Barnardo’s left stranded by non-levy tender

Barnardo's left stranded by non-levy tender

Children’s charity Barnardo’s has been left stranded without an apprenticeship training contract through the controversial non-levy tender.

The huge charitable organisation has a proud history of placing young people with barriers to work, who often come from vulnerable backgrounds, with smaller employers, and training them as apprentices. 

But its chief executive Javed Khan spoke of his disappointment over the procurement outcome, which it is claimed goes against the government’s repeatedly expressed aim of increasing social mobility.

“Barnardo’s has been delivering apprenticeships for more than 30 years,” he said. “However, we have been penalised for bidding for funding to deliver an apprenticeship training contract that we felt we could realistically provide, rather than overbidding for something that we could not deliver.”

He claimed they had been denied a contract “due to pro-rata rules, rather than the quality of the tender”, which means the Education and Skills Funding Agency will be “losing a great opportunity to deliver high-quality and successful apprenticeships to more young people in need”.

“We urge the agency to reconsider and award a £200,000 allocation so we can continue to provide apprenticeships next year,” he added.

It is understood that the ESFA’s lawyers would not budge on its £200,000 minimum rule for contracts through this much-delayed procurement.

Barnardo’s thinks this is unreasonable considering its long record of supporting disadvantaged youngsters, and applied for a figure it felt it could realistically deliver.

Barnardo’s Employment, Training, and Skills was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2016. At the time of the inspection, 63 learners were on apprenticeship programmes and 93 were on a study programme.

Last year Barnardo’s support helped secure an 82-per-cent progression success rate for young people on its study programmes, while 74 per cent of its apprentices successfully completed their programmes. 

The positive impact of this training was felt in places such as Bradford, North Tyneside and Birmingham.

The only option available now to providers like Barnardo’s, if they want to stay in apprenticeships, is to seek to become a subcontractor of another large provider.

But they could potentially lose 20 to 40 per cent of their funding in the management fees often demanded by a prime contractor. 

The controversial procurement exercise is the second of 2017 after incoming skills minister Anne Milton scrapped the first. 

FE Week reported on December 15 that the ESFA was extending back the 10-day standstill period for the non-levy tender.

It had been expected that contracts would be awarded from December 18, but the ESFA confirmed today that this process will now begin from tomorrow.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers complained that several good and outstanding providers stand to have missed out on contracts through the non-levy tender, putting them at risk of going into administration.  

It has called for an urgent review of the non-levy procurement outcome which requires new contracts to be issued for the start of January, and written a letter to the Department for Education saying that all providers that passed the scoring criteria and bid for over £200k should get a minimum contract of £200k. 

This, AELP claims, is “possible and appropriate” because “the wording of the tender documentation would allow this approach as it doesn’t define available budget and determine precisely the pro-rata approach”.

“If this additional allocation was made, it is very unlikely anyone will complain”, a spokesperson added, as “government procurement rules set out clearly that they should encourage more SME engagement, not put hundreds of them out of business”.

AELP boss Mark Dawe said: “It is great there are new providers involved, great that employers are more involved, and the investment in apprenticeships is amazing.  However the current implementation is damaging so many providers and it will set back progress in improving productivity and social mobility. Ministers have to think again.”

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.