Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Training places face spending axe

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Learners
Colleges have a central role on in aiding economic recovery

Tens of thousands of training places could be axed under plans to claw back £340m from England's further education and skills budget.

A leaked government document suggests a proposal to axe at least 133,000 training places - some for the most deprived areas in the country.

Adult apprenticeship budgets and further education college places are also being ear-marked for savings.

The government said it was consulting on how best to make efficiency savings.

University College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said it was particularly unfortunate that the leaked document had come to light during a week celebrating the work of colleges.

These relate to public announcements and may or may generate negative publicity
Leaked BIS document

She added that the prime minister had claimed education would not be a victim of the recession.

"If the plans to slash funding and sack staff are put into practice then the reality will be very different from the warm rhetoric and back slapping.

"The government has rightly identified education as a key driver of social mobility. To make swingeing cuts to the further education sector now would be an outrageous affront to the millions of people it has promised it would not let down."

The £340m worth of cuts from next year's further education and skills budget are part of the £5bn of efficiency savings that Chancellor Alistair Darling announced in April.

But ministers always claimed they would protect front-line services.

'Pay freezes'

What this Department for Business, Innovation and Skills document reveals is that as well cuts to backroom and administrative staff, training places and overall learner numbers are likely to be hit.

It also shows that college staff can expect pay freezes and redundancies.

The document says: "As part of prioritising funding pressures....we have decided not to make provision to meet the costs of certain activity for 2010-11.

"However, as these relate to public announcements and or may generate negative publicity we wanted to confirm that ministers are content our approach."

Among the proposals being considered, are a 10% saving from the Adult Safeguarded Learning budget which is aimed at those with poor basic skills who "need help most", and removing "poor quality provision".

But the document warns this would have a "disproportionate impact on certain regions, sectors and courses".

'Front-line'

All in all some 133,000 training places are ear-marked for savings, the majority of which are in the area of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman denied it planned to cut apprenticeships.

"It was agreed as part of this year's Budget that we would be seeking £340 million in savings from the £4.4bn further education and skills budget for 2010/11 and these figures have been in the public domain since that time.

"We have been consulting with the sector on how best to do this since May.

"It remains our commitment to protect front-line services and identify savings through efficiency measures such as simplifying bodies and improving value for money wherever possible.

"We will set out our long-term plans for investment in skills to contribute to the future growth and success of the UK economy in our skills strategy shortly."

The department is due to set out its Skills White Paper shortly.

Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel suggested in a recent letter to Business Secretary Peter Mandelson that any savings be made in the spirit of "preserving essential college services".

He added that colleges had a central role in sustaining economic recovery and that any reduction in their capacity would have the direct "effect of prolonging the recession".



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