Revealed: The number of bids in ESFA's traineeships tender

The government’s much-anticipated traineeships tender received 370 bids – a fraction of the number that had been anticipated by some in the sector.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency finally launched the bidding process for 19-to-24 traineeship funding on October 7, which was run on an “accelerated” timetable with a deadline for bids set for just three weeks later.

Up for grabs initially is a slice of £65 million to be spent between February and July 31, 2021, which will be split across nine regions in England – ranging from £20.8 million for London providers to just £2.6 million for the south-west.

The bidding window closed on October 28 and the ESFA has now told FE Week that 370 applications were received. The agency could not provide the total value being asked for at this stage.

Jim Carley, a tender specialist in the FE sector, previously said he expected “in excess of 3,000 bidders” based on the fact that the procurement did not have any provider eligibility criteria and the level of interest and oversubscription seen on previous ESFA procurements, such as the controversial non-levy tender.

Many eligible providers might have been put off applying owing to the minimum tender value, which was set at £250,000.

While providers were bidding for an initial £65 million in total to fund around 20,000 starts in the latter half of 2020-21, a further £315 million was made available to support continued delivery through to July 2023.

The traineeships tender is one way the government plans to triple the number of traineeships starts this year – as pledged by chancellor Rishi Sunak over the summer as part of his plan to combat youth unemployment following the coronavirus pandemic.

Employer cash incentives of £1,000 have also been made available, as has growth funding for providers to deliver 16-to-19 traineeships.

The ESFA intends to award contracts from the tender in January 2021.