Coronavirus: 'Furious' AELP boss says government wants skills sector to collapse

The government’s goal seems to be for the skills sector to “collapse”, a “furious” Mark Dawe has told FE Week after officials failed to provide apprenticeship funding support during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive tonight lambasted the “disgraceful” decision and demanded an urgent meeting with skills minister Gillian Keegan.

New guidance released by the Department for Education stated that policy “does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery”, so funding for apprenticeships cannot be made until the training has taken place.

The situation has left providers in a “battle to survive”.

Dawe told FE Week: “I am furious that after weeks of discussions the government has made no attempt to provide any assurance to independent providers and end-point assessment organisations as to any future funding relating to any of their delivery.

“It seems their goal is for the sector to collapse and remove any delivery to apprentices, other learners and their hundreds of thousands of employers.  As things stand tonight, there is only one word – disgraceful.”

Here is his reaction in full: “The omission of any DfE funding support for apprenticeships and other skills training goes completely against the assurance offered by the Secretary of State to the House of Commons last week.

“We are left to conclude that the government is not serious about apprenticeship training or any other forms of skills training continuing while the pandemic goes on or that it is very happy to preside over many independent training providers (ITPs) going out of business over the next three months.

“How are providers expected to implement the proposed flexibilities in today’s statement if they have vastly reduced income coming in? It is now a battle for survival. The majority of provider staff will be furloughed which means they will not be available to support the training of apprentices and other learners.

“Coming after Friday’s guaranteed funding support for mainstream FE provision, the DfE statement adds insult to injury. For example, it says that “government policy does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery” and yet this is precisely what it announced for colleges on Friday.  ITPs delivering adult education, traineeships and other forms of training have similarly been offered zero assurance by today’s statement.

“Then on apprenticeships, the statement goes further and lays down terms for clawback of funding from independent training providers if the crisis means that apprenticeships can’t be completed.  Given that it is not their fault that they cannot gain access to apprentices or assess them, this is beyond the pale.

“Unless the government urgently rethinks its stance that it has had two weeks to think about, we are likely to see the start of the collapse of the training and assessment sector over the next week unless action is taken on funding, and those employers who want training and assessment to continue will have no place to go when this is over.

“Colleges only deliver 2 per cent of apprenticeship training.  This means that they are no position to rush in and fill the gaps that will appear in key sectors and in many towns and rural areas across the country, including the Red Wall areas, if ITPs, who deliver nearly seven out of 10 apprenticeships, start going bust.  Niche provision in sectors like textiles will also suffer very badly.

“Another important point on the quality of provision is that nearly all ITPs have made the transition across to the new apprenticeship standards whereas less than six months away from the switch-off of frameworks, many colleges are lagging in making the change.

“So employers looking to get back on their feet after the end of the pandemic will find that the apprenticeships that they want won’t be available to them.  And soon that other oven-ready solution of EU migrant labour won’t be there either to fill the gaps.

“What about this year’s school-leavers aged 16 or 18?  Where are the opportunities going to be for them if lots of apprenticeship training providers are no longer around?

“This is why any further delay on a funding support package for apprenticeships and ITPs is totally unacceptable.

“AELP has this evening demanded an urgent meeting with the apprenticeships and skills minister.  We also hope that MPs on the Commons Education Committee will be raising these issues with the minister when she appears before them on Wednesday.”