News Date: Thursday 7th May 2009

Tim Loughton MP Stands Up for Local Colleges Suffering from Cash Shortfall

Yesterday in Parliament Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, attacked the Government for allowing a shortfall of funding to colleges in West Sussex. Speaking in Westminster Hall, Tim said:

"Worthing College and Northbrook College in my constituency face a £1.5 million shortfall in the money that they were promised to cover the expansion of their college buildings, and they will not get that money for the foreseeable future. They are having to borrow the money, which is putting their finances in jeopardy. They are now faced with the additional shortfall in funding for the students to whom they have offered places. Therefore, this is not just a single problem, but a double whammy affecting the survival of many colleges."


The full official report of Tim's speech can be read online and is given below:

Tim Loughton:
I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I am so incensed by the complacency and indifference shown by the Government that I have been moved to speak. It is extraordinary. I have never been in a Westminster Hall debate where the Minister has arrived five minutes late, the officials 10 minutes late and the Parliamentary Private Secretary 21 minutes late. It shows complete and utter contempt for a subject that is important to Members of all parties, and no Government Member has bothered to turn out.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley). We share the serious problems faced by Worthing and Northbrook colleges, our two major colleges with a sixth form. It is a double whammy. About a month ago, we took a delegation from those two colleges to see the Minister with responsibility for further education, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon). The situation that they are facing is desperate. They put up £1.5 million that they can ill afford, and that money has now been put in limbo, as has the future of their necessary rebuilding programme, for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned.

The colleges do not just want to upgrade for the sake of upgrading. We are trying to deliver education for students in the 21st century in huts, in an area of high need. The colleges have tried to do everything that the Government have asked of them to improve the training and skills of the local work force, and they have been kicked in the guts by the way in which the Government have handled the situation. The finances of those colleges are already stretched because the Government, through the incompetence of the Learning and Skills Council, have reneged on the capital spend anticipated by the colleges.

I have a letter from the head of the Coastal West Sussex partnership that says:

"Investment in skills is a key plank of economic policy in our region, and supported through the South East Plan, by SEEDA through its education-led regeneration policies, and by all the local authorities along the coastal strip. There is a strong consensus that investment in skills is a critical action for addressing the economic issues of the coast"

It is important in our part of the world. It is not an affluent area. We have had serious unemployment problems recently due to job cuts by big employers. Norwich Union announced the loss of more than 600 jobs, and GlaxoSmithKline and BOC Edwards have also announced job losses. One serious problem that local employers face is an insufficiency of local skills. If they can take on more skilled people, they can take on less skilled people on the back of that.

Peter Corrigan, the principal of Worthing college, e-mailed my hon. Friend and me. In the wake of all the problems with capital funding shortfalls, he said:

"At Worthing College our allocation should have been based on 1,451 full-time 16-18 year olds as a minimum. The allocation is 1,425, giving us a £130,000 funding reduction on our baseline income. However, because we have successfully retained more students this year and applications are running at record levels, our most conservative estimate of numbers suggests we will recruit 1,500 16-18 year olds. This would mean educating 75 students without funding. The funding for 75 students is in the order of £340,000.

The implications of this are that Colleges may turn away students and not be able to offer places to later applicants, who are often more needy and vulnerable. The recession means there are more young people looking to stay in education without the requisite funding for them. This would be a real negative for Worthing and Adur, increasing the number of young people who are NEET and not gaining qualifications and increasing their life chances."

That is crucial. It is a double whammy that should not have happened at all. It has been compounded by the Government's incompetence and now by their indifference, and they have the brass neck to challenge the Opposition to match their funding commitment. That commitment was given late in the day, and we still lack the details, which are sorely needed at the sharp end by schools and colleges.

This debate is timely. It should have been a topical debate in Government time. There is little more topical at the moment, or of interest to so many Members. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on bringing it to the attention of a lacklustre Government Front Bench.

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