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Further Education: Capital Investment

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent to which the Learning and Skills Council’s 16-19 Capital Fund and Policy Guidance: 2007-08 Onwards takes into account the current capital needs of the further education sector.

My Lords, the Learning and Skills Council’s 16-19 capital policy and associated fund applies equally to school and college projects that lead to the expansion of 16-19 provision. This may be a result of 16-19 competitions or an identified strategic need for increased 16-19 places. In addition, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has contributed £40 million from its 16-19 capital fund for 2009-10, and £40 million from 2010-11, to the LSC’s FE college capital programme to support the growth of 16-19 places within FE college capital projects.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. On 21 December, we heard that the Learning and Skills Council announced that it was to spend allocations for the 16-19 capital fund on four schools and two colleges. That decision was taken based on guidance written in 2007 and did not take into account that, since then, the recession has vastly increased the demand for education and training and the disastrous collapse of the LSC’s capital funding scheme, which has left colleges in so many difficulties. The Government declare a strong commitment to work-based learning for 16 to 19 year-olds and, as FE colleges provide the vast majority of those places, can the Minister give some assurance that there will be additional funding from the 16-19 capital fund or elsewhere, which can help the colleges meet their commitments?

My department, through its FE capital fund, will spend £1.7 billion on college buildings in the current comprehensive spending review, with a further £900 million already earmarked for the next spending period. This government policy has meant that since 2001, 700 projects and nearly 300 colleges have been funded, transforming the FE estate for learners. I remind the noble Baroness that in 1997 not a single penny was earmarked for college building developments. Indeed, the NAO described it as a crumbling infrastructure. We have spent an enormous amount and will continue to spend on FE colleges in the light of the recommendations of the Foster report.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to provide an update on the ministerial Statement of 26 June, which disclosed that only 13 of the 144 college building projects which had had their funding frozen had by then been given the go-ahead, every one of which happens to be in a Labour-held constituency?

My Lords, that was an unfortunate remark—I give the noble Lord the benefit of the doubt in describing it as unfortunate. The 13 were chosen following a robust and thorough assessment by independent consultants against prioritisation criteria agreed with the sector, which built on Sir Andrew Foster’s recommendations.

Why does it take so long for the LSC to process capital funding applications? It took nearly 12 months for the NSA Creative & Cultural Skills application to be processed. It then required the money to be spent within just over a year. Then, apart from two directors, the majority of the staff of the LSC got bonuses.

Right. Perhaps I should deal with the second issue first before we get carried away in imagining that LSC staff are receiving bankers’ bonuses, of which I am sure some noble Lords on the other side are so fond. LSC staff improved on the number of people who were successfully in learning, so they met a number of their targets.

In relation to the noble Baroness’s first point on the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural Skills, we are supportive of that project. There was some delay, but we always made it clear to Creative & Cultural Skills that the money was budgeted for and had to be spent by the end of March 2011. We should not forget that the Government are providing a £5 million investment. We regret the delay in the first instance and we make it clear that we urge the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural Skills to work with the LSC to discuss how these issues can be resolved to mutual benefit.

The Minister said that the LSC met its targets. Is 12 months to process a capital application within the normal targets for that organisation?

In referring to the targets in relation to bonuses, I was referring to the targets of the number of learners who have been taken successfully through the learning programmes. I have already made it clear that there were some problems with that budgetary allocation, but surely the main point, which I would have thought the noble Baroness would be pleased with, is that there is a guaranteed £5 million of government investment towards this project. The main objective ought to be, I am sure she will agree, that it ought to work with the LSC in ensuring that it can resolve this issue.