Although most of the feedback from members that I have received about yesterday’s ESFA announcement supports AELP’s initial response welcoming the paused non-levy procurement, I am acutely aware of the level of frustration at the latest turn of events and that not all providers are happy about it. Last night I made those feelings abundantly clear to the Agency’s leadership.
We were hoping for some more clarity in a further statement today from ESFA. Arguably the biggest issue concerns the position of the new main providers who will be denied new direct business while the pause is in place. These providers can still deliver levy payers’ apprenticeships but we urgently need a statement on the subcontracting arrangements that will be permitted after 1 May.
To all providers who understandably feel that their considerable time and effort was wasted on the ITT, there are two things to say in response. Firstly in the Agency’s own words, this is a ‘formal pause before they recommence it’. In other words, the scoring of your bid may still be taken into account in the final outcome. But the important point to recognise, especially in the case of current main providers, is that the £440m tender was massively over-subscribed. So even if your bid scored top marks, there would have been very little chance of getting what you bid for. Yesterday’s announcement may even allow for contract growth between now and the end of 2017 and therefore most main providers will benefit from the pause.
Some providers have been critical of AELP’s position but we would argue that we have been entirely consistent given what we have been told publicly and privately in recent months. We have regularly said that the DfE and ESFA have been far too ambitious in trying to introduce too many funding, quality, standards and assessment reforms for apprenticeships at the same time. Our watchwords were ‘evolution, rather than revolution’ and MPs on the joint Business and Education select committee for skills clearly agreed with us in their sobering report a fortnight ago. The decision to run the ITT certainly fell foul of those watchwords and AELP said months ago that existing contracts should be extended at least until August of this year.
With regard to the specifics of yesterday’s announcement, it is obvious that the government simply ran out of time and hence the lack of detail in it. No one should be in any doubt that the reaction to the publication of the first RoATP list had a direct impact on the planned release of the non-levy allocations. In fact it threw everything up in the air. Ministers and officials have burnt the midnight oil on a Plan B but in the end they had to concede that the pause was the most sensible solution available to them.
Senior AELP colleagues and I have been literally in daily contact with DfE and ESFA officials since the Register was published and we have been trying to get answers to the questions arising from the RoATP application process being reopened immediately and the implications for non-levy contracts. They have been willing to share some information with us but, fearful of leaks to the press, not all. Any pertinent information has been passed on to members in Countdown. The problem though with the limited information being shared is that we are not always able to point out any obvious pitfalls in the government’s line of thinking before an announcement is made.
We said to the ESFA last night that they need to say something at least about the subcontracting rules. Without a pause in the changes to subcontracting rules, the proposed way forward will be significantly undermined. AELP has made this view very clear and the ESFA fully understands the concern. Having said that, we are unlikely to get clarity until next week. With the support of the AELP Board’s Funding Group, we are already logging some very important questions to put to officials early next week. If you have any that you wish us to consider plus any other views, please email: [email protected]
Only a few months after the huge concerns arising from the August consultation proposals for funding 16-18 apprenticeships, I recognise that for some members your Easter break has been spoilt by these latest developments and that your strategic business planning has to be revisited again when all you want to be doing is going out to engage with new employers and take on new apprentices. But on balance, we feel that the ESFA announcement yesterday was the correct option and AELP will now do everything it can to work with the government to ensure that there is a long-term solution that is sustainable for employers of all sizes, those wishing to start an apprenticeship and for providers without whom the whole programme reform process would collapse.
I urge members to keep feeding us your views via the email address above and in the meantime, I hope you have a pleasant weekend.