Government plans to merge colleges in different parts of the country – including on Teesside – are in tatters with some in a dire financial situation and Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham used his Budget speech to highlight the issues.
Whilst welcoming the injection of cash into the FE sector, Alex pointed out that the funding restored only brings third of what had already been cut from it over the last seven years.
Within the budget, the Government announced £500 million for further education and creation of ‘T-Levels’ which are technical qualifications designed to fill the gap of worker skills that are at risk of being lost once Brexit takes full effect. The aim is to replace the 13,000 different qualifications currently available with 15 focused routes.
But speaking in the House of Commons this week, Alex said:
“The scheme to merge colleges across the country is in tatters and, after a year of talks, in the Tees areas the proposals are falling apart and one of the colleges in Redcar is going bust. Now that mergers are collapsing, not just in the North East but across the country, what will happen to that cash? Will it be invested in our young people or will it just be swallowed up by the Treasury?”
Alex also called on the Chancellor to do something to help develop Carbon Capture and Storage on Teesside and realise the potential or the Teesside Collective and step up action to support companies keen to develop North Sea oil and gas infrastructure decommissioning businesses. He also reminded the Government that whilst the Chancellor boasted of wage growth, it wasn’t reaching public sector workers in the NHS and local councils who have seen the value of their salaries fall by more than 10% since 2010.
After the debate Alex added:
“We keep seeing the Government messing about with the FE sector – removing cash, restoring some it, encouraging mergers most colleges don’t have an appetite for – and all the time the people who need the skills training to work are not getting the support needed.
“I have raised the cost of the mergers in the past and the Government said it has set aside cash to fund them. Now that many of the mergers simply aren’t going to happen, I’d like to see that cash distributed to colleges like ours who have been under the financial cosh for years.
”As for the industrial opportunities for CCS and North Sea decommissioning work the potential is huge and in an area like mine where unemployment has continued to go up, it could provide the kinds of jobs we desperately need.”