The Government have already made a substantial commitment to extra funding for capital investment in further education colleges in the Budget. We will be spending over £300 million more in the next two years, taking total planned spending to £1.2 billion.
The recent announcement of funding for FE colleges did not include a single college in the south-west region. Will the Government make available the papers that show the decision-making process here, so that people can see that the entire process was transparent and that there was no political agenda behind the choice of colleges to receive funding?
A robust and thorough assessment by independent consultants took place, and the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council has already committed to give the colleges their individual scores under the system, and to publish them in full in the near future. The process will be open and transparent, as recommended by the Foster review.
Last week, I visited the brand new York further education college once again. It draws students from my constituency and neighbouring Liberal Democrat and Tory constituencies. It was made possible by capital from the Government, and is a fantastic £60 million new college. Will the Government continue to fund the building of new colleges so that young people and adults in other towns and cities in the country get the benefits seen in York, and that building workers get jobs during the downturn?
Yes, we will continue to do that. We have a forward programme, and so far, since 2001, 700 projects have been built and nearly 330 colleges funded under the scheme. That has transformed the further education estate for learners. How do we judge a party on such an issue? We judge it on what it does and what it says it will do. The Conservative party did nothing when it was in power, spent nothing on FE capital in its last year in power, and has no plans for the future either.
Basingstoke college of technology has already spent £1 million on developing plans for future expansion. Basingstoke is, as designated by the Government, one of the most important employment areas in the country, and is part of the country’s future economic growth. Will the Minister reassure me that such important strategic investments will get the priority that they deserve, because that has not always been indicated in the past?
In the autumn, the Learning and Skills Council will consult colleges on the future capital programme, and a strategic approach will be taken based on priorities—learning priorities and so on. I assure her that the process will be fair, transparent, thorough and objective.