From education to employment

Sub-Contracting – A Response

I feel I must respond to Matt Garvey’s recent article about sub-contracting. Matt and I clearly have very different views about many things and I respect his opinions. It would be a strange world if everyone in the FE sector agreed about everything. I’m therefore saddened that not only has Matt chosen to personalise his piece but has included information which is palpably untrue.

So let me make a number of clear points:

Firstly, whilst I would never enquire as to Matt’s arrangements with other providers which are none of my business, he has chosen to publish the fact that we have on occasion acted as sub-contractors. And he is quite right. We have in the companies in which I have been involved,  over the years contracted with a number of different primes both colleges and ITPs, not out of choice but because it was the only way we could access funding. The relationships with those primes have always been very amicable but in choosing them, we had to discard opportunities with many others who, in my opinion, fitted firmly into the category of charging extortionate fees. Moreover, I don’t feel that “extortionate” is too strong a word. This has nothing to do with tabloid headlines, it is about the criteria set out by the SFA where they recommended guidelines around 10% for administration fees.

Many primes have clearly run a coach and horses through those guidelines and had to be coerced with the threat of loss of funding, to finally publish their rates on their websites. Even now, you often need a sat nav to find the obscure corner of the website where the rates are sheepishly detailed in tiny print. Matt knows as well as I do, that this isn’t about “one or two cases of malfeasance”, it’s about administration fees which are often 20% or above – double the recommended SFA guidelines.

Matt then says and I quote “It is lazy and churlish to find one or two cases of malfeasance and then declare that the total practice is corrupt.”. Who mentioned the word corrupt? Certainly not me. Do I think the system is unfair – Yes I do.  Do I think the system has prevented excellent small providers from operating on a level playing field with their larger counterparts – Yes I do. But corruption is a word I never used and have never for one moment suggested.

Matt then goes on to say, and I quote again “The rush to switch the bedrock of subcontracting and replace it with the quicksand of a free-for-all carries more risk than benefit.”. Again, who is advocating a free-for-all? Certainly not me. All I am saying is that providers who previously were unable to access funding directly, will in all likelihood (as long as they fulfil a strict due diligence process) be able to join RoATP and engage and negotiate directly with employers. That’s not a free-for-all, it’s the creation of a level playing field and a fantastic opportunity for small providers to grow their businesses. I would be very grateful if somebody could please explain to me why that is wrong.

Finally, it is surely not in dispute, that since it is now employers rather than providers who have access to Apprenticeship funding, then sub-contracting in its present form cannot exist – if you have no funds, there are no funds to sub-contract. I have made, what I would have thought was a perfectly reasonable and uncontroversial suggestion, that this huge change represents a fantastic opportunity for providers to consider new and stronger relationships based on an equal partnership. I’m only sorry that Matt chose not to comment on that. As Hillary Clinton said “You go low, I’ll go high”.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a specialist vocational training company focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills 

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