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Sixth Form Colleges: VAT

Volume 603: debated on Monday 30 November 2015

5. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the VAT treatment of sixth form colleges. (902412)

Following a sustained and effective campaign by my hon. Friend and others, in last week’s autumn statement the Government announced that we will give sixth form colleges the opportunity to establish themselves as 16-to-19 academies as part of the area reviews of post-16 education and training. A sixth form college that becomes an academy will be eligible to recover its non-business VAT costs.

I thank my hon. Friend for all his efforts to lobby the Chancellor to ensure that that sensible decision was made. Will he update the House on the timescale for 16-to-19 colleges to transfer to the new regime? Most importantly, will those that are involved in mid-term reviews or area reviews at the moment or have not chosen to take this route be eligible for this new opportunity?

Proposals for individual sixth form colleges to become academies will be considered alongside other recommendations from the relevant area reviews, which are taking place between now and March 2017. When a college’s application is approved, it will be eligible for VAT reimbursement as soon as it has been re-established with 16-to-19 academy status. Once all the area reviews have been completed, we will of course review which sixth form colleges have not yet taken up the option and what course they want to take.

What justification is there for treating sixth form colleges differently from other schools for tax purposes?

I assume that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell me, not least because a Labour Government put up with it for 13 years.

Does the Minister agree that a great advantage of this change will be that it will enable sixth form colleges to become academies and therefore part of multi-academy trusts, which will stimulate them to even greater things?

I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. One of the great opportunities that this proposal offers is for sixth form colleges to become part of academy groups, to become the sixth form for those academy groups and to thrive.

Does the Minister recognise that, although the Government finally allowed sixth form colleges welcome VAT relief through their becoming academies, it will not alter the cuts so far, which mean that three quarters of sixth form colleges have had to slash language and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—provision? Of course, they still face a real-term funding cut until 2020. Is it not critical that their excellence and innovation should not now be curbed by DFE micromanagement of them as academies?

Last week—perhaps it was the week before—the hon. Gentleman was shroud waving, suggesting that there would be cuts of somewhere between 25% and 40% to the per pupil funding for 16-to-19 education. I did not hear him welcome the Chancellor’s confirmation that it will remain flat cash throughout this Parliament. It is, of course, important that sixth form colleges can prosper, which is why we introduced this proposal.