As the career of the Learning and Skills Council comes to an end, what will it be best remembered for? Improving access? Improving quality? Improving the student learning experience, or the quality of the learning environment?
Probably all of these, but especially the latter. So the current review of capital funding projects is particularly unfortunate.
There can be no doubt that the FE sector has, in the past 18 months, responded to the abolition of the council and a lack of trust in the Building Schools for the Future initiative by rapidly increasing the number, size and average cost of capital project applications. There is simply not enough money to meet the demand. So what can be done at a time when the Government sees public sector infrastructure investment as a key fiscal stimulus to economic recovery?
First, the council needs to search its total budget to find additional resources for capital without diluting support for learners. Second, at a regional and national level, clear criteria need to be agreed to begin open and transparent prioritisation. Third, I would advocate a review of school presumptions for capital funding.
In my own region, I have already seen too many assumptions about presumptions that do not demonstrate that local tests of adequacy and sufficiency have been met.
The regional development agencies have been active supporters of FE capital programmes in order to support the Government's aspiration of providing learning to support our regional economies.
The council must grasp the nettle that has been created and ensure that England's colleges for tomorrow begin to be built now.
Steven Broomhead, Chief executive of the North West Regional Development Agency and a former college principal and chief executive of a local authority.