§ Mr. Oaten
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills why the Offenders' Learning and Skills Unit cancelled the re-tendering exercise for prison education contracts due to take place this year; what the cost of this exercise was; and when the unit will next be seeking bids for prison education contracts. 
§ Mr. Ivan Lewis
Ministers took the decision to cancel the re-tendering exercise on the basis that it was no longer the most appropriate method of delivering provision. This decision was based on a number of key changes in the offender learning and skills environmentThe creation of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the introduction of new sentencing arrangements which offer an important opportunity to refocus work in this field and to improve coherence of offender learning across the custodial system and into the community;Central Government initiatives to free resources for front line delivery and to reallocate operational responsibilities between government and partners andThe need to reap the skills and workforce benefits of closer partnerships between key agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council, and the desire to bring offender learning and skills into the mainstream of post-16 provision.
The Offenders' Learning and Skills Unit is now working with these partners towards a phased introduction of a new integrated service by developing prototypes in up to three regions or areas. These prototypes will inform the development of comprehensive proposals for a national delivery framework for offender learning and skills, so that from the summer of 2005 we can move towards a new delivery partnership led by the LSC.
In the meantime, officials are negotiating extensions to existing contracts from September 2004 as we develop the new service, with minimal changes to avoid disruption.
The total cost to my Department of the re-tendering and re-contracting project up until the change in policy was £346,000. The majority of this would have been spent anyway in conducting policy development and administration, but it also includes professional, legal and technical advice specific to the project. Money spent on the latter has not been wasted as there will still be improvements to the delivery of prisons education, just not via a tendering exercise. Indeed, the main output of this project was a detailed specification for the new future service delivery; this was a valuable investment, as with some tailoring, this will form the key input to our new approach.