Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

College renovations put on hold

buidling site
Hundreds of schemes are already underway

Renovation work at dozens of further education colleges will take longer than planned, the government has said.

Officials said the rebuilding programme was a victim of its own success, with the number of bids far exceeding the 2.3bn funding currently available.

Eight schemes postponed in December have been given the go-ahead by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

But another 79 are going to be subject to a priority review. The Tories have called this a freeze on capital works.

In a statement to Parliament, Skills Secretary John Denham said: "There are many more schemes currently in preparation than can be funded in this spending round."

Not all schemes can be implemented on the timescales originally envisaged
Skills Secretary John Denham
He added: "It is clear that even at current record levels of funding not all schemes can be implemented on the timescales originally envisaged."

Mr Denham said 220m of the current funding had been brought forward in response to the economic downturn.

Nearly 700 projects in 330 colleges throughout England had been agreed and 253 schemes were "underway or fully approved".

Only 42 colleges had yet to receive any investment.

Eight approved

But Mr Denham said the demand for funding had risen.

"The size of projects and the scale of government funding required has increased."

The scale of the shambles in further education capital projects is revealed
Shadow skills secretary David Willetts
There was a row last month over the delays in the approval process, as it appeared that the first thing to emerge from the government's accelerated spending on capital projects was actually a delay.

Mr Denham said the eight projects that had now won approval for their detailed plans and costings were in Stoke-on-Trent, Coulsdon (Surrey), West Kent, Liverpool, Solihull and Northampton, and two in Bolton.

The total cost of these schemes was nearly 400m, of which the Skills Council was going to provide 300m.

It would be working with the colleges involved on the phasing of their schemes and how they would be funded.

'Shambles'

The further 79 schemes approved in principle would cost nearly 2.7bn, with another 3bn needed for the 65 colleges that had also submitted bids.

The Learning and Skills Council has been told to appoint Sir Andrew Foster as an independent reviewer to lead an inquiry into the best way to prioritise the schemes.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said it was not commenting on the likely timescale for the schemes' approval.

The Tories interpreted this as a freeze on the 144 capital projects.

Shadow skills secretary David Willetts said: "The scale of the shambles in further education capital projects is revealed in this statement. Eight new capital schemes get the go ahead. But 144 don't.

"Gordon Brown claims to be bringing forward capital spending, giving priority to training in the recession and to boosting apprenticeships, but this statement shows they cannot deliver."

The chief executive of the Association of Colleges, Martin Doel, said delays for forthcoming projects would have a destabilising effect at a time when the nation needed colleges to continue to play a central role in the response to the economic downturn.

"We would encourage government to identify where additional funds might be secured to sustain this programme and allow colleges to do what they do supremely well - respond to the needs of business, individuals and communities."

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