The government will publish subcontracting fees for providers across the country in June, the education minister Nadhim Zahawi has revealed at long last.

Individual lead providers were previously required to publish their annual figures by the end of November every year.

This changed from 2016/17, when new rules dictated that providers had to inform the ESFA of their figures, which should then be published centrally.

But the agency came in for heavy criticism as November passed without any indication of when the full figures would be revealed for last academic year.

Gordon Marsden

The sector finally got its answer today, after Gordon Marsden, the shadow skills minister asked, through a written parliamentary question lodged last week, when the government planned to publish the fees.

“The Education and Skills Funding Agency will publish the level of funding paid and retained by providers for each of their subcontractors that delivered full programmes or frameworks during the academic year 2016 to 2017 in June 2018,” Mr Zahawi has said in response.

Criticism of the delay has been led by education select committee chair Robert Halfon, who has demanded action on what he has described as a “deeply worrying” situation.

He urged the ESFA in January to collect the data immediately, after it was confirmed that subcontracting fees would not be made public in time for parliamentary inquiry hearings into concerns about the system, by both the Commons education and public accounts committees.

The ESFA finally announced on April 11 that “all providers who ‘provision subcontracted’ last year have been contacted by email” about the issue. They were sent a template to fill in their fees on and return.

“You need to submit the template that we sent to you to the ESFA fees and charges mailbox by 5pm on Friday, April 27,” it added.

Subcontracting management fees have become a source of mounting controversy, reaching as much as 40 per cent, as was infamously levied in some cases by Learndirect.

Lead providers often claim the fees are needed to cover administrative costs, but many in the sector believe that too much money is being diverted from frontline learning. 

Mr Marsden has previously criticised the ESFA over its “double standards” on the figures. 

“The continuing failure of ministers and the ESFA to provide this data, after they had trumpeted loudly taking responsibility for it, risks hampering hugely the work of public bodies such as the education select committee’s current enquiries on the concerns around subcontracting,” he said.

“It seems to be double standards, a case from this government of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.”

The DfE’s apparent delaying tactics indicated “defensiveness”, Mr Marsden claimed “not least in terms of its decisions in the Learndirect funding controversy”.

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