Skills minister Anne Milton has insisted that she is making the case for more funding for FE – but would not put a figure on how much was needed.
In a heated exchange during the Commons Education Select Committee session this morning, chair Robert Halfon asked Ms Milton (both pictured) how much extra money the Department for Education would be asking the Treasury for in the upcoming spending review.
Ms Milton said: “The first thing is the base rate rise, because FE – with complex business models – are risk-averse, not unreasonably. They have two main concerns, one is their Ofsted rating and the other is to make their books balance, and until that base rate is lifted...”
Interjecting, Mr Halfon – Ms Milton's predecessor as skills minister – told her and school standards minister Nick Gibb: “This is my argument, you have acknowledged that there needs to be more funding, both of you, and you have acknowledged that there are extra costs. The reason why the NHS battle was won by the health secretary is because they made this argument publicly.
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“You two [Milton and Gibb] say there needs to be more money, but won’t make the argument publicly. It’s kind of like cardinals at the Vatican doing it very secretly, with the Treasury hoping there’s a bit of white smoke coming through the roof.
"Actually what you should be doing is, and what we’re trying to do to help you, is to say, ‘This is how much we think a proper five-year funding settlement would look like, this is how much we think a proper 10-year strategic plan should look like and this is the case we’re making to the Treasury’ – just as the health secretary and the NHS have done.”
Ms Milton said: “I will reject the fact completely that I haven’t made this [case] publicly … just let me finish. I have, without doubt, made public the fact that I think it is poor and very damaging for further education, on a number of grounds. I will say it from Westminster Hall, I will say it publicly and I will say it from the despatch box, that FE needs more money. On a social justice level, there is a moral imperative.
“You’ve been a minister, so you know it is inappropriate and above our pay grade to say exactly what that figure is, because it is for the secretary of state to say that.”
“Do not doubt,” Ms Milton added, “that we don’t think we would like more money.”
Pressed by Labour MP Thelma Walker whether the skills minister would lobby for the suggested increase in the base rate of funding advocated by the Raise the Rate campaign, Ms Milton said she would, without giving further details.