A new fund that aims to force college collaboration has opened for bids today.

Colleges can now tender to pilot the Strategic Development Fund, which was first mooted in this year’s FE white paper and backed with £65 million.

It is part of the government’s newly named “Skills Accelerator” programme, which also incorporates local skills improvement plans set to be piloted this year.

Both pilots will aim to tackle ministers’ concerns of “skills mismatches” when it comes to the provision offered by colleges and training providers in local areas to the detriment of employers.

The government wants 12 to 16 areas to pilot the Strategic Development Fund. The funding, which will consist of 60 per cent (£38 million) for capital and 40 per cent (£27 million) for revenue, must be used by March 2022.

In the fund’s application guidance, it says the aim of the pilot is to “begin building the local collaborations that will create a stronger and more efficient overall delivery infrastructure and support a more co-ordinated offer across the local area”.

They will also “support the development of a high-value curriculum offer in support of longer-term skills priorities” in a local area and “strengthen the relationship with employers”.

Each bid must be submitted by an Ofsted grade one or two college as a lead applicant which “must consult” with all colleges in the area and “invite them to join the collaboration”.

And where a college in an area does not wish to become a member of the pilot, the lead college “must confirm that the institution has been provided with an opportunity to join the collaboration and the rationale for them wishing to remain outside of it”.

Independent training providers are not permitted to be a lead provider but can be a member of the collaboration.

The proposals “must” provide a “clear justification for the collaboration membership and a high-level outline of the individual contribution of each member”.

Bids can also involve the creation of new college business centres, which were also proposed in the white paper.

Located in one of the colleges within the collaboration but acting as a “shared resource”, the business centres can “enable a strategic response to the needs of a priority local sector and play a pivotal role in connecting employers to the technical expertise and facilities of the collaboration as a whole”, the DfE said.

Proposals for college business centres should “specialise in a local priority sector whose employers would benefit from support to help them better understand and anticipate skills needs, and to make better use of the skills of their workforce.

“They would also be expected to communicate information about the sector’s evolving skill requirements to the providers within the collaboration, facilitating the development of and access to provision which is more closely aligned to the evolving skill needs of the sector.”

The DfE said it anticipates a “small number” of college business centres across the Strategic Development Fund pilot areas and does not expect every bid to include one.

Applications must be made by 25 May 2021 by emailing Skills.Accelerator@education.gov.uk.

No timeframe for when the pilots will formally launch has been provided.