Multiple mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) have promised to honour adult education budget payments to all types of providers during the coronavirus pandemic, including those with procured contracts.
It comes after the Department for Education announced yesterday it would only continue to pay grant-funded colleges during the crisis.
MCAs had millions in adult education budget funding devolved to them in August 2019 and now have the power to differ from Whitehall and make their own rules about administering payments.
Liverpool City Region, which has an annual £51.3 million AEB – around £15 million of which was awarded to private and community providers via a tender last year, told FE Week it has “written to all adult education providers to make clear that they will continue to receive funding on a monthly basis”.
The exact conditions and process for making payment is not yet known, but a spokesperson said they are “hopeful that we will be in a position to clarify the level of funding for each individual organisation by the end of this week”.
Tees Valley Combined Authority, which holds an annual £29.5 million budget, also told FE Week today it has committed to pay all its approved AEB providers, regardless of type as per their agreed future payment profile schedule, their agreed funding allocation for the academic year 2019/20.
They confirmed this meant that 100 per cent of the future funding profile within the AEB for 2019/20 will be paid to all providers regardless of recruitment.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said: “We are continuing to work closely with all of our commissioned adult education providers across the Tees Valley to make sure they have the funding and support they need, especially at such a difficult time.
“We have been speaking directly to each of them to understand their specific challenges and are focused on immediate responses to keep them operational.”
However, he added that any decisions on “productivity or reclaiming funding will be made in the future, when we have a clearer view on how the coronavirus situation has impacted the sector”.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers has said that other MCAs have contacted them to say that they will also “guarantee” AEB funding to all types of providers.
Mayoral combined authorities contacting AELP saying they will guarantee AEB funding to all types of provider. Hello DfE?
— AELP (@AELPUK) March 24, 2020
A letter to providers from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, seen by FE Week, said the funding decision for them is “incredibly complex, with multiple funding streams and provider supply chains in play”.
They are working on “how best” to support provider financial stability, for the next quarter in particular.
Each provider will get a one-on-one discussion with their contact at the combined authority “so that the immediate destabilising impact of any restrictions is mitigated as far as is within our gift”.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which had £12 million devolved, said their first intention was to offer their five procured providers “support and as much flexibility as possible during this difficult time”.
The authority has spoken to them all and are “developing proposals on how we will be able to fund them for the rest of the academic year”.
Not all MCAs are treating private providers and colleges the same. A spokesperson for the West Midlands Combined Authority told FE Week it will “continue to make scheduled AEB payments to all colleges and local authorities funded under a grant agreement”.
Private training providers will be paid “for this month, and the WMCA will be working with the providers to develop proposals for funding for the rest of this academic year and into 2020/21”.
The guarantees from the likes of Tees Valley will pile pressure on the DfE to take further steps to protect the income of independent providers, after skills minister Gillian Keegan confirmed in a letter last night the Education and Skills Funding Agency would guarantee 16 to 19 and AEB funding until the end of this academic year, but only for grant-funded providers.
“I hope this provides you with the funding certainty you require as you seek to address the impact of responding to Covid-19,” she wrote.
For private providers, the DfE said government policy “does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery”, so their funding won via procurement will not be paid until training is completed.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe was left “furious” and said the government’s goal “seems to be for the sector to collapse and remove any delivery to apprentices, other learners and their hundreds of thousands of employers”.
“As things stand,” he added, “there is only one word – disgraceful.
“We are left to conclude that the government is not serious about apprenticeship training or any other forms of skills training continuing while the pandemic goes on or that it is very happy to preside over many independent training providers going out of business over the next three months.”