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The procurement of adult education contracts after July 2017: opportunities and challenges

Independent training providers were informed in October of this year that their current adult education contracts would end next July, rather than be automatically renewed as before.

This was a result of changes to EU procurement regulations that were first announced in the SFA document ‘Adult Education Budget: Changing context and arrangements for 2016 to 2017’, published on 28th January 2016.

The changes affect independent training providers funded through contracts for services and not FE colleges and local authorities which are funded through grant arrangements. This means that part of the Adult Education Budget is subject to competition through a procurement process, and the procurement process is open to ALL providers on the Register of Training Organisations (RoTO) who have passed capability and capacity for the delivery of education and training. The new contracts would be for 2017 to 2018 with an option to extend contracts for a further two years, which would be subject to review on an annual basis.

Independent training providers have expressed concerns that grant funded providers are not affected by the changes but are able to tender for this part of the Adult Education Budget, and this could mean either reductions in their contract values or some providers exiting the market all together. However, independent training providers who are currently delivering adult education as subcontractors will now be able to contract directly for the provision and increase the proportion of funding they retain. With their more efficient costing models and also improved outcomes for adult learners, as well as their greater flexibility and resilience, independent training providers could do well in this new context. Similarly, grant funded providers can use the opportunity to expand their offer and also test themselves in open competition. The funding agencies will benefit in terms of improvements in value for money, and also more focused use of public funds, at both national and local levels. With more devolved powers and funding after 2018/19, local commissioning could increasingly be on a competitive basis, so this could be useful experience for all providers.

So as with any change, there could be winners and losers, and all providers will have to improve their capabilities and performance in the more competitive environment. The key issue, however, must always be, how will adult learners, with their many different needs and expectations fare in this new world?

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