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College cynicism over Pounds 19m cash windfall

Almost 200 colleges are to share more than Pounds 19 million from a Government fund set up to help meet local demand from industry for new skills and retraining for staff.

Most of the cash has gone to consortia of colleges and training and enterprise councils. The money is from the Competitiveness Fund - launched following the 1994 White Paper to pump-prime new-style partnerships between employers, education and training providers, TECs and the Government.

Colleges have greeted the cash with cynicism. The principal of one of the biggest winners said: "This cash should have come to us anyway. The fund is no more than a control to make sure we spend money the way ministers see fit. "

Others said the Department for Education and Employment was only returning cash "stolen" by Chancellor Kenneth Clarke in the tough autumn budget.

But education and employment minister James Paice insisted that the fund had proved its worth and that it would lead to a more effective longer-term funding.

"In an extremely successful first year, the fund supported 82 initiatives and attracted an additional commitment for Pounds 30 million of private sector and college investment on top of the Government's contribution," he said.

Money from the Competitiveness Fund has to be matched with equal sums from those given the awards.

"This year we have again seen a very impressive range of high quality and innovative bids," he said.

The biggest award goes to the North Trafford College consortium for a programme to develop the Internet as a tool for the global marketing of products from local industry.

Awards range from Pounds 50,000 to almost Pounds 1 million. Lewisham College in south London was awarded Pounds 147,000 to help develop a centre of excellence for performing arts training. Colleges in Wiltshire got almost Pounds 500,000 to help open information technology training centres for local industry.

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