AELP not convinced with subcontracting overhaul

A major sector body has rejected nearly half the proposals in a government consultation which aims to radically overhaul subcontracting rules.

Ten recommendations were put forward by the Education and Skills Funding Agency in its ‘subcontracting post-16 education and training’ consultation, which closed on March 17.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers, which represents hundreds of providers and employers, did not support four of them, including the idea that subcontracting partners ought to be no more than “one hour away from the prime contractor by car”.

Instead, the AELP argues, the focus should be on the whereabouts of the learner or employer, and subcontracted learners “should be in the same region as any direct delivery” – it should not based on “the location of the subcontractor’s head office”.

Another of the agency’s proposals, to limit the ESFA-funded post-16 learning a provider may subcontract through a percentage cap on subcontracting which steadily reduces over time, has also run up against AELP opposition.

The setting and applying of arbitrary percentages is “not helpful,” the association says, as “inappropriate” limits will “damage learners, communities and employers”.

The ESFA also wants to make prime providers inform them when they intend to subcontract entire programmes from 2020/21, and will make providers seek permission from 2021/22.

This is already in place for apprenticeships, but the AELP said the agency must consider those are longer and more complex than the post-16 training programmes being discussed in this consultation.

As many adult education budget and European Social Fund programmes are “considerably shorter”, it would be “impractical and inappropriate” to expect prime providers to deliver just a part of the training or assessment, the association argues.

They warn if more than one provider was involved, it could also harm the relationship between the provider and the learner and employer.

However, the AELP wants the government to take firmer action in certain areas.

As part of a proposal for providers to publish more information about the funding it keeps from subcontractors, the agency says it “expects” the prime to retain no more than 20 per cent, as it is worried about the impact retaining more has on training quality.

Whereas the AELP believes calling that an expectation “does not go far enough to address the issue of profiteering that the ESFA say they are wanting to rule out”, and the 20 per cent should be a specific policy instead.

Main providers also ought to be “open and transparent” with fees and charges, the AELP states, and should publish them on their website and also make payment terms “clearly” defined in the contract between the main and the subcontractor.

Those fees and charges, the association adds, should relate to the delivery of training – separate from other payments to enhance delivery like incentive payments for AELP not convinced with subcontracting overhaul supporting younger apprentices.

Chief executive Mark Dawe criticised the ESFA for “going down the road again of burdening the sector with more unnecessary red tape”, saying if the current rules had been enforced they wouldn’t be revisiting the matter.

AELP has now called for all subcontractors to be inspected directly by Ofsted, regardless of their size.

The association also repeats its proposal for the whole adult education budget, including what has been devolved to mayoral combined authorities, to be put out to tender.

Dawe summed up his association’s contribution by saying instead of “a complex rewriting of the rulebook” the government should be “encouraging the procurement of as much funding as possible to substantially increase the amount of direct provision by good providers with local delivery arms”.

The ESFA’s consultation was launched last month after a series of subcontracting scandals, most recently at Brooklands College, which resulted in the ESFA demanding clawback in the region of £20 million.

The ESFA plans to start implementing rule changes at the start of 2020/21.