The launch date for the first round of long-overdue invitations to tender for European Social Fund (ESF) contracts has been set for Monday (December 7), FE Week can reveal.
The previous 2007 to 2013 Euro skills contracts closed on July 31 and none have gone out to tender through the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) since.
A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said that resulting funding gap had “led to staff redundancies, centre closures and even providers having to cease trading [because of the sudden loss of the ESF cash]”.
But an SFA spokesperson told FE Week this afternoon that “as communicated to our stakeholder group today, we have processed six specifications for NEET [not in education, employment, or training] provision, and we are now in a position to launch six Invitations to Tender on December 7”.
“The second set of invitations to tender are scheduled to be launched on December 14,” she added. “In line with our procurement process there will be a 30 calendar day bidding window (excluding December 24 to January 3 inclusive).
“The procurement programme is flexible and when we are in receipt of agreed specifications from Leps, we will process and launch them in appropriate sets, at regular time frames.”
The SFA is yet to comment on which six NEET geographic areas the first round of contracts will be tendered for.
It comes after FE Week exclusively revealed on November 10 that the SFA planned to run a “sequence of procurement” for handing out £650m of delayed ESF cash, which must be finished by the end of September next year at the very latest to allow a minimum delivery period of 18 months.
The delivery period, up to March 2018, was determined with ministers unable to say that the SFA would oversee anything other than apprenticeships beyond then.
Mike Bell, SFA deputy director for localism policy implementation, wrote to Local Enterprise Partnership (Lep) and European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) committees with details of the timeline (pictured above).
“Ministers have agreed that we cannot put in place contractual or match-funding arrangements beyond the point at which the SFA might cease to be accountable for the non-apprenticeship adult skills budget,” wrote Mr Bell, who said a new “simplified procurement initiation document” would help the process.
Furthermore, FE Week revealed in March that then-Minister for Communities and Local Government European Programmes, Lord Ahmad, had told Leps that only the London Lep would be allowed to “take decisions” over ESF funding.
The government had previously planned to give all 39 Leps a “direct role” in dishing out ESF cash, but his letter to them said the European Commission had barred this.
It is thought that the long-running dispute between the government and the European Commission leading up to Lord Ahmad’s announcement, over the role that should be played by Leps in the process, was a significant cause of delay with launching the tendering process.