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Colleges take on Commons

Principals join in day of protest over funding cuts. Joe Clancy reports

Deputations from more than 100 colleges descended on the House of Commons on Wednesday to protest about a funding crisis that threatens to cut at least 70,000 adult learning places.

Principals, chairs of governors, and college financial managers lobbied MPs and senior ministers in a day of protest organised by the Association of Colleges.

The AoC has expressed concern that colleges face cuts of between 3 and 10 per cent next year. This is on top of the pound;30 million cuts this year, it says.

Colleges last week began exploratory talks on funding for next year with their local learning and skills councils. The AoC said that feedback from these talks indicates that cuts of up to 10 per cent are being sought for 2004-5.

John Brennan, AoC chief executive, said: "Around 70,000 places for adults to upgrade their education or train for new skills have already been lost in 2004 and things will get even worse up to 2005-6 unless the Government reverses planned cuts."

He added: "The association has pointed out to the Government for some time the disparity between its ambitions to drive up skills levels and the resources available.

"If the delivery of core courses requires the withdrawal of opportunities for non-priority groups the Government's skills strategy will have failed."

The AoC points to a statement on the LSC website as a public admission that it does not have enough money to deliver the skills strategy. Mr Brennan said the new 2004-5 funding guidance states that the LSC needs to cut funding for adult courses that do not lead directly to full level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualifications.

The LSC says: "The aggregation of the current three-year development plans indicates that, because of the level of non-priority activity being purchased, the LSC is unable to fund the proposed increases in priority activity that will count towards targets."

At Weston college in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, a cut of 8 per cent has been mooted for next year. Charles Walker, Weston's chairman, said: "Any cut would now completely undermine colleges trust in government."

Harrow college is using its own funds to support 100 students. It faces a pound;700,000 cut next year and a loss of 200 students. Rena Prindiville, Harrow's director of finance, said: "Harrow college's strategy for recruiting 16-18 and basic skills students meets the Government and LSC agendas.

"The introduction of plan-led funding and withdrawal of responsive growth in these areas will have a detrimental effect on Harrow's ability to contribute to LSC targets."

Leeds college of technology, in Yorkshire and Humberside, has had to make 40 staff redundant over the past year and its principal Jim MacWilliams is quitting. He said: "I can't look my dedicated staff in the eye because I can't pay them the wages they deserve."

Mark Haysom, LSC chief executive, said: "We need to ensure that our finite resources are invested to best effect in the interests of individuals, employers and the community."

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