Government details apprentice provider relief plans

But Association of Employment and Learning Providers takes legal advice over the omission of support for apprentices being trained at levy-paying employers

Kate Parker

Government announces rescue package for apprentices

The government has published details on its supplier relief scheme for apprenticeship providers – including support with their cashflow. 

To be eligible, providers must hold “a direct contract that was procured as a service under Public Contract Regulations 2015”.

“This applies to apprenticeship contracts that commenced in January 2018, for delivery to smaller employers that do not pay the levy (non-levy), and adult education budget contract for services that commenced in November 2017," the government said - meaning providers cannot seek this support for apprenticeships funded through the levy. 


Training providers: AELP seeks legal advice over plans for provider support

More: Labour says lack of support for apprenticeships 'damaging'

Need to know: DfE publishes furlough guidance for FE


'Enormous challenges'

The government said it recognised that training providers were faced with “enormous challenges in continuing to deliver education and training during this period of uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak” and so was publishing a provider relief scheme in line with Cabinet Office guidance.

The purpose of the scheme is to retain capacity within the apprenticeships and adult education sector to deliver the skills needed to support economic recovery post-pandemic.

“As part of that, we also want to support training providers to maintain delivery to and support for existing learners and employers and enable new learners to enrol," the guidance said. 

It added that in compliance with Procurement Policy Note 02/20 (PPN2/20), short term measures to support training provider cash flow based on an assessment of need will be put in place.

A funding cap for each training provider requesting support from the scheme will be calculated and applied to the amount requested by the training provider – this will be based on a three-month average using the ILR submission for January, February and March 2020.

“Existing maximum contract values (MCV) continue to apply and the providers funding cap cannot exceed 25 per cent of the MCV even where the average earnings exceed this,” says the guidance, adding “the relief scheme will apply to activity undertaken in April, May and June and paid in the subsequent month.”

“Funding through this relief scheme will be paid on top of the regular payment claimed via the ILR. The total of the two payments will not exceed the provider’s funding cap.”

The government stressed that training providers "must make every effort to continue to deliver education and training to their existing apprentices and learners including contact with and support for those learners and employers where delivery cannot continue or commence due to restrictions caused by COVID-19.”

In cases where training providers have furloughed staff who now need to work, they will be eligible for support from this scheme but must be taken off furlough, the government said.

To be eligible for support, training providers must also deliver: “quality education and training provision and have submitted their latest financial statements for assessment to the ESFA on time, for an assessment of need judgement to be made”, the guidance stressed. 

Legal advice

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers welcomed the announcement, but said it had been left with no choice but to take legal advice on the omission of support for apprentices being trained at levy-paying employers.   

Chief executive Mark Dawe said: “This is an important step in the right direction but we’re not even halfway there if this is about protecting the livelihoods of existing apprentices and disadvantaged young people on traineeships and study programmes.

“Today’s announcement, while welcome, does not offer financial support for independent training providers and colleges training over half of the 628,000 apprentices who were on an apprenticeship programme when the pandemic started. 

"This is because the Department for Education is claiming that the Cabinet Office supplier relief guidance doesn’t apply in respect of apprentices who are employed by organisations paying the apprenticeship levy. 

"Our initial legal advice is that this claim is discriminatory against the apprentices outside the scope of today’s package and there are strong grounds for a challenge, but AELP shouldn’t have to be going down this route.

"The adversely affected apprentices are innocent parties in all this and it shouldn't matter where they are doing their training if it means that their programmes can continue uninterrupted. Similarly, levy-paying employers shouldn't be forced to change their chosen training providers in this critical period if the lack of support means the provider gets into financial difficulty.  

On Thursday, Labour's new shadow education ministers wrote to education secretary Gavin Williamson and FE and skills minister Gillian Keegan to warn that a lack of action to support apprenticeship providers would be "deeply damaging". 

Toby Perkins, shadow minister for apprenticeships and lifelong learning, and Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow education secretary, urged the government to give independent training providers the same amount of funding they would have been receiving had coronavirus not broken out.

Gillian Keegan, apprenticeships and skills minister said: “We’ve been encouraging as many providers as possible to shift their training offer online so their students can continue their studies and so that  providers are paid as normal. The sector have been doing a really brilliant job, as evidenced by the AELP’s recent survey that shows that 81 per cent of apprentices have been able to continue their studies remotely.

“We recognise the significant challenge continuing to deliver training at this time presents.  In addition to the HMT support available to all businesses, and the flexibilities we have already introduced to support providers and their students during the Covid-19 outbreak, our provider relief scheme will offer additional financial support so we can continue to deliver the best education and training possible. I would urge all eligible providers to apply.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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