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Building Colleges for the Future Programme

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 30 April 2009

9. What recent progress has been made in implementing the Government's Building Colleges for the Future programme; and if he will make a statement. (271885)

In 2008-09, the Learning and Skills Council FE capital budget of £547 million helped to support the development of 253 projects. The LSC has supported more than 700 projects at nearly 330 colleges, with only 42 colleges not benefiting from any capital support. More than half the college estate has been modernised, and we remain committed to the FE capital investment programme. The 2009 Budget announced that an additional £300 million of capital funding will be made available in the current spending review period. Also, for planning purposes, we are working on the basis of a provisional programme budget of £300 million a year in the next spending review, with the final level of investment to be confirmed during that review.

The £300 million is about one twentieth of the amount required to meet the expectations of those colleges that have—[Interruption.] I tell the Secretary of State that I would not, but the key question for him is: who was asleep at the wheel when this debacle unfolded? How much of that £300 million will filter down to Brockenhurst college?

As I said to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams), nobody is pretending that with the new money that we have got in the Budget, we will solve the problem in its entirety. We will give some colleges—the most urgent and high-priority cases—immediate go-ahead to start building this summer, and in the near future we will give the rest of the colleges in the pipeline a great deal more clarity and certainty about who can start building what, when.

The Minister spoke of meetings that he has had with representatives from a number of colleges to discuss the impact of the funding crisis on them. Cornwall college and I are very disappointed that our meeting, scheduled for Monday, has been pushed back to June. Given that the project in question will have an important impact on the wider regeneration of the area, and given that we are expecting a decision by the time of the spending review in the summer, will the Minister do all that he can to bring that meeting forward, so that the college can make representations before any decision is taken?

I sympathise with the hon. Lady. I have had more than 40 meetings with hon. Members and dozens of principals, and there are dozens more such meetings in the diary, because the issue is so important, and because I recognise how difficult the situation is for college principals and how that can put hon. Members in a difficult position. I genuinely want to help people talk through the issues, and give what reassurance we can. Inevitably when trying to hold that number of meetings in a relatively short time, as the queue stacks up, people get jumped about.

I can tell the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace), in response to his comments earlier in the week, that his meeting was not cancelled—it was rescheduled. He was given another date a week in advance. While he was making statements that were factually quite wrong, I was meeting a delegation from the Iraqi Prime Minister’s education advisers. As the hon. Lady asks so nicely, I will certainly do my best to see whether we can reprioritise her meeting, because she is looking after her constituents, rather than playing cheap party politics with people’s colleges.