Third sector learning providers could be at a disadvantage if the government agencies expected to replace the Learning and Skills Council next year offer larger contracts and introduce stricter rules on bidding in consortia, sector experts have warned.
In April, the LSC will be replaced by the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People's Learning Agency, sparking fears that progress made on procurement with the body will be lost. Tim Ward, chair of the Third Sector National Learning Alliance and chief executive of Learning Curve, which provides training for third sector organisations, said the two new organisations were expected to have a "hands-off" approach.
This would make it difficult to apply for the bespoke, small-scale contracts that often suited third sector organisations , he said, such as providing training and support for hard-to-reach people.
"There's been a lot of good work done by the LSC on third sector procurement, and we would hate to see that wasted," he said.
Lisa Vernon, chief executive of the Derbyshire Learning and Development Consortium, said third sector organisations that applied in consortia could fall foul of an EU rule that said the lead organisation in a bid had to carry out 51 per cent of the work.
"The Office of the Third Sector has said charities forming a consortium should be treated as one organisation," she said. "But we're worried that the SFA won't follow this advice."
The LSC said the two new agencies would continue the work it had done to develop contracting with third sector organisations.
"We are absolutely confident that the two new agencies will be taking forward the good practice already established by the LSC for engaging with and funding the third sector, where they are the best providers of learning and skills," said Margaret Coleman, third sector champion at the LSC.
"We've been in discussion with the sector on the transition and its implications over the past 12 months."