Firms primed for new status after success on apprentices

Two Midland-based training providers have made the shift from delivering apprenticeships for lead providers to dealing directly with the Skills Funding Agency following success in a pilot scheme.

Leicestershire’s Steve Walker Associates (SWA) and Derbyshire’s Aspire Achieve Advance (3AAA) have become prime contractors for the first time after winning deals with the agency.

The reward follows the two firms’ successes in a pilot launched in July that aimed to boost apprenticeship numbers for 16 to 24-year-olds. And an agency spokesperson said other subcontractors could be in line for similar shifts to prime contractor status.

We’re very, very proud that we have been awarded our first prime contract and we’re determined to hit our targets and hopefully go beyond them,”

It comes eight years after SWA was established and just four years after 3AAA, which said it had 150 workers and a turnover of nearly £17m for 2011/21, was set up. Martin Rennison, operations director at SWA, said his firm’s £500k prime contract would deliver around 150 apprenticeships.

It runs apprenticeships covering IT, warehouse and storage, and business administration, among others. It had five subcontractor deals in May with lead providers including Wincanton and DHL, totalling just over £1m.

“We’re very, very proud that we have been awarded our first prime contract and we’re determined to hit our targets and hopefully go beyond them,” said Mr Rennison.

The cost of 3AAA’s new prime contract was not disclosed by the firm to FE Week. It had nine subcontractor deals in May with lead providers including Bedford College, Walsall College and South Staffordshire College, totalling nearly £10m.

Di McEvoy-Robinson, joint director at 3AAA, said: “We have worked hard for this recognition. There are few providers who are successful each year in securing their own contract and we have gone through a rigorous competitive tender process. Most importantly it is an endorsement of the quality of our delivery and services to apprentices.”

An agency spokesperson, who also declined to reveal the size of 3AAA’s new prime contract, said: “3AAA was one of a number of organisations that were successful in a recent pilot procurement to expand apprenticeships.

“The organisations invited into the pilot were based on a number of criteria including holding aggregate subcontract values of over £500k as declared on the subcontractor register published on the agency’s website on May 31, had passed the due diligence assurance gateway as at May 2012 and selected apprenticeships as a programme area they wanted to deliver.

“The pilot was a procurement exercise and was operated within procurement guidelines and managed through the Agency’s e tendering portal. All organisations that applied were informed of the decisions in relation to their application through the e-tendering portal in September 2012. The agency operated the normal stand still period for procurement decisions and is unable to comment further until contracts have been signed.”

She added: “Contracts are currently being finalised. We will publish on our website the contract values as part of the regular refresh of our contracting position.”