Spend, don't skimp and delay

20th March 2009 at 00:00

Further education matters. Our colleges - the underappreciated, often overlooked heroes of our education system - educate more than 3 million people nationally and contribute billions to the economy.

Colleges at their best provide high quality, accessible, community-based learning and have a truly impressive record in engaging businesses as partners in training. With the recession biting, the services colleges provide could not be more important. So the Government's decision to freeze the building projects of more than a third of colleges is both bizarre and deeply worrying.

The Learning and Skills Council actively encouraged these 144 colleges to put in capital bids. The institutions have all invested large amounts of time and money to put together applications, and the hopes of students, staff and the community at large have been raised. These colleges are now stuck in limbo, not knowing when or even if their building projects will go ahead.

And as a final act of indignity, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills recently had the gall to issue a press release celebrating the effects of college rebuilding on the construction industry - a claim based on a report compiled before the freeze started. This is outright dishonesty.

The whole situation shows the Government's complete lack of respect for colleges and the excellent work they do.

These institutions could be a lifeline for a nation suffering from the effects of recession. Instead, they are having their essential projects frozen, seeing funding for key programmes disappear, and watching their already baffling funding system turned into alphabet soup.

So we have called on the Government to unfreeze the capital budget, increase support for adult learning, and suspend the restructuring of the LSC until the economic situation begins to improve. Surely colleges have suffered enough already?

David Willetts, Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

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