College leaders were dismayed this week as the Government announced a 6 per cent cut in Train to Gain funding next year and a 3 per cent reduction in course rates across the board.
The Government's Skills Investment Strategy, published this week, revealed that all college courses for 201011 will be funded at 3 per cent lower than they were this year, and Train to Gain courses must bear an additional 3 per cent cut.
The sector initially presented the additional cut as a 3 per cent real- terms rise that had been promised by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), but that would not now be honoured because of government efficiency gains.
However, a spokeswoman for the department said: "This is a 6 per cent reduction in funding rates compared to 200910. It includes the 3 per cent across the board and 3 per cent to take out the extra that we had put in for 200809, reflecting the fact that we no longer have to incentivise take-up of Train to Gain."
Providers are already in difficulty with Train to Gain after the department put a halt on funding earlier this year when it was clear that demand for training threatened to exceed the budget available.
A spokesman for the Association of Colleges (AoC) said the investment strategy made clear the 3 per cent cut and said colleges had also been braced for the loss of the 3 per cent real-terms rise. But he said the 6 per cent cut on 200910 funding looked new to colleges.
"The department has got to be up-front and clear within its publications about the extent to which it is going to restrict the funding on Train to Gain, particularly for the sake of employers," he said.
Speaking from the AoC annual conference in Birmingham, the association's chief executive Martin Doel said: "These savings represent cuts - particularly to the rates of funding for certain courses - at a time when the services of colleges have never been more in demand."
The investment strategy shows a clear shift from education provided in response to adult learner demand towards employer-responsive training. The number of learner-responsive places for over-19s will fall from 1.5 million this year to 1.12 million next, while employer-responsive places rise from 1.41 million to 1.72 million.
The strategy also reveals cuts of 10 per cent on the rate of funding for apprenticeships for over-25s next year due, the department said, to lower- than-expected costs of delivery on these programmes.
Alastair Thomson, principal advocacy officer at the adult learning body Niace, said: "If this is an investment strategy, it is going to exclude investment in the future for a lot of adult learners."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "We were given assurances by John Denham MP that planned efficiency savings would not impact on frontline services, but the Skills Investment Strategy will see a reduction in places for the most disadvantaged groups when it comes to studying."
The investment strategy's commitment to greater college autonomy over funding was welcomed by the sector. The document says all institutions - except new or poorly performing ones - will be granted "full virement flexibilities" within but not between adult-responsive and employer- responsive budgets.