Colleges and ITPs miss out again on Covid relief funds

A cash-strapped college is among more than a quarter of training providers to have had a bid for help rejected as part of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s second Covid-19 supplier relief scheme.

The news came as the country’s public spending watchdog revealed that the total estimated cost of the ESFA’s financial support scheme for apprenticeships and adult education had dropped by £117 million.

Bradford College, which almost went bust last year, had to make more than 100 staff redundant over the summer after its first application for apprenticeship relief was rejected – a decision the college’s principal branded “short-sighted” in June.

The college submitted another bid in round two but this week received the “disappointing” news that it had again been refused.

A spokesperson for Bradford College told FE Week they thought their bid was “unlikely” to be successful. They said: “We submitted our application based on our requirements for support over the coming months, as we work to recover and strengthen our apprenticeships provision and support our staff and students after a very difficult period.

“However, to be successful, the college needed to meet a set of criteria particularly around cash in the bank on the precise date of the application.

“This is again a disappointing result for us. During the year ahead Bradford College, along with other colleges across the country, is going to need that vital support from the government more than ever as colleges bear the costs of taking measures to protect staff and students during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The ESFA’s second round of supplier relief launched in June and allowed FE providers suffering from reduced learner numbers caused by the pandemic to bid for non-levy apprenticeship and adult education budget funding in advance of delivery for the period July to October 2020.

Data shared by the ESFA with FE Week shows that there were 112 applicants, but only 83 (74 per cent) were successful.

Seventy seven of the total bids came from independent training providers and 20 of those were rejected, while 35 applications came from colleges, of which nine were unsuccessful.

The agency said providers and colleges who failed in their bids did not “meet the ESFA’s ‘atrisk’ financial assessment”.

The ESFA’s first supplier relief round covered the period from April to June. It resulted in 165 applications, a third (58) of which were rejected.

FE Week analysis shows there are 734 providers with a procured adult education budget allocation and/or non-levy apprenticeship contract with the government – nearly all of which would have been entitled to bid for the scheme.

The results of the second round of ESFA supplier relief come in the week when the National Audit Office revealed that the total estimated cost of the scheme had dropped substantially.

The NAO’s “cost-tracker”, which has been published to provide an independent summary of the estimated costs of the government’s response to the pandemic so far, shows that the Department for Education first projected a cost of £144 million – but this dropped to £27 million by August 13.

The DfE told FE Week the original estimates reflected the total funds that “could have been requested from eligible training providers if they all applied for the full amount permitted by Cabinet Office guidance”. 

The revised estimated costs of the schemes “reflect the number of applications for relief received from eligible training providers”.