Training providers are unhappy over the handling the adult education budget procurement process, with having their contracts rejected despite near-perfect scores in the bid evaluation.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency finally revealed how much cash private providers will receive to deliver AEB training in 2017/18 on August 4, after the results of the bidding war for the £110 million pot were serially delayed.
Since then, however, FE Week has since been inundated by providers who privately fear the tender will have catastrophic repercussions for their business, and who have complained about the agency’s bidding process from the start.
Although most are afraid to go on the record in case the ESFA makes it harder for them to win contracts in the future, a few were able to discuss what they claim is unfair treatment.
A provider based in Essex, which did not want to be named, is being forced into administration due to its failure to get an AEB contract.
During the tender process, providers had to answer six evaluation questions with a maximum score of 100 each. The minimum overall score a provider needs to achieve to be awarded a contract was 345.
The unnamed provider told FE Week that their organisation scored 575 out of 600 and had applied for £350,000, but received no allocation “whatsoever”.
In a rejection letter seen by FE Week, the ESFA said that although the bid did meet the required threshold, “we reserved the right to prioritise contract awards, in key policy priority areas”.
The letter added that due to the level of “oversubscription” during the tender “we have only considered the priority provision element of your bid when distributing the budget available”.
The agency then applied a pro-rata calculation which resulted in a contract award of less than the £100,000 minimum threshold, meaning no allocated was given.
The provider described the situation as “absolutely terrible”.
I don’t believe they had adequate funds to go around and it was all a farce
“We were delayed by months which resulted in loss of other opportunities and not given any solid reasons why we did not get an award even though we passed all the requirements.
“I don’t believe they had adequate funds to go around and it was all a farce. We will now go into administration.”
Meanwhile Debbie Tagoe, chair of Greater Merseyside Learning Providers Federation, which has 80 private training organisation members, said she knew of eight providers which not receive an allocation, but expects the final number to be “much higher”.
She said the main reason ESFA gave for not giving an allocation was that once the pro-rata reduction had been applied, many bids did not meet the £100,000 minimum threshold.
“Some of our members scored very high results on their bids – 500 points and above – but did not receive an allocation.”
Ms Tagoe claimed that larger providers who “scored as low as 350 were successful in securing funding”.
Missing out on a contract means there is “no opportunity for growth” among smaller providers, and “survival becomes more critical”, she claimed.
A Nottinghamshire provider, which did not want to be named, said it was “very concerned” about its funding which was “in effect” a 40 per cut – or £200,000 – reduction compared with its 2016-17 allocation, despite meeting or exceeding the required scoring on all of the six evaluation questions.
Private providers were told they would need to enter a tender for a slice of a £110 million pot for the AEB last October, due to changes to European Union law.
Colleges – which contract with the ESFA through a grant funding agreement – have not been affected by the changes.
There has been a 10-day standstill period between the end of the tender on August 4 and the awarding of contracts, which ended at midnight on Monday (August 14).
Providers will now be in contact with the ESFA to fight their case for getting an allocation.
If you want to tell FE Week your AEB allocations story you can get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.