Exclusive: Lep areas revealed for first round of invitations to tender for delayed ESF contracts

These are the first areas which the will be involved in the first round of long-awaited invitations to tender for European Social Fund (ESF) contracts, FE Week can exclusively reveal.

The previous 2007 to 2013 ESF contracts closed on July 31 and none have gone out to tender through the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) since.

However, FE Week revealed last night that the launch date for the first round of six invitations to tender for not in education, employment, or training (NEET) provision had been set for Monday (December 7).

The SFA did not say which regions these would apply to — but FE Week now understands the local enterprise partnership (Lep) areas that the invitations to tender will go through will include Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, and Solent (covering the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton).

The other Leps involved will be Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, and Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership, which  is understood will be involved with two contracts including one specifically for offenders.

An SFA spokesperson declined to comment on the areas this morning, saying it had to “follow a 48-hour rule which is in the new public contracts directives 2015”.

“The information has to be published to the rest of the EU prior to us publishing nationally,” the spokesperson added. “Therefore LEPs can publish on their website on Monday after 5pm but not before.”

It comes after an SFA spokesperson told FE Week yesterday that “as communicated to our stakeholder group today, we have processed six specifications for NEET provision, and we are now in a position to launch six Invitations to Tender on December 7”.

“The second set of invitations to tender are scheduled to be launched on December 14,” she added. “In line with our procurement process there will be a 30 calendar day bidding window (excluding December 24 to January 3 inclusive).

“The procurement programme is flexible and when we are in receipt of agreed specifications from local enterprise partnerships (Leps), we will process and launch them in appropriate sets, at regular time frames.”

It follows another FE Week exclusively on November 10, which revealed how the SFA was planning to run a “sequence of procurement” for handing out £650m of delayed ESF cash, which must be finished by the end of September next year at the very latest to allow a minimum delivery period of 18 months.

The delivery period, up to March 2018, was determined with ministers unable to say that the SFA would oversee anything other than apprenticeships beyond then.

Mike Bell, SFA deputy director for localism policy implementation, wrote to Local Enterprise Partnership (Lep) and European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) committees with details of the timeline.

“Ministers have agreed that we cannot put in place contractual or match-funding arrangements beyond the point at which the SFA might cease to be accountable for the non-apprenticeship adult skills budget,” wrote Mr Bell, who said a new “simplified procurement initiation document” would help the process.

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