The chancellor Rishi Sunak was personally “annoyed” at how long the Department for Education traineeships tender took to get off the ground, FE Week has learnt.
The Treasury did not deny this when approached for comment.
This latest revelation comes on the day that the DfE commercial team has further delayed the outcomes of the procurement, which throws into doubt the start date for new contracts.
Sunak announced way back on 8 July that he would make funds available to triple the number of traineeships this academic year – a key policy in his ‘Plan for Jobs’ for economic recovery from the pandemic.
The DfE later set out plans for a tender to expand the 19 to 24 traineeship market, with £65 million made available to fund around 20,000 new starts between February and July 2021.
The procurement was supposed to run over the summer but was delayed owing to a “significant amount of due diligence” that needed to be taken, the DfE previously said.
It finally launched four months later on 8 October.
Last Friday afternoon the DfE commercial team told bidders to the tender that the “high volume of tenders received” has “necessitated having to inform you that notifications of award will be delayed slightly”.
The DfE had planned to notify bidders of outcomes on 11 January, but said it would now aim to publish a revised timetable this week.
The agency updated bidders again this afternoon to say they will now not release the revised timetable until next Wednesday.
“The agency is continuing the process to evaluate and make award decisions of the responses received for this tender and will update the market by 20th January 2021,” the update said.
FE Week asked the agency multiple times throughout this week if the delay in outcomes would mean that the planned contract start date of 1 February would also be delayed, but we received no answer.
Stephen Evans, the chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, tweeted his disappointed about today’s latest delay.
“This is the expansion of traineeships announced by the Chancellor in JULY. Not only should they’ve been underway by now in my view, it should be better joined up with DWP. We’re failing young people hit hard by the pandemic,” he said.
The £65 million tender will be split across nine regions in England – ranging from £20.8 million for London providers to just £2.6 million for the south-west.
A further £315 million was made available to support continued delivery through to July 2023.
The DfE confirmed to FE Week that only independent training providers with a new traineeship contract for service, who have been successful in the recent traineeship procurement, will be able to deliver traineeships beyond 31 July 2021.
This does not apply to grant funded providers, such as colleges, whose grants do not expire.
For 16 to 18 traineeships, the DfE previously said was planning to launch a “market entry exercise” for other 16 to 18 study programme providers to start delivering traineeships.
Asked for an update on this, a spokesperson for the agency this week said: “There is already significant provider capacity to deliver traineeships to 16 to 18 year olds.
“We will keep the issue of provider capacity under review, as per the market entry guidance, and will update the sector should a decision be taken to expand capacity.”
Employer cash incentives of £1,000 have also been made available in the government’s effort to triple the number of traineeships, as has growth funding for providers that already deliver the programme for 16-to-18s.
Traineeship starts have been on a rapid decline in recent year, from a high of 24,100 in 2015/16 down to just 12,100 in 2019/20.