The adult skills budget will be cut by 11 per cent in the next financial year, it was revealed this morning.
In a letter, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), said funding through the Skills Funding Agency for adult skills in 2015-16 will be reduced by more than £249 million, an 11 per cent cut on 2014-15.
The total budget from BIS for adult FE and skills funding will fall by 5 per cent to £3.91 billion.
However, the SFA has set an apprenticeships budget of £770 million, and in its own letter published this morning, has estimated that funds available for other non-apprenticeship adult skills will be reduced by almost a quarter (24 per cent) as a result.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the cuts were a “further blow” to colleges and students.
"The government cannot continue to reduce this provision and at the same time expect adults to have sufficient opportunity to retrain for new or future job opportunities,” he said.
“By 2020, if the next government continue to cut at this rate, adult further education will be effectively a thing of the past.
“This situation is now urgent. This could be the end of this essential education in every city, town and community in England and the consequences will be felt by individuals and the economy for years to come.”
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said the cuts would lead to a reduction in the provision of skills and employment programmes to learners and employers.
Its chief executive, Stewart Segal, said: “This is another major cut in budgets for the employment and skills sector while the funding for higher education continues to increase.
“This is the wrong focus whilst we are trying to give vocational learning the status it deserves. The apprenticeship budget is protected but we need to see growth during the year if we are to meet employer demand.”
He said that while making English and maths a priority was welcome, it would put huge pressure on other areas of the budgets which would result in learners not being able to access funding.
David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace, said it was “staggering” there was not more outcry over the “drastic and sustained” reduction in funding, especially given the consensus of concern over growing skills gaps.
“My fear is that these cuts mean people’s ability to get on in life and work continue to be hampered despite the obvious return on investment to the tax-payer,” he said.
“It’s not fair for people, it’s not right for businesses and it doesn’t support the inclusive growth that politicians say they are seeking.”
The funding cut was also criticised by the National Union of Students, which called it “incredibly damaging”, and the University and College Union, which described it as “an act of wilful vandalism” that would decimate further education.
In his letter, SFA chief executive Peter Lauener says the overall impact of the funding allocations will vary significantly between individual colleges and training organisations, depending on the mix of training provision delivered.
Reductions will be higher where colleges and training organisations deliver low numbers of apprenticeships, traineeships, English and maths, he writes.
"I am committed to further simplifying the adult funding system and will work with Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and other partners over the coming months to design practical ways we can simplify arrangements for the 2015 to 2016 operating year and improve forward planning for subsequent years," he adds
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “As the economy recovers, we must ensure our workforce is equipped with the skills that employers need and further education is an important part of the picture.
“That’s why I’m so pleased to have secured £3.91 billion to fund adult further education and skills in the coming year.”
A spokeswoman for BIS said it had prioritised funding for young adults, the low skilled and unemployed people who are actively seeking work.
“While the total adult skills budget has been reduced, funding available for apprenticeships has increased since 2010," ths spokeswoman said.
"We expect to spend around £1 billion on skills for 19-23 year-olds alone in 2014/15.
“Up to £80 million of capital funding will be matched by employers over 2015-16 and 2016-17 – a potential total investment of £160 million by 2017 for the National Colleges programme.
"These colleges will help train people in sectors where there is a skills gap and demand from employers.”