DfE discussing ‘options’ to reverse provider’s £3m funding cut

DfE discussing ‘options’ to reverse provider’s £3m funding cut

A 10,000-learner provider on the brink of collapse after it lost 97 per cent of its funding has been “assured” the government is discussing “options” to reverse the cut – but there’s been no change yet.

On Monday, bosses at Somerset Skills & Learning were joined by four Somerset MPs and various county council representatives for a meeting with the Department for Education to “urgently review” the £3.3 million cut to its adult education budget.

The provider’s chief executive Susie Simon-Norris and its director Kathryn Baker told FE Week after that the skills minister Anne Milton had been “supportive”.

Ms Baker said she had been “assured that options will be discussed”, though confessed that “at this point there is no change to our funding situation”.

The community learning provider, which is rated ‘good’ by Ofsted and has around 200 staff, won a new AEB contract during the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s recent tender, but was awarded a mere £111,000 – a shadow of the £3.4 million it had been allocated last year.

Courses have now been put on hold as it faces a catastrophic reduction in provision at 10 centres across the county.

Somerset MPs Marcus Fysh, James Heappey, Rebecca Pow and David Warburton, all members of the Conservative party, first met with Ms Milton last Wednesday to raise concerns and were offered Monday’s meeting with DfE officials.

Ms Pow said she was “pleased” to get the chance to “promptly discuss the issue”.

“We had a full and frank discussion with Ms Milton and the ESFA,” she said. “Officials are considering all options to try and plan a way forward.”

She added that all parties are expecting a “full and detailed response” to the solution by the end of this week.

But even while SS&L had its funding eviscerated, the nation’s biggest FE provider, Learndirect, has been handed an AEB contract worth £45 million – even though it recently received Ofsted’s worst possible grade – something that usually prompts the DfE to terminate a provider’s funding.

The DfE finally admitted last week that Learndirect had at first applied for funds during the recent AEB tender, but that it later withdrew its bid.

As a result, it has been given 75 per cent of the value of its previous contract, after the ESFA significantly changed tender rules at the eleventh hour.

The AEB tender for private providers was itself dogged by delays. Results were supposed to be released on May 19 after it was first launched on January 27, for a sum that originally came to just £110 million. Results were finally published on August 4.

Main image: From left: David Warburton, MP for Somerton and Frome, James Heappey, MP for Wells, Anne Milton, apprenticeships and skills minister, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, and Marcus Fysh, MP for Yeovil