East Durham College Peterlee Campus

College principals warn 24% cut could hit job chances for thousands

Wed, 2015-03-25 08:56

Thousands of people across the North East could lose the chance of retraining for new job opportunities as a result of “drastic” government cuts.

That is the stark warning from college principals in the region, who have united in their opposition to a 24% cut in funding for adult learning for 2015/16 announced by the Skills Funding Agency.

The £460m reduction, which follows five years of funding cuts for the further education sector, will result in swathes of adult education courses being removed.

They will include employability programmes that are crucial in enabling unemployed adults to access the labour market and in tackling social and economic exclusion.

Vocational courses that develop the practical skills demanded by employers will also be affected, in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing, health and social care, and construction.

This comes at a time when the proportion of over-50s in the workforce is set to rise to a third of the workforce by 2020 (from 27 per cent at the moment) and 50 per cent of workers aged over 55 are proposing to work beyond the state pension age.

In an unprecedented move, principals from colleges across the North East have joined forces with union leaders to lobby publicly against the swingeing cuts.

They have written to MPs asking for questions to be tabled in Parliament and signed a nationwide petition led by the University and College Union (UCU) which has thousands of signatories.

The principals are also asking students and the business community to support the campaign.

All 16 North-East FE colleges are involved in the campaign: Bishop Auckland College; City of Sunderland College; Cleveland College of Art & Design; Darlington College; Derwentside College; East Durham College; Gateshead College; Hartlepool College of Further Education; Middlesbrough College; New College Durham; Newcastle College; Northumberland College; Redcar & Cleveland College; South Tyneside College; Stockton Riverside College and Tyne Metropolitan College.

They are being supported by the Association of Colleges, whose chief executive Martin Doel said: “The fact that colleges in the North East have come together to campaign against the cuts demonstrates what a big issue it is for them. We’re living in an ever-changing society in which people do not keep to the same career path for their whole lives. These people need the options of returning to education or undertaking training.

“Adult education and training is effectively being decimated. It is too important to be lost and these cuts could mean an end to the vital courses that train people in the North East such as nurses and social care workers.”

Natalie Davison, Principal of Bishop Auckland College, said: “How can we improve skills to help North East firms compete in the global marketplace when adult learning funding has been reduced by 50% in real terms since 2009?

“This will have a devastating impact on the communities we serve. It will stop unemployed people being able to access training to help them secure work, and hamper businesses wanting to upskill their workforce in order to enable growth.”

Union leaders have reacted furiously to the announcement. The UCU described it as “an act of wilful vandalism” that would decimate further education, while the National Union of Students called it “incredibly damaging”.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “These cuts are a devastating blow to colleges and risk decimating further education. Slashing budgets this harshly could be the final nail in the coffin for the types of courses that help people get back to work.”

The funding cut has also been criticised by employers in the region. Last month Stockton-on-Tees based car parts manufacturer Nifco announced a £50m contract with Ford which has secured 350 jobs.

But general manager (engineering) Andy Dunn is concerned about the future impact on the regional economy. He said: “As a major automotive employer we are extremely disappointed to learn that there will be a 24% cut in the funding of adult skills training in 2015-16. It is vital to invest in the future workforce of the region for the local, regional and national economy.

“We work closely with local colleges and training providers to ensure that our staff receive the training needed to support business growth and job creation. A cut of this scale could seriously undermine work to deliver the economic improvement so badly needed in the North East.”

David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body NIACE, describing the reduction in funding as “drastic and sustained”, said: “My fear is that these cuts mean people’s ability to get on in life and work continue to be hampered despite the obvious return on investment to the taxpayer.

“It’s not fair for people, it’s not right for businesses and it doesn’t support the inclusive growth that politicians say they are seeking.”