RoATP and ROTO: Can we guarantee value for money when some providers are locked out of the market?

Back in April the ESFA temporarily closed the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). The reasons cited were to allow time for applications in progress, and second applications, to be completed and assessed against the backdrop of the coronavirus lockdown. The ESFA themselves were not immune from the lockdown, and a temporary closure was arguably reasonable in the circumstances.

At the time, the ESFA stated that they “will advise further on when and in what form the Register will re-open” and “take this opportunity to review our future approach to the register”.  Seven months on, however, and the register is still closed with no indication as to if or when it will be reopened.

Whilst the register is closed, the market is continuing to see apprenticeship tenders being released with, quite understandably, the requirement for bidders to be registered on RoATP. This raises two potential questions. Firstly, is it fair that some bidders may be excluded from these opportunities by virtue of an effective bar on new RoATP registrations and, secondly, are we sure that the taxpayer is getting best value for money if such suppliers are excluded? Public procurement is based on the core pillars of transparency and contestability, and this can only be upheld where registers such as this remain appropriately open to new providers.

The Register of Training Organisations (ROTO) presents similar controversy. ROTO is the ESFA’s current mandatory register for providers delivering non-apprenticeship education and training services such as AEB, including subcontractors with an aggregated contract value of £100,000 or more. As it stands, ESFA AEB providers must comply with ROTO even though this Register has been closed to new entrants since 2016.

The ESFA has, however, confirmed that it will be decommissioning ROTO on the 31 July 2021. The current AEB Funding Rules section on ROTO concedes that “this section is subject to potential further amendments and clarifications” and that “these changes are likely to be made in further iterations of this document”. With a national AEB tender round looming, it will be hard for the ESFA to bar non-ROTO providers, and these rules could (and arguably should) be relaxed quite shortly.

The pressure for RoATP to re-open, or at least for the ESFA to publish a roadmap to it re-opening, will surely mount on the back of this. In the short term, at least, the RoATP requirements should not significantly change. If they did, it may well require all RoATP providers to apply yet again on a revised yet hopefully level playing field, but the ESFA would probably rather avoid that in the short term. Abandoning RoATP altogether is probably an even more problematic option. So, for the time being at least, why not open the register up again, to give new entrants a fair chance?

Carley Consult will continue to monitor the RoATP situation and provide updates wherever possible. If you would like to receive these directly please get in touch by calling 01302 361630 or emailing info@carleyconsult.co.uk.