I am beginning to wonder what this Government have got against young people. When I spoke in this Chamber yesterday I asked why on earth we should not give 16 and 17-year-olds the ability to vote in local elections, and today I am talking about cuts to post-16 education.
The Prime Minister said today that decisions we make now are not just for the present, but for the future and for our children and our children’s children. He should not have to say that—it is entirely self-evident—but the fact that he said it on the same day as this Opposition day debate on cuts to post-16 education funding is particularly ironic.
Hopwood Hall college in my constituency does not offer, and never has offered, courses in balloon artistry, yet the Secretary of State cites such courses. In so doing, she repeats the misinformation spread in March 2014 by the then Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock, when he, too, claimed that courses such as balloon artistry would no longer be paid for by the taxpayer. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills then revealed that such a course had never been listed for Government money anyway. It is disappointing in the extreme to hear the Secretary of State for Education incorporating such myths into her arguments. In this case I would suggest that she herself is guilty of scaremongering.
Hopwood Hall college is one of more than 100 colleges to write recently to the Prime Minister to urge a rethink of his Government’s proposals. They have highlighted many major problems with the current and planned system of funding, including repeated year-on-year cuts to adult funding, which now total about 40%; a significant reduction in funding for students aged 18; and large reductions in annual funding allocations being announced to colleges only weeks before a new academic year, severely harming their ability to plan and to invest in staff and resources. The letter was signed by the chair of Hopwood Hall college, Robert Clegg OBE, who is also a Tory councillor in Rochdale. I wonder whether the Secretary of State would accuse him of scaremongering.
The further education sector has taken a kicking over the past few years. I remember the sadness and anger in my constituency when the coalition Government withdrew the education maintenance allowance and poorer students were forced to withdraw from their courses as they simply could not afford to attend them anymore.
The principal of the college wrote to me last year, expressing his concerns about last year’s round of cuts and the detrimental effect they would have on the provision of adult further education. He said:
“Cuts of this magnitude could mean the end of this essential education in every city, town and community in England and the consequences will be felt by individuals and the economy for years to come.”
That was last year. Now it seems that FE and sixth-form colleges are staring another round of swingeing cuts in the face. There is a real fear that further funding cuts in the next comprehensive spending review will tip our sixth-form and FE colleges over the precipice. Colleges are asking that this Government give consistent and equitable funding to all 16 to 18-year-olds, and that this should be the same as that given to 14 to 16-year-olds. They want more certainty and predictability of funding to enable planning and investment to occur with certainty and confidence. I urge the Secretary of State to take seriously the problems stated in the letter signed by over 100 chairs of FE colleges and listen to their warnings—