Throughout my political career I have championed adult and further education. I have long been a believer in the power of learning and its ability to transform and enrich the lives of individuals and communities. As minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning, I am now honoured to be in a position to practise what I preached.
I know that my belief in the importance of skills is shared by the Government. We recognise that education and skills are not only vital for our economy because they make us more competitive, but we know, too, that they change lives by improving life chances and build stronger communities in which all are proud.
Over the past few months we have taken significant steps. One of my first actions as minister was to announce a series of measures to set colleges free by giving them more control over their own finances and cutting unnecessary bureaucracy. This will drive the flexibility needed to respond to the demands of employers and learners.
Just this week, we unveiled about 150 colleges across England that will benefit from #163;50 million of renewal funding. Each of the colleges has received at least #163;225,000, with 21 successful bidders winning up to #163;1 million. We have seen some impressive bids come in for ambitious and innovative projects from colleges that are planning for the future. Colleges should be inspiring places and this funding will make a real difference to thousands of students, lecturers and their communities.
We have also created 50,000 extra apprenticeship places by redeploying #163;150 million of the Train to Gain budget. This will give many young people a route out of unemployment and boost productivity.
This is just the start. Even in these lean times there is much more that we can, and must, do. Which is why in July we launched a consultation on the future of skills, alongside a complementary consultation looking at the FE and skills funding system.
The principle aim of this consultation is to place learning at the heart of our society. Some will say if we struggled to do this when money was plentiful, how can we hope to do it now? Well, we must see the need to make savings as a once in a generation opportunity for radical reform. The goal is not to make FE richer, but to make it better.
I am certain that we can achieve much more with less. But to do so we must be robust in tackling waste and unnecessary and burdensome regulation. And we must challenge a number of past assumptions about what skills are for, how they are funded and what role the Government should play in their delivery. It is time for us to seriously re-evaluate whether education and training really relates to the needs of individual learners and employers.
I am determined to ensure that our decisions result from proper consultation, so that policy reflects real priorities. I want colleges, training organisations, individuals and employers to share ideas on how things could work better. We want to draw on people's experiences and learn more about the obstacles they are obliged to overcome.
We are inviting views on how private investment can be optimised; how the skills system could be more efficient and effective; how to support the development of learning that meets the needs of the economy and how businesses can get involved in local community learning. We also need to map new pathways between informal and formal learning. The consultation will inform a five-year strategy on skills that will be published in the autumn.
I want this process to be a milestone in the history of further education. A moment when we might have pessimistically retreated, but instead we charted fresh opportunities to advance and grasped them.
John Hayes is minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning.