MP demands rethink over drastic spending cuts to further education

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18 Nov 2015
Paul Farrelly, Labour MP for Newcastle, has urged the government to change course on its ‘slash-and-burn’ approach to post-16 education. 

Mr Farrelly’s comments came as the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, faced criticism in the House of Commons over possible 25% plus cuts to FE and Sixth Form college budgets in next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Mr Farrelly highlighted a letter he had received from 129 further education chairs,  including Newcastle College locally, which have been left vulnerable by funding cuts and overburdened by increased responsibilities without adequate resources. 

Slamming the government’s approach, during the debate he drew attention to the ‘sudden funding reductions which have taken place not once but twice already this year, and which have made it impossible to plan’.

‘Will the Secretary of State agree that this is no way to run a whelk stall, let alone our further education sector?,’ he said.

Ms Morgan refused to be drawn, however, over the settlement she has accepted to the post-16 budget as part of Chancellor George Osborne’s forthcoming Autumn Statement. 

In response to cuts so far, the Government has also recently started ‘area reviews’ into FE provision, which are expected to herald mergers and closures of colleges by 2017.

‘Choice and competition often drive standards, therefore any enforced closures for budgetary reasons under the slash-and-burn approach may be detrimental to standards for post-16 education in future’, Mr Farrelly cautioned.

During the debate, Labour MPs indicated that budget for FE and sixth form and college budgets could fall by at least £1.6 billion under Tory spending plans, while schools and academies with sixth forms would be exempt from the ‘area reviews’.

The 16-19 education budget fell by 14 per cent in real terms over the last Parliament. In their manifesto, the Conservatives promised to protect primary and secondary school budgets up to 16 in cash terms only, while Labour pledged to protect the entire education budget in real terms, including post-16 and early years.