CONTROVERSIAL decisions to provide education funding to out-of-town providers - rather than long-standing local firms - have raised serious concerns for Barnsley’s adult learners.

Last week, the Chronicle revealed the South Yorkshire Combined Mayoral Authority’s (SYCMA) new devolved funding for adult education could see more than £300,000 taken away from yearly spending on services in the borough by WEA, which works in tandem with Local Mencap Barnsley.

And ‘really worrying’ observations have been made by other firms over the process for accessing funding, which has seen near-£1m contracts awarded to London-based companies ahead of local providers which were already working in the borough.

The authority has, as part of its devolution deal which comes into effect on Sunday, been given £36m for which providers were offered the opportunity to bid against a set of criteria.

Gez Morrall, director of Redbrook-based Independent Training and Education Consultants, said his company had bids for two of the four funding lots offered by SYCMA turned down - for supporting people to reenter the workforce and supporting young people, respectively.

With regards the former, five contracts were awarded to companies based elsewhere in the country.

London-based Skills Training UK and Free To Learn were given contracts, while Derby-based Momentum Recruitment, Stockport-based Standguide and Leicester firm The Construction Skills People will also hold responsibilities for training in Barnsley.

The total value of contracts in the lot was £3.5m.

Skills Training UK also won in the second lot, alongside Back to Work Complete Training, based in Manchester, Durham-based Learning Curve and Coventry-based Pet-XI Training - with a total of £1.5m made available.

That lot has, according to Sheffield City Region documents, a maximum cut-off of £249,000 to be spent in Barnsley - the lowest in South Yorkshire and less than half of Sheffield’s share.

In the two areas ITEC didn’t bid for - which involve adults in employment, self-employed or at risk of redundancy, and key workers with complex barriers to work - only the second awarded any Yorkshire-based firms with contracts.

“This doesn’t give South Yorkshire-based providers much hope of Dan’s levelling up campaign,” said Gez, who has more than 30 years’ experience working in the field.

“The contract values are over £5m for this year and I believe the funding would have been better spent with local providers that understand the needs in South Yorkshire and have delivered provision here for many years.

“What local knowledge do the new providers have in order to meet the needs of South Yorkshire residents and businesses?

“Do the new providers have vital links with local referral agencies and businesses?”

WEA chief executive Simon Parkinson said he’d tried to plead with Barnsley Central MP and South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis for a year, having stressed the issues devolution would cause.

But a spokesperson for the Mayor said he would not get involved as tendering is a legal process the authority has to go through.

The SYMCA spokesperson added the procurement process had been competitive, ‘fully open and transparent’.

“We’ve appointed an able group of providers to deliver adult education in South Yorkshire, and local residents will be able to access services that are better tailored than ever to their needs,” they said.

“We will keep a close eye on the sector, and as always, we will continually seek to strengthen provision so that gaps are filled and our limited resources produce the strongest possible benefit for our community.”