Over-allocated ‘discretionary funding’ now stalling apprenticeship decisions as college describes ‘negative impact’ and FE leader calls lack of info ‘crazy’

The delay in confirming growth requests for 16 to 18 apprenticeships and traineeships is the result of the Department for Education (DfE) over-allocating funding, FE Week can reveal.

Providers who submitted growth requests to help fund apprenticeships and traineeships in 2015/16 are still desperately waiting for news – despite the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) setting a deadline of 8 January to respond.

A DfE spokesperson said of the pending growth requests: “It’s not clear when we will be able to confirm it because we have over-allocated our discretionary funding for 2015/16 and have to get permission to release the funds for these growth bids.”

Asked when the issue would be resolved, they described it as “really unclear”, adding: “Officials say they’re hopeful the situation could change as early as tomorrow.”

Jerry White, the deputy principal of City College Norwich, warned: “This uncertainty could have a negative impact on prospective apprentices and their employers.”

Colleges and training organisations can submit growth requests to receive additional funding for 16 to 18 apprenticeships or traineeships if their existing money does not go far enough, or if they think it would allow them to deliver extra services.

Mr White added: “The uncertainty caused by this unexplained delay will affect colleges’ basic financial control function of ensuring that we have the funding in place to cover our expenditure on delivery.

It’s not clear when we will be able to confirm it because we have over-allocated our discretionary funding for 2015/16 and have to get permission to release the funds for these growth bids.”

“The SFA’s failure to provide this funding announcement to their own published timetable hinders the ability of senior management teams to have well-informed discussions with governors about their plans for expanding 16-18 apprenticeship provision.”

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said he found the delay “surprising” in his weekly update to members.

“As far as I know we haven’t heard anything on 16 to 18 traineeships and apprenticeships, which is crazy.

“I just can’t think of any reason why that’s been delayed and it has highlighted what we’ve said all along — the biggest barrier to apprenticeship growth will be the contracting process,” he said.

The over-allocated discretionary funding is the responsibility of the Education Funding Agency, bringing it under the remit of the DfE.

When asked about the growth case delay the DfE said: “We have already created 2.4m apprenticeships and are committed to creating a further 3m more by 2020. We have already been able to meet growth requests for adult apprenticeships and will confirm the position on 16-18 apprenticeships as soon as possible.”


Editorial : Honesty is the best policy

Take a moment to empathise with the Central Delivery Service (CDS) advisers at the Skills Funding Agency.

As if what must feel like annual restructures at the Agency were not stressful enough, they represent the front line in communications with embattled providers.

On the 23 December last year they dutifully emailed colleges and training providers to “confirm the outcome of any 16-18 growth requests” would occur as planned, by 8 January.

Yet as FE Week went to press, nearly a month later, there remains little to no news about when or whether the apprenticeship growth requests will be granted.

What we now know is an unrelated budget mess at the DfE is to blame.

Do civil servants at the DfE know what damage this does to the relations between providers and their SFA CDS adviser?

And even if they do, will they even care?

History has shown that these growth requests are granted in the end, but at what cost to the very human relationship between funder and provider?

Communication is key, and a DfE claiming to be committed to transparency should practice what they preach.

Nick Linford, interim editor