Updates from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), released last night, have redefined what providers have to supply in terms of data, specifically on the historical delivery of apprenticeships. Training providers will now have to provide the number of apprenticeship starts for 2015-16, in a move sector leaders say will "lead to total confusion and chaos" one week away from the deadline. They also believe this could mean high-quality providers will be pushed under the minimum contracting threshold, meaning they would not be eligible for a direct contract.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said he was in ongoing discussions with ESFA officials. “Changing documentation and requirements in a procurement process at this late stage is unacceptable," he said. "The whole process is in danger of descending into a farce. To introduce new criteria, leading to a wholesale reduction in the maximum bid amount at this late stage, when many have completed their documentation, will lead to total confusion and chaos. AELP have been calling on the ESFA to remove their disastrous £200,000 minimum contract amount. It would appear that the ESFA are in a position, after all, to make such a change at this late stage and we would urge them once again to remove this minimum and not undermine many hundreds of good quality training providers”.
'Frustrated and deeply concerned'
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges are very frustrated and deeply concerned about the timing and the details of this procurement. Concerned because their relationships with thousands of employers and students are at risk if they are not successful in bidding for the business they have been successfully carrying out for many years. Frustrated because the complexity of the process has required detailed clarifications, some of which have come very late in the process and which have led, for instance, to extensive spreadsheets having to be completely reworked.
"That said, it is a relief that the deadline has been extended in recognition of the importance of the clarification issues. Of course, that then reduces the time that officials have to consider the bids, on what was already a very tight timetable."
In July, a new procurement exercise for apprenticeships for non-levy paying employers was launched after a pause of several months.
An ESFA comment at the time said that the new tender "can better meet their objectives to deliver high-quality apprenticeship training to support the growth and success of the small- and medium-sized enterprises that play such a vital role in our economy".