Minister attacks funding quango
In a Commons debate on further education Mr Paice effectively blamed the Further Education Funding Council for the crisis over cash for college expansion, which has thrown the sector into turmoil.
He told MPs that ministers had received an unforeseen bill for more than Pounds 150 million to fund demand-led funding (DLE), despite a series of strenuous denials from funding chiefs.
Labour lambasted the Government for its repeated U-turns. Opening the debate, Hyndburn MP Greg Pope said: "Catching up with the Government's flip-flops is quite an art form."
Shadow education minister Bryan Davies said: "The Department needs to put its house in order and the minister needs to get a grip."
Demand-led funding, which will end at the end of this academic year, was designed as an open-ended budget to fund colleges that exceeded their targets. Until the last academic year, cash clawed back from colleges that had failed to meet recruitment targets had paid for expansion.
Mr Paice said: "On the November 30, the FEFC wrote to the Government to say that the demand for DLE would be Pounds 82m. A few weeks later we were advised that the additional costs over the next financial year would be Pounds 84m.
"In the space of six or seven weeks we were told that DLE was going to require at least Pounds 150m. Even if these funds are not cash-limited, they still have to be provided for from public limited funds within reasonable expectations. I do not believe the sums described were a reasonable expectation."
Funding chiefs said they were concentrating on the forthcoming budget round. But the council has steadfastedly maintained that the Government was presented with no surprises.
Mr Paice pledged that students currently on courses would not be forced to cut short their studies, despite the loss of funding.
"Students already enrolled on a course should have nothing whatsoever to worry about," he said. "There is no question of stopping students already on courses."