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Building Colleges for the Future (Barnsley)

Volume 491: debated on Monday 27 April 2009

4. What assessment he has made of the effects on sixth-form provision in Barnsley of the financial difficulties in the Building Colleges for the Future programme. (270735)

I understand the difficulties being faced by Barnsley college, which is one of the 144 capital projects being considered by the Learning and Skills Council. The additional £300 million of capital funding that was announced in the Budget, including £80 million from my Department, will enable a number of the most urgent projects to start within the spending review period. In line with Sir Andrew Foster’s recommendations, the LSC is consulting on which capital projects can be brought forward in that period.

First, may I point out that I have not changed my name and that the entry on today’s Order Paper is a typo? I am still the MP formerly known as Eric.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. He knows perfectly well the situation of Barnsley college. The fourth element of the college’s rebuilding scheme is accommodation for our sixth forms, because the vast bulk of our sixth-form provision is within the college. Will he add his voice to that of the local Barnsley MPs in pressing the Learning and Skills Council for a decision in relation to Barnsley college—I hope one that will allow that fourth phase of the development to go ahead?

My hon. Friend will understand why it is hard for me to press the LSC at this stage while it is carrying out its consultation, but as I said, in the next two years, £80 million of 16-to-19 funding is being brought forward now to help to deal with the issue. I understand the particularly acute needs of Barnsley college, given the advanced state of the plans and the investment there. The consultation will be done properly. We will also ensure that no college loses out. Like him, I would like the building of that final stage of the Barnsley project to be completed as soon as is practically possible.

I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that all the secondary schools in my constituency have sixth-form provision. On 2 March, they were given their figure for the year. By 23 March, some schools had £90,000 removed from them—within three weeks. Will he meet a delegation of headmasters from my constituency and explain to them why they are losing so much funding and will have to cut sixth-form provision in my constituency?

I fear that the hon. Gentleman may have missed the Budget announcement, which allocated—

No, the hon. Gentleman did not miss the Budget announcement, in which case he will know that in the Budget we allocated £650 million over the next two years, which will guarantee more than 50,000 more learners, and all the learners in 2009-10 and 2010-11, including in his college. I am happy to have a meeting with those headmasters to say to them that they are getting the money. I hope he is not misunderstanding the position and he ought to be pressing his Front Benchers, who so far have failed to match our September guarantee for September 2009 and September 2010. That is what I will say when I meet his college principals: we are the ones guaranteeing the money; the Conservatives are the ones guaranteeing the cuts.

It is not only Barnsley that has these problems. Skem college has outstanding a £41 million development of a new campus—a first and major step in the regeneration of Skelmersdale, which is a town of significant deprivation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in Skem college is vital for the social and economic ambitions of the town and the college, and that a needs-based approach must be the one that is adopted when reviewing these matters?

My hon. Friend is completely right and that is what Sir Andrew Foster proposed. He said that the Building Colleges for the Future programme is a brilliant programme. It is helping hundreds of colleges around the country and it is a record investment, but we have more colleges with plans than we have resources available. That is why this must be based on need. I have to tell my hon. Friend that if she wants to see that investment flowing through, it is vital that she continues to campaign for a Labour Government, because the Conservatives would cut those budgets.

Of that £650 million, will the Secretary of State confirm that some has been allocated to the excellent Telford college of arts and technology? In a time of rising unemployment in Shropshire and the west midlands, the college does a great job in reskilling and retraining people, and indeed keeping young adults in full-time education, yet they have been let down. They were told to think big and plan big, but now they are being told that a large extension cannot go ahead because the funds have dried up. That means that at least £1.6 million from existing funding will have to go into the design costs, let alone the abandoned build costs. Will he commit in the House today to TCAT being allowed to expand to meet the rising demand?

The point I made a moment ago was that we have more projects in the pipeline than we have resources in the next two years and that the LSC is going through a prioritisation review. We will ensure over the coming years that all those projects are completed in time, because we will guarantee the funding, which the Conservative party would cut.

It is also the case that, because of the £650 million allocated in the Budget, the LSC has been able to write to all schools and colleges today to tell them that we will be guaranteeing the funding for September this year and next. We will fund the September guarantee because we want all young people who want to do so to stay in school or college or be on an apprenticeship. However, despite my repeated requests, I cannot get similar backing from the Conservative party because the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) knows that the cuts committed for his budget would not allow that funding to flow. That is the difference. If the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) is honest, he will tell his constituents that fact. I am the one guaranteeing the funding. His party is not.