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I’d imagine a straw poll of the recent ITT for Non Levy would reveal that most think it has been an ocean-going cock-up. However, there has been a silver lining and that has been the success of subcontracting. While subcontracting has a few vocal detractors, I have been an unwavering fan. This is because I believe that subcontracting has been the single most effective method of bringing new entrants into the training market. It has enabled new providers to enjoy the support and sometimes protection of a larger and more experienced prime. Where done well that prime has nurtured the subcontractor, developing their capacity and expertise in order to make them compliant, robust and successful.

The recent ITT has provided these subcontractors with their first meaningful opportunity to drop the ‘sub’ from subcontractor and go it alone.

Over the last six years, as a prime, WBTC has supported three subcontractors who were recently successful in the ITT. Through partnership meetings, mock inspections, audits and real Ofsted inspections we have helped them to learn the ropes and become confident in the world of funded learning. Sometimes there was ‘tough love’ along the way and other times there was genuine joint sharing of excellence. I have no doubt that these providers would have struggled to succeed without that period of development and mentoring.

Now, as they embark on the next phase of their journey I wish them well. I have seen first-hand how they have become strong providers offering a great service and great value for money. They have in effect served their own apprenticeship and the ITT was their EPA. Consequently I have no hesitation is recommending First Intuition Reading, First Intuition Chelmsford and Manley Summers as high quality independent providers who can deal directly with employers of all sizes. They have deserved their ITT success.

For us as a ‘prime provider’ at WBTC, the journey doesn’t end. The omnishambles of the ITT has left some great providers out in the cold, mainly owing to the arbitrary contract thresholds. They are subcontractors who are main contractors in the making. They have great staff, great employer relationships and some innovative and exciting programmes. What they need is access to the market and that can now only be done through a friendly prime provider. The ITT proved that subcontracting works by providing the springboard for new contractors. We need to sustain that cycle of development for the many smaller and newer providers who passed the ITT but were left with nothing. Through subcontracting arrangements they will develop and flourish ready for 2019 and the universal launch of the digital account. This can only be achieved if the current ‘suspension’ of the subcontracting rules is maintained.

The danger, if the subcontracting rules are tightened, is that there will be no further new entrants to the market or worse, those who do enter will have very little experience or proven track record. Furthermore, existing provision will be lost, some of it specialised and of great social value and it will not be replaced.

Commentators said that the ITT would be the end of subcontracting. It has, in fact, proven the tried and tested value of subcontracting relationships. Subcontracting has enriched and diversified the market enabling new provision to become good provision. Subcontractors have, through subcontracting, been able to demonstrate their eligibility for a contract of their own. Without that opportunity, afforded by prime providers, what chance would they have had?

Matt Garvey, Managing Director, West Berkshire Training Consortium

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