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Funding beneath the soap suds

LIKE a soap opera, developments in learning and skills budgets happen in weekly episodes. In this unfolding story, you must keep watching until spring if only to see who joins the cast.

Last week, in a major speech, Education Secretary David Blunkett confirmed the English FE budget would increase by pound;522 million in 20012. This 12 per cent increase is FE's share of the pound;600m announced two weeks before that.

The total learning and skills budget increases from pound;4.9 billion to pound;5.5bn. The FE share goes up from pound;3.5bn to pound;4bn. In 20023 the rate of growth slows and the boundaries loosen. The Learning and Skills Council will begin to plan to meet its four main objectives. But, in the short-term, Mr Blunkett has confirmed that there is FE growth for the taking.

The three sub-plots in the Harrogate episode concern the specific grants that the Learning and Skills Council will handle. These are increasingly important and include capital funds, Standards Fund and pound;50m for pay.

Several announcements were made about how these funds would be spent. The first headline is the use of pound;60m in capitaland pound;40m from the Standards Fund over three years to set up 100-plus centres of vocational excellence in colleges.

Start-up money averaging pound;1m per centre will help 50 per cent of colleges to specialise by 2003-4 and, presumably, be in a powerful position to secure LSC money.

Specialisation is also part of the second plan which is that Office for Standards in Education inspections will lead to 16 to 19 rationalisation. This will be funded by pound;45m in capital and pound;60m in standards money over three years.

The third announcement concerned teacher-training. New staff and aspiring principals will be trained with pound;80m Standards Fund cash which will also match-fund spending by colleges on training serving teachers.

The final message in this week's budget episode is that the 1 per cent efficiency gain continues. A pound;10m college will have three money choices: save pound;100,000, recruit 30 full-time students at no extra cost or hand back part of their grant. Something for something still means nothing paid for nothing delivered.

Julian Gravatt is finance director, The City Lit, London

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