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Colleges key to country's economy

08 May 2015

Let’s be honest – the results this morning have taken everyone a bit by surprise. No one, not even the political party machines, predicted a majority Government, however small. While we’re still waiting for the final results to come in, it looks like the Conservatives will be in Government with a small working majority. While it’s clear the Government will have big constitutional issues to deal with, both in Scotland and Europe, it’s clear that the continued public funding cuts will loom large. What’s most worrying about this for colleges is that the Conservatives were the only main party not to pledge to ringfence funding for 16 to 18-year-olds. The importance of this concern can’t be overemphasised. We will all have to wait until the Spending Review later this year to understand the full impact of future cuts. In the intervening weeks and months we will be working with the new Ministers to highlight the importance of colleges to the economy of this country. Further cuts to college funding will have a serious impact on prospects for sustained future growth. Through the provision of technical and professional education, colleges provide a key tool in increasing productivity for employers; thus increased productivity, in turn, holds the promise of better paid jobs and increased prosperity for individuals. This is nowhere more true than in the need to fill the skills gaps that are beginning to appear in our economy, particularly at the technician level, which is where colleges must have a leading role. But to fulfil this role, they need the resources to do the job. Whilst we can take heart from the commitment from the Conservatives about the importance they place on apprenticeships, we want to work with the new Government to make sure that the quality is as important as the quantity. Alongside this, we will be making the point the apprenticeships are just one of the routes available for both people. There are so many other ways for people to get into work. In last week’s blog, Julian Gravatt highlighted that by focusing only on apprenticeships, 25 million adults will miss out. The adult skills budget has already seen massive cuts over the last few years. Anymore, and this will be completely decimated, despite the fact that the economic impact of Government spending on students aged 19 and over is so important to the sustainability of our country – for £3 billion put into the FE sector, the country gets £75 billion return. Our message to the new Government is simple – if you want to boost this country’s economy, then education and training provided by colleges, whether technical and professional or academic, is essential to the development of a highly skilled and productive workforce which is fit for the future.