Labour moved to reassure colleges this week that they would share in a cash bonanza despite a pledge from Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, to peg public spending for at least two years. But colleges were not convinced that they would get a big enough slice of the windfall tax on utilities and other benefits to reverse the three-year 16 per cent efficiency drive demanded by ministers.
Labour's plans for post-16 education and training include four options of part-time or full-time study programmes for everyone up to the age of 25, which will be backed by maintenance grants.
Cash would also come from the abolition of Youth Training, reallocation of resources within the Department for Education and Employment and a halt on the opening of non-viable sixth-forms in grant-maintained schools.
Labour's FE spokesman Bryan Davies predicted that the majority of the 250,000 new students and trainees arising from the reforms would go to FE colleges. "The windfall levy is new money for education and training, and the colleges are destined to play a significant part in this," he said.
But many college managers say the rundown of buildings, lack of capital investment, and year-on-year efficiency drives have left large parts of the sector hard-pressed to cope with student expansion.
John Brennan, policy director for the Association of Colleges, said: "We welcome what the Labour party is saying. But does it mean we will have to do more work at unit costs which are no better than our present mainstream spending?"
A brake on the latest efficiency measures imposed after the autumn budget would cost more than Pounds 200m annually. Labour's proposals would cost an additional Pounds 250m at present costs to colleges and training and enterprise councils.
"Until we see the colour of their (Labour's) money we cannot say whether their proposals are beneficial to us or not," said Mr Brennan.
Backing for Labour's post-16 reforms came this week from leading business people behind an Institute of Public Policy Research report: Promoting Prosperity - A Business Agenda For Britain.