The results of the second attempted tender for funding apprenticeships with small employers (non-levy) are expected imminently, FE Week understands.

We reported last week that the ESFA had “postponed” releasing the outcomes of this procurement exercise, following extended delays and ultimately an aborted first attempt, as more time was needed to evaluate a “high volume” of applications.

The ESFA was unable at the time to say when the results of the £650 million tender round would be known, but FE Week understands their release is imminent and could come as soon as today.

“It obviously good news if the postponed non-levy tender results are announced soon, but it is frustrating that the government has not said anything publicly about this to reassure provider,” said Mark Dawe, chief of the AELP.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that as this remains a live procurement they are not able to comment further.

The message about the postponement sent by the ESFA on November 17 via the tendering website said the agency has been “pleased to receive” a high volume of tenders following a “very positive response to the Invitation to Tender for this procurement, and is currently finalising the evaluation process”.

It added: “In accordance with paragraph 8.2 of the Invitation to Tender, the Agency is making a change to the procurement timetable as set out in paragraph 8.1. The intention to issue award notifications to successful and unsuccessful Potential Providers is postponed, and will not now be issued on 21 November 2017.”

The postponement would have been frustrating for providers but may not have come as a surprise, as tender process was controversial for its timing, complexity and volume of information required that led to providers submitting nearly 1,000 official clarification requests.

In April, the first procurement process was paused and then scrapped for the 98 per cent of employers which are not subject to the levy as it was “markedly oversubscribed”.

The DfE announced at the time that the “new procurement bid window will close at the beginning of September 2017”, with new contracts awarded in early December, and delivery from January 1.

The new tender was launched on July 28 by skills and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton, leaving hundreds of providers disappointed.

She claimed there were several “critical differences” from the old one, including new tender-value caps and contract-award limits to “ensure greater confidence that awards are set at realistic levels”.

The cap on the old tender for large existing providers was £5 million, but this was removed to make the cap limitless.

“We recognise that we didn’t get the previous procurement exercise for apprenticeship training provision for non-levy-paying employers quite right,” Ms Milton conceded.

“Not only was it hugely oversubscribed, it did not achieve the right balance between stability of provision, promoting competition and offering choice for employers.

“We want the sector and employers to have certainty and clarity.”

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