Combined authority ‘rewinds’ adult education budget tender after complaints

West Yorkshire Combined Authority said it had faced ‘substantial challenges’ to its contract awarding decisions

West Yorkshire Combined Authority said it had faced ‘substantial challenges’ to its contract awarding decisions

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A combined authority has made the “highly unusual” move of “rewinding” its adult education budget tender despite already revealing the winning training providers.

FE Week understands that West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) informed bidders of their procurement outcomes on May 14, with contracts set to start on August 1.

But, on May 31, bidders were told that officials had decided to “rewind the procurement” following complaints.

An email to providers, seen by FE Week, added: “No further information is required from bidders at this time and the combined authority will be in touch further in due course once the re-evaluation has been completed.”

The exact value of the tender, which is for adult education budget (AEB) contracts in 2024/25, is not known but the previous procurement round totalled £11 million and was shared between 19 private providers including Back 2 Work Complete Training, Learning Curve and Realise Learning and Employment.  

FE Week understands that WYCA had reduced the overall number of private providers with a procured contract to just nine firms next year before the tender was rewound.

‘The move is highly unusual and controversial

A source with knowledge of the bidding process called the move to rewind evaluations “highly unusual and controversial”.

They told FE Week they believe that the bidding process was “fundamentally flawed” due to the way competing bids were scored in terms of “social value” and “economic advantage”.

The source added that a lack of information about the procurement process and timeframe made it more difficult to challenge WYCA’s decisions.

When asked why the procurement process was being rewound, a WYCA spokesperson said: “We are confident in our decisions around our adult education budget allocations, but following substantial challenges we are reviewing them to ensure they’re fair. 

“We are building a stronger, brighter region and providing world-class adult skills courses is a key part of that, as it will help people get good jobs and ensure businesses have the workforce they need to succeed.”

Due to its commercial nature, mayoral authorities usually manage the procurement of training from private providers behind closed doors until contracts have been finalised.

But WYCA’s published allocations from last year suggest it had already confirmed its provider funding allocations by March – well ahead of the August 1 contract start date.

AEB funded training delivered by private providers in West Yorkshire includes short courses in construction, customer services and hospitality. Digital skills courses include digital technologies and creative skills.

The combined authority, which has a population of 2.3 million, is run by Labour mayor Tracey Brabin and has had devolved control of its adult education budget of about £66 million since 2021.

While around £11 million is distributed to private providers through procurement, the rest is handed to grant-funded education institutions like colleges annually. Under Brabin, the authority’s priorities have included supporting people into employment, progressing those on low wages and insecure work into better roles and increasing the supply of skilled workers into key sectors. It funded courses for 47,000 residents in 2022/23.

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