Claim Government ‘desperately slow to tackle looming crisis’

Meg Hillier
Meg Hillier
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The Government is failing to do enough to prevent a “looming crisis” in further education with the authors of a report warning cost pressures have “potentially serious consequences for learners and local economies.”

Business leaders in the county have repeatedly warned of a skills shortage and after today’s publication of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, which looks at the financial health of colleges in England, its chairwoman Meg Hillier, MP, said colleges gave people the skills and qualifications that could transform lives, and in turn bolster local economies.

While 29 colleges were deemed “financially inadequate” in 2013/14, the Skills Funding Agency predicts that number will more than double to 70 by the end of the 2015/16 academic year. The PAC report criticised the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Skills Funding Agency for “not doing enough to help colleges address risks at an early stage.”

Coun Dave Green, Bradford Council leader and chairman of the West Yorkshire Further Education Review Group said: “The cuts in further education funding, particularly adult education funding is a real concern.

“It’s going to prevent people getting the skills that they need to get into employment.”

He said reviews should not simply be about the financial health of the sector but also about ensuring individuals and firms could get the skills and training that they and local economies needed.

Many firms in the region are still struggling to find skilled staff. Yorkshire’s construction industry is facing its greatest skills crisis in almost 20 years, according to a survey released earlier this year by RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors).

Ms Hillier said today: “The Government has been desperately slow off the mark to tackle a looming crisis in further education. This is deeply worrying for a sector which equips people with skills and qualifications that can transform their life prospects, and by extension those of the communities in which they live and work.”

The committee is calling for the Government to introduce measures including ensuring the Further Education Commissioner has adequate resources to intervene when colleges are struggling. It also calls for a more proactive approach in helping FE colleges prepare for the “significant financial challenges they face in the likely event of further funding cuts”.

Nick Boles, skills minister, said: “We have protected funding for further education and will be increasing real-term spending by more than a third in the next five years, furthermore funding for apprenticeships will have doubled since 2010.”

He added: “We recognise the important contribution the sector makes to increasing opportunity for young people and businesses, and ensuring our long-term economic security. With early intervention from the funding agencies, the FE commissioner and locally-led area reviews, colleges will become more efficient and financially resilient..”