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Blair has his priorities right

The open letter you published ("Dear, oh dear Mr Tony Blair", FE Focus, June 3, 2005) was wrong to state that the further education budget is being cut.

Total funding for further education is pound;1 billion more in 2005-06 than it was in 2002-03, a 25 per cent increase in cash terms.

The letter is also wrong to say Bournemouth and Poole College is receiving a cut in funding. It will receive an additional pound;450,337 in 200506.

In fact, nine out of ten FE colleges will have more money in 200506 than they received in the previous year, with almost half receiving at least a 5 per cent increase.

We have been clear about our priorities and I make no apology for them. We need to support adults who lack skills for employability as well as 16 to 18-year-olds. It is fair that other learners who are already better-educated and not in priority groups should contribute to their learning.

But, even where fees are paid, learners are still getting exceptional value for money with the average course cost being only pound;1.42 an hour. We have also made sure that certain groups, such as those on income support, still have access to free learning.

I acknowledge that there are differences between the funding of school sixth forms and FE colleges but we have made progress addressing the funding gap in recent years by bringing up funding levels without penalising schools. The funding rates per course in FE have risen faster in colleges than in school sixth forms.

With regard to capital investment, colleges gained a range of important financial advantages from incorporation and therefore contribute to the cost of capital development from their income and assets where affordable.

However, we have recognised the need for capital investment to support the transformation of the sector and announced an extra pound;350 million in the recent Budget.

The letter also mentioned the differences between the FE and schools sector in relation to VAT but neither colleges nor Government would want to restore the college to local authority control simply to equalise the VAT position.

Bill Rammell MP

Minister of state for lifelong learning, FE and HE

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