The new tender for apprenticeship provision allocations for non-levy-paying employers has been launched at long last today.

Hundreds of providers were left disappointed after the Department for Education paused and then ditched the first procurement process for the 98 per cent of employers not subject to the levy in April, after it was “markedly oversubscribed”.

The DfE said its new tender, launched today by the skills and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton, has a number of “critical differences” from the old one, including new tender value caps and contract award limits to “ensure greater confidence that awards are set at realistic levels”. For large existing providers the cap on the old tender was £5 million but that has now been removed and it is unlimited.

Allocation awards will be “in line with current levels of geographical delivery in the nine English regions”, and it includes “improved” scoring criteria and evaluation methodology, and the ability to “grow above award values in year, subject to a number of conditions”.

“We recognise that we didn’t get the previous procurement exercise for apprenticeship training provision for non-levy paying employers quite right,” said Ms Milton.

“Not only was it hugely oversubscribed, it did not achieve the right balance between stability of provision, promoting competition and offering choice for employers.

“We want the sector and employers to have certainty and clarity which is why I am delighted to be able to confirm today that we are launching a new procurement exercise worth a minimum of £440 million.

“I am confident that this will deliver the stability and geographical spread that is needed so that even the smallest employers can have their pick of high quality training providers to meet their skills needs.”

The procurement will be open until the beginning of September this year, during which time the register of apprenticeship training providers will not be open for new providers.

Contracts and allocations for the non-levy funding will run between January 2018 and April 2019, when the government aims to bring all employers onto the digital apprenticeship service system.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said it was “really fantastic” that the skills minister has “listened to AELP and its members in coming forward with a solution that should strike the right balance between stability of provision, promoting competition and offering choice for employers”.

“With potentially a near 50 per cent increase in the overall budget, this is a very positive step forward from the scrapped tender with a proper focus on existing capability and capacity in respect of good quality providers who have plenty of SMEs lined up wishing to offer apprenticeships.

“At the same time the approach allows for the possibility of growth for providers of all sizes, whether existing or new, who perform well against their contract and deliver good quality apprenticeships to learners within small businesses.”

He added that “hopefully” today’s announcement should “significantly reduce the chances of ‘apprenticeship deserts’ appearing across the country following the big drop in starts since April”.

The DfE admitted today’s new tender would be a “highly competitive exercise”, and providers are expected to submit “high-quality bids”.

The new procurement will not affect training provision for existing learners.

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