While there has been no official announcement on the future of the FE Guild since new post-16 minister Matthew Hancock was appointed last month, there has been little doubt in the sector about the likeliest outcome.
A joint submission by the two largest employers' associations - the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) - and supported by the Institute for Learning (IfL) has been regarded as the clear favourite to run the proposed body, which will take responsibility for professional standards in the sector.
So high was confidence that AELP chief executive Graham Hoyle told TES in August: "If you have representative organisations for the vast majority of employers making a joint bid, it's difficult to know where a serious competitive bid would come from."
But TES has learned that a rival bid has been submitted by one of the sector's best-known faces: Chris Banks, the ex-Coca-Cola executive who served as chairman of the former Learning and Skills Council (LSC). And with high-profile backing from the likes of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the British Chambers of Commerce, the proposal from Mr Banks' Independent College Partnership (ICP) has certainly turned the contest into a two-horse race.
Mr Banks gained something of a reputation in the sector for being at the helm of the LSC when the capital funding crisis of 2009 saw 144 college building projects halted part way through after it emerged that the billions of pounds of expected funding would not materialise. Just 13 of the projects were completed.
Since then, he has been working with his team at the ICP, developing new model structures for colleges to be part-privatised. Last December, City College Birmingham narrowly decided against becoming the first institution to come under the control of a for-profit company.
Now the ICP has turned its attentions to the FE Guild proposed by former FE minister John Hayes before he was redeployed to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
The FE Guild is expected to take "end to end" responsibility for professionalism in FE, offering voluntary individual and institutional membership, with a "chartered" status available for providers as a mark of excellence. Its task is to raise the reputation and status of the sector by being a "custodian of excellence" and providing a focus for raising professional standards.
While the AoC-AELP bid stresses that, under their stewardship, the guild would be owned by the sector, Mr Banks said that the ICP is proposing a "radical new social partnership for FE and its customers". His vision is of a "community interest company" reflecting the ambitions and requirements of businesses to ensure that learners are adequately prepared for the world of work.
"It is something that is owned and run by the sector but, in our proposal, I am bringing employers, including businesses and perhaps large public sector organisations, into the decision-making," he said. "Is what colleges and training providers are doing meeting the needs of employers and individuals?
"That's different from the sector-driven approach. The FE Guild is about the skills of everyone in the country . It's really important that employers have their say."
The bid has backing "in principle" from the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce and Trades Union Congress, he added.
IfL chief executive Toni Fazaeli said that while her organisation is a "central partner" in the AoC-AELP proposal it is "not party to and has not seen the proposal put forward by Chris Banks and his colleagues".
"In response to an approach (from ICP) shortly before the deadline (for submissions), we indicated that we would be open to talks should it be successful at the next stage," she added.
Photo: Chris Banks. Photo credit: Sam Stephenson
Original headline: Contest to run FE Guild becomes two-horse race