The government’s ambitions to create 3 million apprenticeships are unlikely to be met if it presses ahead with significant cuts to the adult skills budget, sector leaders have warned.
Representatives from unions and sector bodies took part in a lobby of Parliament today, arguing for an end to the cuts facing the FE sector.
Excluding apprenticeships, the adult skills budget is to be cut by 24 per cent in 2015-16. And the announcement by chancellor George Osborne that two further cuts, each amounting to £450 million, from the budgets of the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, have sparked fears that even more savings could be on the way.
Representatives from the UCU, ATL, Unison and NUS, as well as adult learning body Niace, took part in the event.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the meeting in the Palace of Westminster that MPs had a key role to play in championing the sector.
“It is not enough to say we care about further education and we want to protect it,” she said. “What we need, as of today, are positive, substantial commitments from... MPs to say they will do everything they can in the chamber, with this government and with the relevant [government] departments to lobby on our behalf to protect [colleges]. Unless we have that success, we are going to find that we have people who are unable to have the life chances that every single person in this country has the right to expect.
“We are not going to be able, if we do not succeed, to pull this back in a way that will allow people in even six month’s time to have the same chances that people do now.”
She added that the union was prepared to fight the “appalling” cuts “every step of the way”, adding: “What we do today will make a difference.”
Niace chief executive David Hughes told the meeting that the government’s target of creating 3 million apprentices during the course of this Parliament “will not happen” without sufficient access courses being available for learners.
“We have to have opportunities for people to come back into learning,” he said. “The cuts, we think, mean that, increasingly, lifelong learning will just be the preserve of the privileged few.”
Ahead of the meeting, ATL deputy general secretary Peter Pendle said: “FE has already been battered by excessive cuts, and these further budget reductions look like nothing less than a deliberate attempt to destroy the sector.
“The government should get its priorities right and help vulnerable young adults to get into work. It needs to stop wasting money on school places where they are not needed and focus attention on a sector that increases productivity otherwise 400,000 learners will lose out.”
Earlier this week, skills minister Nick Boles revealed that the 16-19 funding allocations for 2015/16 would not be affected by the latest announcement about additional cuts from the DfE and BIS budgets.
“I can confirm that the allocations that were announced in March for 16-19 education for the 2015/16 academic year remain in place and we are not planning to change them," he said.