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FE will be government's 'whipping boy' in spending review, MPs told

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Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden has warned that the sector could end up being the government’s “whipping boy” in the spending review.

During business questions in the Commons this afternoon, Mr Marsden (pictured) also hit out at the government’s programme of “hasty, half-cocked” area reviews.

After Labour’s publication of a new analysis this morning, which warns that colleges could face at least £1.6 billion of cuts in the chancellor's upcoming spending review, concerns were also raised by a Conservative former education minister.

Tim Loughton, who previously held the role of children’s minister, warned chancellor George Osborne against imposing "unrealistic cuts" on colleges that would threaten their viability.

Mr Loughton said sixth-form colleges in his constituency had already taken "large cuts", and asked for assurances that area reviews planned by the government were not simply a smokescreen for more savings.

Speaking about the colleges in his East Worthing and Shoreham constituency, Mr Loughton told MPs: "They are good and improving colleges providing valuable apprenticeships, training and education.”

He also asked for reassurance that “area reviews are not just a cover for further unrealistic cuts which will threaten their viability altogether”.

Skills minister Nick Boles said the reviews were focused on creating "strong, sustainable" colleges.

But shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden described the reviews as "hasty" and asked what ministers were doing to stop FE becoming the "whipping boy" of the spending review.

Mr Marsden said: "Further education is already weakened from five years of government funding cuts, so why are ministers having hasty, half-cocked area reviews which threaten forced course and college closures?

"Can I ask, with the Commons library figures today suggesting at least £1.6 billion FE cuts from the chancellor's demands…are ministers doing anything to stop FE being the spending review's whipping boy?"

Business secretary Sajid Javid replied that the reforms were designed to create an “even stronger FE sector”.

"The local area reviews are absolutely essential in doing that. We need to understand local needs much more carefully and that's what those local reviews will achieve, and then we will be able to offer more opportunities,” Mr Javid added.

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