AEB, Covid-19

Provider pulls out of £3m devolved contract due to low student uptake

'Potential learners just haven’t been able to commit to signing up'

'Potential learners just haven’t been able to commit to signing up'

A training provider is cancelling a near-£3 million adult education budget contract with a devolved authority and closing five centres due to a lack of student demand.

Go Train Ltd has put 32 staff at risk of redundancy after taking the decision to withdraw their West Midlands Combined Authority contract mid-way through the academic year.

The provider will, however, continue with its £3 million national AEB allocation held with the Education and Skills Funding Agency and expand its delivery of the government’s Restart jobs scheme as a subcontractor – which is its traditional delivery model.

Marco Ferrara, chief executive of Go Train, told FE Week the West Midlands took a “disproportionate” hit during the pandemic when it came to adult enrolments.

His provider has struggled to fulfil its annual maximum contract value with the combined authority every year since the WMCA took control of the £128 million AEB for its areas in August 2019 – leaving it “unviable” to continue with.

“We’re predominantly a face-to-face provider, but the pandemic has significantly impacted our turn-up rates from job centre referrals,” he explained.

“Covid has complicated people’s personal circumstances, such as childcare and work-sharing arrangements. Our potential learners, despite all the willingness in the world, just haven’t been able to commit to signing up. Over its lifetime, the WMCA contract just hasn’t worked for us.”

Ferrara wouldn’t share Go Train’s target or actual student recruitment numbers but said his provider was failing to hit targets by double-digit figures. He added that Go Train has spent half of its current 2021/22 contract in the West Midlands and they will complete the training for existing adult learners in the area before the remaining contract is handed over.

A WMCA spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Go Train have informed us they wish to withdraw from their AEB contract. We will work with the company to minimise disruption to their learners.”

Go Train has offered adult learning programmes as a sub-contractor since 1992 and currently offers sub-contracted provision for seven providers and colleges.

It only started to deliver directly funded AEB provision with the ESFA in 2017 and then the WMCA in 2019 to adults studying qualifications in areas such as employability, enterprise and retail.

Ofsted visited Go Train for the first time in 2019 and judged the provider to be making ‘reasonable progress’ in all three areas of an early monitoring visit.

Ferrara said Go Train will now invest in other areas of its business, such as Restart, and has even begun advertising for 13 new jobs.

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