Government Needs to Decide if Skills Funding Really is a Priority

Why should a skilled engineer come to work for us to teach when we can't pay them anything like what they would earn working in industry? Would you do it?

The Government has announced the figures for the adult skills budget for 2015/16 and they make grim reading. There is to be a 25% cut in that budget, following on from last year's reductions andthe overall cuts of 22% experienced by FE across the board in recent years. There are people out there in Milton Keynes today thinking about going to college next year. With this news, that is going to be so much harder to fund.

For Milton Keynes College it means we will have to be very careful in how we manage our budgets in order to mitigate the effects of a cut of this magnitude. We have of course been planning for dealing with reductions in public funding, like every business we predict our future earnings and plan how to deliver our strategy in that context, but seeing the detail of the actual cuts in writing is sobering. Spending on adult skills across the UK will be £3.9 billion, but this covers a vast range of activity. As well as two million adult learners, money is used to fund large numbers of apprentices, jobseekers, education in prisons, people looking to acquire basic skills and initiatives such as the employer ownership of skills.

There are other areas of skills funding which appear to be being protected while this area is vigorously slashed again. What this means for Milton Keynes College is a reduction in funding of around £1million or 5% of our total campus budget. This comes on top of already anticipated rises in employment related costs. In plain terms, the College will be able to teach fewer people or teach the same number less. Some courses are more expensive than others, but this funding cut could mean we lose between 250 and 1,300 adults who will not be able to improve their skills and improve their lives next year. Similar figures will be replicated up-and-down the country.

Locally the economy of Milton Keynes has seen strong growth in engineering and construction. Those sectors are crying out for qualified, skilled tradespeople. We simply can't train enough of them to meet the need. Now the gap between industry's requirements and Further Education's ability to supply good people will be even greater. The quality as well as the scale of the training we can give will also come under threat. Why should a skilled engineer come to work for us to teach when we can't pay them anything like what they would earn working in industry? Would you do it?

It's a great thing that apprenticeship funding in particular is being protected but many young adults need other forms of training and education. It is these people who will suffer most and it is often these people who cost the state far more for want of the chance of a decent career, be it through wasted opportunities, benefit dependency and worse? Many of us appreciate and support the College's role in driving economic prosperity through developing the skills in our citizens that are demanded by employers and as such enable our students to progress to meaningful and purposeful careers. Cutting this investment in skills in Milton Keynes cannot be good for business or for promoting business growth.


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