Wiltshire County Council has long been recognised as a poor spender on adult education, and with the advent of the learning and skills councils it is now paying the price. The authority spent only a fifth of what it should have on adult education; as in other authorities, the money tended to find its way into school budgets.
At the time of writing, the county stands to lose pound;600,000 from its school budgets as funds for adult education are handed over to the local learning and skills council. The Government has offered pound;52 million to help local authorities that are out of pocket because of the changes, but Wiltshire does not qualify for this support. Jane Scott, the county's vice-chair of education and a member of the new learning and skills council for Swindon and Wiltshire, says: "It will hit us after April by the fact that we will have to make up that shortfall with council tax." George Bright, the principal of the newly merged Wiltshire College anda member of the local learning and skills council, points out that colleges stepped into the breach as the local authority cut back on its provision for adult learning.
"The colleges are the most significant providers of adult education in the county," he says. "We clearly wish to sustain and develop that role further with the learning and skills council.
"If Wiltshire is going to hand over all that to the LSC, it moves one more organisational complication out of the way so we can get on with the discussion and planning." Wiltshire and Salisbury colleges now face the challenge of meeting demand for adult learning in the county's far-flung market towns and villages, says Bright, adding: "I believe it's incumbent upon us to respond to that and to make the provision available locally - because that is what we have found: the more we make provision for adults in their local community, the higher the take-up has been."