AELP turns to lawyers after minister claims apprenticeship providers ineligible for supplier relief

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers will seek formal legal advice to challenge the government’s decision to exclude over 1,000 apprenticeship providers from the Covid-19 supplier relief scheme.

Earlier today, FE Week revealed that a letter to MPs from minister Gillian Keegan said that their upcoming financial support will “not apply in relation to apprenticeships funded from employer digital accounts where the contractual relationship is between the employer and the provider”.

The AELP’s board met this afternoon agreed the letter “made it clear that the proposed support would only be available to providers in respect of apprenticeships offered by non-levy paying employers where providers hold ‘a direct contract’ with the Education and Skills Funding Agency”.

They unanimously agreed that the statement “ignores the fact that the levy is a tax as defined by the Finance Act 2016” and that levy-funded apprenticeships “also have a direct contract with the ESFA and so the DfE’s grounds for excluding relief for them were not justified”.

“Therefore the board has instructed AELP’s secretariat to immediately seek formal legal advice on whether the department is still failing to comply with the Cabinet Office guidance to which the minister’s letter refers,” a statement from the membership organisation said.

The DfE told FE Week that the Cabinet Office’s Procurement Policy Notice 02/20, which underpins their supplier relief scheme, applies only to circumstances where the service was procured under the Public Contract Regulations 2015 and is being delivered under a contract for services.

As reported by this newspaper earlier, there are currently more than 1,000 apprenticeship providers that only train apprentices from levy-paying employers and will therefore not be eligible for supplier relief support from the DfE.

A total of 593 providers currently have non-levy allocations amounting to £690 million, the contracts for which have recently been extended to cover the financial year 2020-21.

The DfE is expected to set out further detail on their supplier relief measures and the criteria for accessing it at the end of this week.