The money comes from the European Social Fund under the "objective 3 programme" which supports vocational training. Its total value is pound;310 million over seven years for projects in lowland Scotland (the Highlands and Islands have separate arrangements).
The cash has been front-loaded to cover spending on EU projects for most of next year as well. Otherwise ministers would have had to defend a reduction from pound;98 million last year to a single-year figure of around pound;50 million for the year 2000.
A second call for bids next year could also be front-loaded to avoid a further slump to pound;30 million. This clearly has implications for the amounts left to support projects towards the end of the seven-year period.
Further education colleges have relied on the social fund to target training on disadvantaged communities: their share went up from pound;21 million in 1998 to just over pound;45 million last year. But as the total mony available reduces, they fear the impact on budgets particularly since they have to compete for the cash with universities, local authorities, local enterprise companies, training providers and the voluntary sector.
EU funding in turn has helped to boost student numbers, which means the annual grant-in-aid from the FE funding council could be hit if they fail to keep up with previous levels of student activity.
The Association of Scottish Colleges none the less welcomed the announcement and said it hoped colleges would continue to play a full part in the new programme.
The announcement and the call for bids for next year came from Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister. Apparently anticipating concern about reduced levels of funding, Mr McConnell pointed out: "Scotland has an extremely impressive record of squeezing every pound of support from the European programme funding available to us. In previous programmes, we have committed
99 per cent of the funds that have been allocated to us. We need to keep up this record."
Applications have to be submitted by September 8.