My Lords, the decisions that have been taken in this area have, of course, been based on rigorous analysis of how to maintain a strong skills system that helps to get people into work, not least for adult learners, while finding the necessary efficiencies required to reduce the deficit. The Government are confident that we will continue to sustain a strong base of adult education in further education colleges.
I thank the Secretary of State. The importance of skills training has been emphasised time and again. It is concerning that my local college, Weston College, reports that £1.7 million is being taken away from the £6.7 million allocated to adult learners in the area. In addition, vulnerable adults over 25 and those with severe learning difficulties are not getting support at all. Surely this hits hard at the heart of the commitment to provide vocational training and jobs.
My Lords, the Government have a strong record of investment in further education and skills. The core investment remains high, at unprecedented levels. Despite efficiency savings, more funds than ever are going into post-16 education and training for this next financial year, including, I am glad to say, £8.2 billion for 16-to-18 learning and £3.5 billion for adult training places. I know that future adult learner reductions will be challenging for some colleges, but transitional funding arrangements will protect colleges from financial difficulty and I will make sure that that remains the case.
No, my Lords, I am not denying that there will be an effect. All I am saying is that the modest reductions that we are proposing, in line with our commitment to reduce the deficit over the coming four years, require belt-tightening of this sort across the public sector. I cannot exempt FE colleges or adult learning courses from that, but this has to be seen in the context of the colossal catch-up investment that the Government have made available during the past 10 years, which we are not proposing to put into reverse.
My Lords, the Government always insist on the value of training and adult skills for future jobs and growth and I underline that again today. Since 1997, we have expanded apprenticeships from 65,000 starts, which we inherited from the previous Government, to 240,000 starts in 2008-09, with the number rising since then. We are funding more apprenticeships than ever before in our country. In the financial year 2010-11 we will be investing over £1 billion. Of course, we can do better and we will seek to do so within the tighter financial climate that we are now entering.
Is the noble Lord aware that the number of those unemployed for longer than six months has now risen to 1.24 million and that there has been a substantial rise in the economically inactive to over one in five of the working-age population? Does he not agree that further education for adults provides people with an invaluable second chance in life? He has already enjoyed three chances in life. Will he continue to deny this second chance for others?
My Lords, it is true that I have been serving a long and recurrent apprenticeship for my current role. That is why, among other reasons, I am firmly committed to apprenticeship training for others. However, the figures that the noble Lord quotes about economically inactive people mask the fact that a rather large number of them are in full-time training and education, even though they may be registered as looking for work. While I strongly welcome the noble Lord’s support for further expansion of apprenticeships, training and further education, I hope that he will be able to have a word with his friend the shadow Chancellor to make sure that such activities are exempted from his plans for large-scale spending and investment cuts. The shadow Chancellor has made it clear again today that he has those in mind for the country should he ever be elected.