Minnows make the big league for contract list

24th February 2012 at 00:00
Boreham Wood FC among pound;430m FE subcontractors

Subcontracting among FE providers has always been a difficult issue. Accusations of a lack of transparency have often been laid at the Skills Funding Agency's (SFA) door, not least since it raised the minimum contract level to pound;500,000, forcing smaller providers to club together if they wanted to win public funding to provide training.

But this week the SFA took the unprecedented step of publishing a full list of all subcontractors with an aggregate contract value of pound;100,000 or more.

The results are striking, revealing that more than pound;430 million - more than a tenth of the agency's total pound;4 billion training budget - is disseminated through intermediate providers to others lower down the food chain.

The biggest single subcontractor is TLE Training, an adult education specialist, which received pound;10m through UFI. It is one of 90 providers that have indirectly received pound;1m or more in total from the agency.

But not all the funding goes to the traditional FE powerhouses of colleges and independent training providers. At the other end of the spectrum, millions of pounds in funding is being passed on to sole traders - individuals, rather than institutions, who are contracted to provide government-funded training.

Colleges, too, are likely to come under scrutiny for their use of resources. The document reveals more than 900 instances of colleges subcontracting providers to do their teaching for them.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that its members work with subcontractors for many different reasons, and insisted that most of the arrangements work well for students and providers. "Colleges accept their responsibility as contractors and know that the quality of the work that the subcontractor delivers must be as high as if they were delivering it themselves. Longer-term relationships with subcontractors are often built around a need for niche experience or expertise.

Many colleges have engaged with subcontractors in order to meet strict government deadlines for moving provision away from the Train to Gain programme, Mr Doel said. "We would expect to see more colleges bringing this type of provision in-house over time as they continue to develop their own capacity."

Another surprising revelation in the list is that schools appear to be playing an increasingly influential role in providing FE. Among the pre-16 providers being indirectly funded for their post-16 provision are: William Farr Comprehensive School in Lincoln (which received pound;821,000), Blackfriars School in Staffordshire (pound;495,000), Barking Abbey School in east London (pound;219,000) and The Bishop Bell School in East Sussex (pound;205,000).

And it is not just schools that are making a move into the "Cinderella sector" from other parts of the education sphere. The University of Bath received pound;272,000 for offering FE courses, administered through Wiltshire College and the Lawn Tennis Association.

A number of football clubs have also been subcontracted to offer training, including Bolton Wanderers (which received pound;372,000), Sheffield Wednesday (pound;200,000), Ipswich Town (pound;130,000) and Doncaster Rovers (pound;121,000). But football fans might be surprised to learn that the club that is the biggest player in the FE world is none other than Boreham Wood FC, languishing in the sixth tier of the English pyramid structure. The club received a cool pound;1 million through the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London.

It would seem that FE subcontracting, just like football, is a funny old game.

Big business

Biggest FE subcontractors Contract value

pound;10m

TLE Training

pound;9.8m

Aspire Achieve Advance

pound;4.8m

Lean Education and Development

pound;4.3m

Targeted Training Projects

pound;4m

MHS Homes.

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