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Government 'cynical' for rejecting college VAT plea as parliament ends

The government has been attacked as “cynical” for responding to a petition on sixth form college funding on the day Parliament was dissolved.

The online petition, started by Sixth Form Colleges' Association Policy Officer Laura Janowski, called on the government to introduce a VAT refund scheme for sixth form colleges.

It had received more than 10,000 signatures, the point at which the government is required to respond, by January 9.

A letter backing the move, signed by Graham Stuart, chair of the Education Select Committee and 75 other MPs, was sent to education secretary Nicky Morgan on February 9.

However, the government only posted its response to the e-petition this morning, as prime minister David Cameron asked the Queen to dissolve parliament ahead of the general election.

The response said the government had "explored the possibility” of introducing such a scheme, but that it would cost “in the region of £31 million per year”.

“The arguments for removing the sector’s liability for VAT are understood,” it said. “However, the Department for Education cannot afford to cover the costs of doing so in the financial years 2015-2016.

"Decisions regarding all 16 to 19 funding in the future will be subject to the outcome of the next cross-government spending round.”

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the SFCA, said: “Issuing this response on the morning that parliament was dissolved was a cynical move.

“Almost half of the 93 sixth form colleges in England are in marginal constituencies and this announcement was obviously timed to minimise the damage to candidates in those seats.

“The government has ignored the pleas of parents, students and teachers that have signed the petition and the cross-party group of MPs that have lent their support to the campaign.”

Unlike schools and academies, the government does not refund the VAT costs of sixth form colleges, which it is claimed leaves the average college with £335,000 less to spend on educating students each year.

The SFCA has launched a campaign to ‘drop the learning tax’, gaining support from high profile former students including actor Colin Firth and presenter Dermot O’Leary.

Mr Kewin added: “We hope that an incoming government will move quickly to address this longstanding anomaly to ensure young people receive the same level of investment in their education, irrespective of where they choose to study”. 

Related posts

MPs urge VAT refund scheme for sixth form colleges – February 2015

Celebrities call for end to 'learning tax' on sixth-form colleges – January 2015

Sixth form colleges demand end to 'damaging' changes to funding – November 2014

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