Colleges that had expected to begin building this summer may lose out to capital projects that are nowhere near ready to start but which represent better value for money, according to the Learning and Skills Council.
The council was due to approve capital funding worth more than pound;500 million this week for building projects ready to start this summer, so- called shovel-ready proposals. This process was set out in a letter from the council to principals on April 24.
But a second letter sent to principals on Tuesday, the day before a scheduled meeting of the LSC's national council, its top decision-making body, said that this would not now be the case.
David Hughes, the LSC's national projects director, told FE Focus: "We made an erroneous assumption that 30 to 40 projects might be shovel-ready, but there are an awful lot more. This heightens the need to get this right. Rather than rush through this, we decided to take a little longer."
Mr Hughes said that a ranked list of shovel-ready projects was to be presented to the national council members. They would discuss the balance between those put forward for final approval and capital schemes not ready to start this summer but which may warrant a share of the available funding.
"The council will be discussing how we balance the evidenced need of those ready to go this summer with the evidenced need of those not ready to go this summer," Mr Hughes said. "One of the options may be not using all the money in one go. We may go for a more equitable spread."
Mr Hughes said the LSC hoped to clarify the situation by the end of next week, but he said it was difficult to be precise about the timing for publication of a final list of approved projects.
Colin Booth, principal of Barnsley College, waiting for approval of a pound;40m new main campus, said: "The biggest disappointment is that the LSC must have known some time ago that they were not going to tell us this week, and I would have appreciated a communication to that effect sooner."
Michele Sutton, principal of Bradford College, said that her pound;120m building project was not shovel-ready, however: "It would be good to have some clarity about the colleges that are not shovel-ready. What is coming next?"
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "While we understand the need for careful and considered application of criteria to determine which projects are approved, a further delay is not helpful. We would like the LSC to set out exactly when they'll be making this announcement.
"Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see clearer and more open communication from the LSC on this issue."