Anne Milton is the MP for Guildford and Minister for Women and Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills State in the Department for Education. On Monday the preview of an interview with her was published to question why the outcome from a £650m procurement process which was due to be announced last Tuesday has so far not been announced. According to the article “the Education and Skills Funding Agency has so far been unable to say when the results of this procurement exercise would be released, and Ms Milton did not manage to provide an answer today”. However this is not the first delay in this process and the impact on training providers including those who are part of the Further Education sector has been significant. In theory, the training which is intended to be offered to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) would have begun earlier this year at the beginning of May as part of the Apprenticeship Levy so the impact on SME’s is also of concern. Finally the impact on potential apprentices is also significant as the training is intended to help deliver on the Governments target of 3m apprenticeships each year. In the three months from April to July 2016 117,000 people started apprenticeships. In the same period this year that figure plummeted to 48,000. The number of apprentices commencing during 2015/16 totalled 509,400 so the starting position was in any case quite low.
The process for the new apprentices for SMEs began a year ago on 25th November 2016 when the deadline for the tender by training providers was met by those who managed to fill in the forms and answer the numerous questions set out for them by the ESFA. The scheduled date for the outcome was 14th March 2017 and the apprenticeship process should have begun on 1st May. The March date came and went and nothing was stated by anyone including Anne Milton who is the Minister responsible for “apprenticeships including the apprenticeship levy”. Then a month later on 12th April a statement was published:
‘This procurement was markedly oversubscribed, a sign of the significant level of interest from the training provider market in the apprenticeship reforms. In response, ESFA intends to pause the current competition. This will allow us to review our approach to ensure that we achieve the right balance between stability of supply and promoting competition and choice for employers. It is important that we fully consider how best to achieve these outcomes in a way that achieves the best value for employers and apprentices as we move to a fully employer-led system.’
In order to avoid problems for the existing training providers who are funded by the ESFA, their contracts were extended to the 1st December (Friday!) and a second procurement process was undertaken. The deadline for this was set as Monday 4th September. On Friday 1st September the criteria for the application was changed and the deadline was extended by a week till the 8th September. The date for the announcement of the outcome was set as the 21st November which would have given providers around 8 working days until their contracts were due to expire. With two days to go there is no news about the existing providers. However finally the Government has rolled over and apologised when Anne Milton gave her “sincere apologies” . However is an apology enough bearing in mind how many mistakes have been made? Anne Milton states “These exercises are not easy to run. Things will only be delayed to make sure we get it right” The full interview with Anne Milton is due to be published on Friday in the same publication. The day that the FE providers existing contract are due to end. If as Anne Milton believes ‘Mrs Do as you would be done by’ has resonated throughout her adult life as shown above, is she suited to the task of Government Minister? On a more serious note someone within ESFA and DfE must be willing to go further than to apologise. This is messing up the FE sector, the economic success of SME’s and the career prospects of potential apprentices. Someone must accept responsibility for this catalogue of errors.