Traineeships tender finally launched but with short deadline

Training providers have been given less than three weeks to bid in the government’s much-anticipated tender for 19 to 24 traineeship funding.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency yesterday launched an “accelerated” bidding process worth an initial £65 million to expand the provider-base for adult traineeships.

A deadline of 28 October has been set for applications. The ESFA intends to award contracts in January 2021.

The initial funding period will be from 1 February until 31 July 2021 – the deadline chancellor Rishi Sunak has set for tripling the number of traineeships to help boost the economy after Covid-19.

The ESFA’s tender documents, seen by FE Week, state that the total funding to be allocated to successful contractors for the initial period will be £65 million across nine regions in England (see table below).

This funding is expected to deliver “a total of circa 20,000 traineeship starts by eligible learners between 1 February 2021 and 31 July 2021”.

The total procurement has contracts worth £233.5 million up until 31 July 2023, and there will be options to extend the funding up to £380.5 million.

The ESFA said this will be a “very competitive exercise” and so to mitigate significant oversubscription and “speculative” bidding, the agency has set tender caps that “take into account the experience and potential capacity of potential contractors”.

Caps will be set at £1 million for brand new providers, £2 million for current subcontractors, and £3 million for existing providers.

In order for their bid to be successful, potential contractors will need to “demonstrate how they can quickly establish strong relationships with employers, Jobcentres, the National Careers Service, Local Enterprise Partnerships and other local partners to recruit learners, including through referrals from Jobcentres, and to tailor the traineeship programme to real-time needs of the Learner and local labour market”.

The procurement was supposed to run over the summer but was delayed owing to a “significant amount of due diligence” that needed to be taken, the ESFA previously said.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief policy officer Simon Ashworth said: “The delay and short procurement window are frustrating, but the ESFA has probably struck the right balance between the total initial awards and holding funding back for existing contractors and new entrants who perform well during the 30-month period.

“As the agency says, the ITT is going to be very competitive and so it should definitely be looking at the track record of providers and colleges in delivering traineeships, apprenticeships and AEB before choosing the winning bids.”   

The ESFA said it is using an “accelerated timetable” for this procurement to support Sunak’s Plan for Jobs. The agency’s previous adult education budget tender, launched in January 2017, had a deadline of a month.

Other AEB tenders, such as the devolved procurement run by the Greater London Authority in 2018, had a two-month deadline.

Initial funding period budgets for each of the nine regions in England