“Tackling uncertainty head on” – Guest Blog from an ITP CEO

Your professional coronavirus experience will be different dependant on the type of organisation you lead. For example, the significant majority of college leaders were already attempting to navigate their way through a highly complex environment at a relentless pace with a lack of funding and certainty in many key areas of provision. This challenge is one I know intimately having served as part of a college senior leadership team for 14 years. The financial health of the college sector has been well publicised and there’s no doubt that the novel Coronavirus will compound an already difficult financial position, particularly in terms of planned commercial and levy revenue given these streams are not covered by the proposed “funding relief scheme” (though several college leaders I have spoken to plan to access the Job Retention Scheme for staff directly attributed to commercial and Levy delivery).The first few months of my tenure as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Lean Education and Development Ltd have certainly been interesting. The emerging and very real threat that is Coronavirus has tested the leadership skills of every college and training provider leadership team in the country.

Those independent training providers operating as subcontractors to prime contractors should expect that their primes will operate with integrity and ensure that protected funding is passed down the supply chain to support ongoing delivery. The recently released ESFA guidance certainly suggests this will be audited to ensure primes are “doing the right thing”. My own experience would support the notion that a prime will do just that. It is important however that primes are communicating their intentions quickly and concisely to provide the certainty needed by leaders of subcontracting operations and this doesn’t appear to be happening in every instance.

I am in regular dialogue with leaders of independent training providers operating directly in the space of either Non Levy Apprenticeships or Adult Education Budget funded qualifications and they have been busy furloughing the majority of their staff and applying for the Coronavirus Business interruption Loan Scheme (largely without success to date). The announcement on Friday 17th April confirming that a “funding relief scheme” will be available for those providers who are eligible (detail to follow at the time of writing) is potentially positive news for leaders but will involve a significant 180 degree change in direction in terms of furloughing staff, loan applications and any other wider financial relief applied for.

Lean Education and Development Ltd fall into the final category, an independent training provider funded by the Apprenticeship Levy and therefore completely unsupported by any form of targeted supplier relief. The company is one of over 1,000 providers in the country in this position as FE Week reported recently: https://feweek.co.uk/2020/04/21/minister-tells-mps-over-1000-apprenticeship-providers-will-not-be-given-any-supplier-relief/. I have spent countless hours over the last few weeks mitigating the immediate financial and operational risks born from Coronavirus. This included reforecasting revenue (sensitivity analysis included), controlling day to day cashflow, recalibrating expenditure, negotiating with supply chain partners, furloughing staff, accelerating the ambitions of the digital strategy to reflect the emerging business needs, applying to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) whilst continuing to ensure the core staff team still operating during this time remained focused on not just the short term challenges but also the two year business plan and the five year strategic plan corporate priorities. Thankfully this has all been supported by my excellent Senior Leadership Team and Board.

Having consulted with many of my peers operating as CEOs in similar independent training providers, their experience has been the same. It is with this in mind that I wanted to share some tips pertaining to the our successful CBILS application (Lean Education and Development are one of the very few successful applications to date).


The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

Here are my top ten tips to write a successful CBILS application:

  1. When compiling an application, forecast, reforecast and then reforecast again. Be ruthless in terms of the revenue assumptions made over a two year period and clearly identify the revenue bridge created by the coronavirus pandemic i.e. the size of the ask
  2. Ensure your financial forecast evidences how your organisation will utilise the loan requested to trade through the short term Coronavirus pandemic and illustrate the medium and longer term financial sustainability of the company. This will provide certainty for the lender in terms of recovering the sum lent and score your organisation with a lower risk rating
  3. Provide evidence of the company’s performance during previous financial year/s to illustrate the performance that can be expected once we return to business as usual state. This will help to validate the longer term financial forecast you have presented
  4. Ask your preferred lender the sum they can locally agree without the need to refer to their central credit team
  5. If you have a positive working relationship with your relationship manager then use it to help steer your application. Our relationship manager at RBS is fantastic and he really supported us through the process
  6. Consider proposing to consolidate your borrowing with the lender to whom you are applying for financial support. This may be an attractive proposition for a lender given they can then have full visibility of your financial position, acting not as the principle lender but the sole lender
  7. Include a coronavirus action plan as part of your application. I have an overarching risk register operating at Lean Education and Development Ltd, within which is a section dedicated to Coronavirus. This provides the lender with a degree of certainty that all risks have been or are planned to be mitigated and the leadership team has considered all options prior to the application being submitted
  8. Provide a clear line of sight within your financial forecast of how you will manage negotiated deferred payments to supply chain partners, particularly the HRMC Time To Pay (TTP) scheme. It is important that the lender is reassured that the capital and interest payments agreed on the loan application that come into effect after 12 months are achievable.
  9. Provide evidence that all avenues for financial support have been explored prior to the application, for example I was able to state that as at the time of application there was no financial support available from the ESFA for Levy funded providers (this has subsequently been validated).
  10. Don’t be afraid to remind the lender this is a fast moving and volatile situation and therefore the assumptions you have made in your financial forecast may need to be adjusted over the coming months and as such you may need to submit a “wave 2 application” to increase the amount of borrowing.


About the author


Matt Phelps - Chief Executive Officer for Lean Education and Development Ltd

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