A fresh European Social Fund tender worth £17 million is in the works and is expected to launch next month.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency today revealed plans for the procurement which would be open to eight local enterprise partnership (LEP) areas that have gaps in provision.

It is, however, subject to funding being secured from the European Social Fund “managing authority” – the European Commission.

The ESFA completed a European Social Funding procurement in January 2019, where a total of £309 million of contracts for use up to 31 July 2021 were won by 49 training providers.

Contracts were then extended to March 2023 supported by additional funding of £137 million.

In its weekly update, the ESFA said today there are eight LEP areas of the country where learning provision was not extended or existing provision will finish significantly ahead of March 2023.

The new procurement is intended to “ensure that gaps in provision are filled and learners supported”.

Training providers who are successful in the bidding process will “have the opportunity to provide a flexible support and respond to Covid-19 recovery for learners most affected by the pandemic (NEETs, unemployed and low skilled workers in employment),” the ESFA added.

Officials will be hoping to avoid the controversy caused by the ESF procurement in 2019.

The ESFA delayed issuing contracts several times, after multiple providers claimed that the government broke tender rules, namely by excluding the “track record” section when marking bids, while the ESFA has admitted to “errors”, such as naming Serco Regional Services Limited as a winner instead of Serco Limited.

Providers were also aggrieved to find out that Learndirect’s new owner had secured contracts worth more than £20 million, in conjunction with his other company Dimensions Training Solutions.

Further questions were asked about the tender in March, after FE Week discovered an “unprecedented” amount of tie-breaks in the procurement.

One aggrieved provider even threatened legal action against the ESFA, but decided to drop this because of the likely cost and a fear of repercussions from the agency.

For the new £17 million tender, the agency anticipates that an invitation to tender will be made in mid-June 2021 and the contracts are expected to commence in mid-October this year.

The proposed eight LEP areas include:

    Worcestershire LEP

    York North Yorkshire & East Riding LEP (More Developed & Transition Areas)

    London LEP – South

    London LEP – North & East

    Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire LEP

    South East LEP

    South East Midlands LEP

    North East LEP

    Solent LEP

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