‘Secret’ construction firm keeping Chartered Institution for FE afloat

An unidentified construction firm is propping up the troubled Chartered Institution for Further Education (CIFE), as it pivots from being a membership body to conducting research for the sector.

The revelation came in a blog published this week on the institution’s website, which also disclosed for the first time that it had paid its advocate, former skills minister Sir John Hayes, in an advisory capacity. He has told FE Week that this was worth £5,000 for five months’ work in late 2018.

The institution, which is very much the minister’s brainchild, received around £1.5 million in subsidies from the Department for Education (DfE), before public money was cut off this year.

The blog reads: “We have gained sponsorship from industry, from a major construction company, who like many employers recognises and understands the value of gaining chartered status.”

The institution, which grants chartered status to FE providers, claimed this funding means it is now free-standing and sustainable for the long term. It is, however, yet to file its accounts for 2017/18.

The institution did not respond to FE Week’s request to reveal the identity of this mysterious benefactor; nor did it reply to a request to put a figure on the sponsorship.

While it was being funded by the government, the CIFE had been focusing on attracting members – its chief executive Dan Wright said that it needed 80 to be self-sustaining.

But the blog post said the last 12 months had shown “this isn’t what the CIFE is or should be about,” so the number of members is no longer its “major priority” – instead it is shifting to being more about “quality than quantity”.

The CIFE says it is now a “truly independent voice for our sector”, and can provide “critical challenge and support to key sector stakeholders” and fight for the needs of its members.

Additionally, the blog post shows that the CIFE is trying to recreate itself as a research body for the FE sector: “We have a renewed focus and have partnered with industry to undertake research for the benefit of the FE sector.”

Its construction industry sponsorship means the CIFE will be conducting research into the skills needs and gaps of the future construction sector workforce, which it predicts will be launched at the House of Lords early next year.

But the CIFE says it will remain accountable to its 16 members, who pay an annual subscription fee of £5,000; but for interested parties there is also a £3,000 nonrefundable fee to have an application reviewed in the first place.

Hayes, the MP for South Holland and The Deepings, declined to say whether his advice was funded by membership fees, but told FE Week it was not unusual for an organisation to seek advice and guidance on what it was doing and what it could be doing.

Because of a potential conflict of interest, the former skills minister had to have the financial arrangement cleared by the watchdog for former ministers’ new jobs, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

He had estimated that he would gain £15,000 a year for between 100 and 120 hours’ work with the institution, which would include attending council meetings and advising on future strategy, according to the parliamentary analysis service TheyWorkForYou.

The work took place on a pro-rata basis between July and November last year.

Although the institution was set up by then-skills minister Matt Hancock, the plans for it were drawn up by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills while Hayes was skills minister.

He said his appointment “went through all the independent scrutiny and vetting process and was approved and registered in the proper way at time”.

FE Week has been reporting on the troubles with the institution since it was founded in 2012.

It did not answer whether this new sponsorship meant it would begin taking on employees again. It had to get rid of them all when its subsidies were cut off.

It has so far failed to publish its 2017/18 accounts, saying that a technical error had held this up, even though not publishing accounts is a breach of the institution’s own bye-laws.

(Pictured: Chartered Institution for FE members at their inaugural admissions ceremony in the House of Lords in 2016; John Hayes pictured front row third from right)