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Adult Skills (Funding)

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2015

7. What steps he plans to take to make the efficiencies and savings in adult skills set out in the “Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015”. (902704)

We are protecting funding for adult education at £1.5 billion per year in cash terms. We are extending advanced learner loans to more adult learners and increasing spending on adult apprenticeships to £1.5 billion by 2019-20. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says, this means that total funding for adult skills training will be 36% higher in the last year of this Parliament than in the first.[Official Report, 5 January 2016, Vol. 604, c. 2MC.]

Salford city college was one of more than 100 further education colleges that wrote to the Prime Minister to protest at repeated year-on-year real-terms funding cuts to adult skills since 2010 amounting to 40%. Despite the promise not to cut adult skills funding for FE colleges, Treasury documents say that there will be £360 million of savings and efficiencies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) mentioned. After years of savage cuts, how can that be achieved?

Like many other colleges, the hon. Lady’s college wrote to the Prime Minister before the spending review in response to the shroud waving by the Opposition, who predicted a 25% to 40% cut in the adult skills budget. If the hon. Lady had taken the trouble to attend my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s spending review statement, she would have heard that he was protecting it in cash terms while increasing the funding for apprenticeships, which her college and others could bid for. If she spoke to her college, she would discover that, like all other colleges, it is pleasantly surprised by the funding settlement.

Any credible long-term economic plan would recognise the critical importance of adult reskilling, but the Government have systematically cut adult skills by 40% since 2010, including a 24% cut in February this year in non-apprenticeship funding. That is probably why the Chancellor ducked out of making any reference to the further cuts in his autumn statement, leaving it to his Blue Book to talk about £360 million of efficiencies. Will the Minister say precisely what the £1.5 billion of core funding that he talks of is made up of? Does it include loans to over 25-year-olds, 50% of which we know will not be taken up?