The Department for Education has batted away claims that it unlawfully overruled the scores of a major group of training providers in the latest adult education budget procurement.
Revised defence documents were filed by DfE lawyers on Friday in response to fresh allegations raised by Learning Curve Group (LCG) and its seven subsidiary training companies last month.
LCG launched a High Court case in August demanding a re-run of the £75 million procurement after all eight of its bids were unsuccessful. They claimed that the department breached its duties under procurement regulations in its evaluation of their bid, and were “deprived of a reach chance of winning a contract”.
The case rests on a row over Learning Curve’s Q1B1 submission – a template for bidders’ mobilisation and delivery plan which the DfE said should have included forecasts for training courses and learner numbers. A strict two-page limit was in place on the template, and bidders needed to score of at least 75 (good) to be successful.
DfE claimed the group’s submissions did not include the necessary detail to achieve a high score for Q1B1, namely an explanation of how their plans align with corresponding “volumes and values and spreadsheet”. LCG allegedly recorded forecasts for learning aim starts for sector subject areas rather than courses.
LCG countered this following sight of voluntary disclosure material which showed DfE’s evaluators scored their Q1B1 response as ‘very good’ – a score of 100. The material also revealed that non-evaluators were responsible for downgrading LCG’s response from ‘very good’ to ‘satisfactory’ – a score of 50.
Learning Curve also claimed that a “reasonably well-informed and normally diligent tenderer” would read and evaluate Q1B1 alongside the volumes template that was previously denied by DfE.
But DfE has now admitted that “a reasonably well-informed and diligent tenderer” would have understood that the mobilisation plan and the volumes template would be read – but not evaluated – together.
DfE’s fresh defence admits that the procurement evaluators “failed to apply” the award criteria for that crucial question because of the alleged missing information. As a result, the usual “consensus score” process, where two evaluators agree on a final score for a question, did not apply and the lower ‘satisfactory’ score was decided by a moderator.
The “major gap” in information, DfE claimed, meant LCG’s response couldn’t score higher than ‘satisfactory,’ contradicting the evaluators’ original judgement.
DfE lawyers maintain overruling evaluators’ scores in this way was lawful because the moderators “applied the published award criteria” to LCG’s submission through its quality assurance process.
It was also revealed that moderators intervened to revise Q1B1 scores for other providers’ bids.
LCG alleged that voluntary disclosure documents showed that the department evaluated Q1B1 responses from different bidders “on an inconsistent and unequal basis”.
DfE confessed to this in its latest defence. It said: “It is admitted and averred that the evaluators originally evaluated different bidders’ responses to Q1B1 on
an inconsistent and unequal basis. The defendant accordingly sought to remedy that failing in quality assurance, which it did.”
LCG declined to comment. The case continues.